THE HEAD TEACHER of a Carmarthenshire School has told the Herald that small schools are disproportionately affected by the Welsh Government’s school categorisation scheme.
The Head teacher explained: “In our Y6 cohort last year, each pupil was worth 20% and so by using data alone, the performance of this cohort could be either 100% achieving expected levels, or 80% or 60% etc. Data samples of this size are not statistically valid.
“Classes in small schools where pupils have SEN / statements, are badly affected by this system.”
The Head teacher continued: “We also have an autistic unit and it has been a real battle to try to have these pupils disaggregated from our data. Even though they have agreed to amend the colour where we can show that the inclusion of these pupils is the reason why our data does not appear healthy, they do not remove the number (1-4).”
Explaining the effect on categorisation of their own school, the Head told The Herald: “If you look on our local schools’ website you will see that we are in category 3 out of 4 for standards. This is because our pupils from the autistic unit are mixed in with mainstream data. The WG say they will not change this number. The Welsh government call this an inclusive approach. Judging all pupil performance using criteria designed for typically developing pupils is, however, clearly not an inclusive approach.”
In fact, the Head told us, the reverse was a risk: “There are now clearly benefits for a school in having more able pupils attend the school, and in many cases, particularly with small schools, significant potential negative consequences when admitting pupils with SEN. To work in a system where Head teachers may be happier about admitting a high-ability pupil over a pupil with SEN, due to the impact upon their data, is deeply concerning.
“The more schools are beaten over the Head with this approach, the worse Head teachers will feel about having pupils with SEN in their classes. How can is this promoting inclusion in schools? On top of that, why does no one really look closely at the progress of the individuals with SEN? Because you can’t easily measure it (against unknown potential), and therefore compare it, and therefore put you in a category for it!”
And with regard to the categorisation of their own school, the Head was clear that the Welsh Government’s approach was having a serious effect: “Due to us being a small school with a large number of pupils with autism in our data, last year we were categorised amber, when in fact our mainstream pupils performed exceptionally, and our pupils with autism also ‘performed’ exceptionally, relative to their starting points.
“Comments made to my teachers by friends/relatives included ‘You teach in a crap school’.”
As for the pressures this places on school staff and the Head, they expressed concerns about the amount time they have to spend trying to explain the ridiculous situation a successful school has been placed in: “I have to spend a lot of time – either via letter or the school website – trying to explain this situation to parents, but I obviously can’t speak to the parents who are thinking about bringing their children here, but are put off by the data they see on the Welsh Government site.
“I really don’t see that grading schools helps anyone. In a green school you may have ‘red teachers’. In a red school you may have pockets of outstanding practice. Any system where you compare like for like would be a step in the right direction. Taking health and well-being into account would certainly be useful.”
As to whether categorisation reflects their own school’s strengths, the Head told us: “This year it is closer. Last year was a complete disaster. My advisor this year listened to our situation and applied exceptions to the process to ensure the autistic unit could be taken into account.
“Next year I have other pupils with statements in mainstream classes who have achieved very well but won’t reach the ‘expected’ level, and in our small cohorts we may well be named and shamed for it, I daresay.”
They continued: “Your readers should note that due to specific learning needs, no sane person would ever ‘expect’ some of these pupils to achieve the ‘expected’ level. It is a miracle that some of these pupils do as well as they do – due in large part to the work of fantastic teachers, support staff and devoted parents.”
Identifying the benefits of attending a small school, we were told: “Almost all my pupils, by the time they leave, know what it is like to be in a council, take main parts in concerts, have been part of a school sports team. They work with teachers who know every little detail about each child, and we are a close community with a real personal/family feel to the school. Many of our pupils go on to take on lead roles in secondary schools – in concerts and councils, Head boys/girls etcetera.
What, we asked, could be done to reflect the dynamics of a small school more fairly in categorisation tables: “The Welsh government have a ‘one size fits all’ approach. It is simple, easy to number crunch with.
“If we had 30 or 40 pupils in Y6 every year I would be on board with it, because the data then means something. However, last year one pupil represented 100% of my boys in one year group. That boy’s performance data here was either 100% or 0%. It is just nonsensical to even be having a discussion about ‘data’ on that sort of scale.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Our National School Categorisation System does take into account the problems faced by small schools. It uses three years’ worth of data to counter the impact of the volatility of small cohorts and the school’s Challenge Adviser and Consortia will have taken into account issues relating to the cohort before making their assessments about the school’s category.
“Categorisation has been developed collectively with the education sector. It is widely supported by Consortia, local authorities, schools and teaching unions. It is very deliberately not based solely on performance data and takes account of a number of other factors including the quality of a school’s leadership, selfevaluation and its wider capacity to improve.”
Rob Williams, Director of Policy, NAHT Cymru, the school leaders’ union for Wales, told The Herald: “The additional allocation of resource and support provided to schools in the amber and red categories do not mask the huge funding disparities that continue to exist between schools across Wales.
“School leaders continue to have concerns about a system that uses single cohorts of pupil data in isolation, with no inclusion of the progress those individual pupils make whilst in a school.”
Rob Williams continued: “This can prove to be a particularly acute problem within smaller schools. In a small school for example, each child can represent a significant percentage of performance. In addition, pupils with SEN are not disaggregated from the measures and so are included in overall outcomes. This means that smaller schools can be disproportionately disadvantaged.
“Categorisation therefore fails to assess the positive impact the school has on every child which is the true measure of its success.”
Paul Davies MS quits as Leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd
PAUL DAIVES MS quit as Leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd this morning.
The Conservatives’ Chief Whip also quit his frontbench role.
The dramatic move comes only 24 hours after Mr Davies got the Conservative Senedd Group’s unanimous backing.
However, later yesterday (Friday, Jan 21) – as criticism poured in – the Welsh Conservatives’ Executive met. In that meeting, Constituency Chairs reported widespread disbelief and anger among the Party’s members. Conservative Party Chair, Lord Davies of Gower, received particular criticism for a lack of leadership. Simon Hart, Secretary of State for Wales, also attended the meeting and was left in no doubt of the strength of feeling within the Party.
In a statement issued via the Conservative Senedd media office, Mr Davies said: “I am truly sorry for my actions on the 8th and 9th December. They have damaged the trust and respect that I have built up over 14 years in the Welsh Parliament with my colleagues and the wider Conservative Party but more importantly with the people of Wales.
“Whilst using the Senedd facilities at all times my colleagues and I maintained social distancing. There was no drunk or disorderly behaviour. We did not have to be escorted out of the building as some reports have suggested. What we did was to have some alcohol with a meal we heated up in a microwave, which was a couple of glasses of wine on Tuesday and a beer on Wednesday.
I broke no actual Covid-19 regulations.
“For the last 10 months of the pandemic, I have followed the Covid-19 regulations to the letter. As with everyone across Wales, I have not seen family members or friends, I’ve not eaten at my favourite restaurants and, like you, we enjoyed a subdued Christmas compared to other years. I will continue to follow the Welsh Government’s Covid-19 Regulations and I would urge everyone to play their part in defeating this virus so that we can all return to normality.
“My priority as Leader of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Welsh Parliament has always been to bring the Conservatives into government in Wales. Our main focus as the Welsh Conservatives must always be on challenging and removing a failing Labour government.
“I am grateful for the support of colleagues in the Welsh Conservative Party for their support in this difficult time, and especially to my wife Julie and my Senedd colleagues who have offered empathy, trust and advice. They have treated me with the same courtesy and decency I hope I have always extended to others.
“Over the last couple of days, I have been speaking with colleagues in the Senedd and the wider Conservative Party. Whilst they have confirmed they do not wish to see me step down, I believe that my actions are becoming a distraction from holding this failing Welsh Labour-led Government to account, not just on their rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines but from more than 20 years of their dither, delay and failure. Yesterday I indicated to the Conservative group in the Welsh Parliament that I wished to resign, but they urged me to reflect further, and we agreed to meet again on Monday. However, for the sake of my party, my health and my own conscience, I simply cannot continue in post.
“Therefore, I am stepping down as Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Welsh Parliament with immediate effect.”
“It is for the group to decide how best to choose a new leader, but I hope that process will be seamless and speedy, and I pledge my support to whoever becomes leader.”
Darren Millar blamed ‘wildly inaccurate and unfair reports’ and said:
“There was a member of catering staff present in the tea room for a short time after my arrival on the 8th December but she did not serve me a drink, nor did I request one. In fact, I encouraged the member of staff to go home and close up the counter as it had been a long day for her. No members of catering staff were present on the 9th December and the counter was closed for the whole evening.
“While I am advised that I did not breach coronavirus regulations I am very sorry for my actions, especially given the impact of the tough restrictions that people and businesses are enduring.
“For this reason, and given that Paul Davies has resigned as Welsh Conservative Group Leader in the Senedd, I have decided to step down from my front bench role in the Welsh Parliament.
“I am cooperating fully with ongoing investigations and will continue to do so.”
Whoever replaces Paul Davies, the role is likely to an interim appointment ahead of a vote of the Party membership after the Senedd election.
Conservatives in disarray over alleged Christmas party lockdown breach
THE CONSERVATIVE Party is investigating the attendance of senior Senedd members and staff at a Christmas party held during December’s lockdown.
Lockdown restrictions prohibit mixing with people outside your own household.
The Welsh restrictions barring such gatherings follow the basic outline of those imposed by the Conservative UK Government in December.
Those attending the drinks party included Paul Smith, the Conservative Chief of Staff at the Senedd, Darren Millar, the Party’s Chief Whip and campaign coordinator, and Preseli Pembrokeshire MS and Conservative Senedd Group Leader Paul Davies.
The Herald understands that a Labour Senedd Member who attended the Party has been suspended by the Labour Senedd Group pending its own investigation.
The Conservatives’ embarrassment at talking the talk but not walking the walk is intensified by Darren Millar’s presence at the shindig.
In May, Mr Millar led calls for Wales’ Health Minister Vaughan Gething to be sacked for eating a bag of chips in a park with one of his own children.
If the Conservative Party follows the logic of their previously stated positions, Mr Millar’s and Mr Davies’ futures look bleak indeed.
With a Senedd election only months away, the revelations have thrown the Conservatives into disarray.
If they do nothing, the Conservatives will – at the very least – face claims they are hypocrites.
If the Conservative Party acts decisively, it faces massive internal problems.
The Conservatives responded to our request for a response to our story.
Those involved stressed they did not host a Christmas Party.
The incident happened on December 8, when the above met in the members’ tea room to discuss legislation for possible inclusion in the Welsh Conservative manifesto with a Labour backbencher.
During the evening they did drink a glass or two of wine.
They stress that at no point were there more than four people in the room at any one time and that they maintained social distancing.
A joint statement from Paul Davies, Darren Millar, and Paul Smith said: “We are profoundly sorry for our actions.
“While we did not break the rules, we recognise that what was part of a day’s work would not be seen to be following the spirit of them, especially given the tough time the country has been going through.”
Family tribute to Carole Patricia Fowler
Carole was a teacher for 30 years at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School, Llanelli. She loved children and they loved her.
As one of her past colleagues said: “I know she made such a difference to every child she taught.” She was very popular with staff and well respected and loved by parents. She was dedicated and conscientious, always 100% for the children. She led the music there and was always popular with her guitar accompaniments for services and concerts.
Likewise, she was a valued member of the choir at Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church, Gendros, Swansea, where she would often accompany hymns with her guitar and gave guitar lessons to the children in the church’s Saturday Music Club. She was also a keen member of Côr Persain, Ammanford.
She was talented, loved and in demand. A convicted and devout Catholic all her life, through good and bad.
Carole was an avid and very gifted crocheter and was always crocheting or knitting something for someone. She had been spending her time recently, during the Covid crisis, crocheting NHS teddies in scrubs and rainbows, with many given to practising nurses. Carole had recently started learning to make bobbin lace. She was also capable of some very decent sewing, too.
She was also learning Welsh, doing ‘pilates’ and was considering taking up yoga lessons as well.
She was a busy lady! As one of her work colleagues said of her: “She was wise, strong, beautiful, generous, devout and feisty. And I loved her for all those qualities.”
Above all, she was an immeasurably loved Mam, daughter, sister and a doting Mamgu and so much loved by her fiancé. Having been together for 14 years, they would have been married last July 20th had covid allowed!
Her premature passing at 61 is tragic and she is already sorely, painfully missed. She leaves behind a huge chasm in so many hearts that cannot be filled.
“Eternal rest grant unto her, o Lord, may perpetual light shine about her, may she rest in peace.”
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