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.”
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7-year-old Mattie from Pembrey takes on home Pen y Fan-tastic challenge for Action for Children
Plucky Mattie Denman will climb the equivalent of Pen y Fan in the drive at her family home in Pembrey on Friday 22nd May to raise funds for Action for Children.
Mattie (7), has always wanted to climb the highest mountain in South Wales and is unable to currently because of the coronavirus pandemic. As the family exercise at home every day, she decided she wanted to do the 6-mile equivalent journey there while she waits for the chance to do it for real. Mattie chose Action for Children as her mother, Sian, works for the charity in Carmarthenshire.
Mattie said: ‘My Mammy works for Action for Children and I want to help as well because lots of families need help. My older brother and sister help Action for Children, so I asked Mammy if I could do something. We exercise everyday walking up and down the drive and I have always wanted to climb Pen y Fan, but we have never done it.
‘Mammy said I could pretend I am walking it and people will give money to the charity. I said brilliant, that is what I am going to do and I am super excited to do it. I will use mammy’s step counter and I hope I can help children that need support especially because it is so hard for some families because of coronavirus.’
Proud mum and family support practitioner for Action for Children, Sian, added: ‘Mattie has a lovely heart and really wanted to do something and I’m very proud she chose Pen y Fan as her home challenge. Action for Children has been going the extra mile during the coronavirus pandemic continuing to support vulnerable families through phone and video sessions as well as food and help with the basics from our Emergency Appeal Fund.
‘It is a tremendously challenging time for our families and every bit of money will directly help those in our communities who need it most. I hope as many people as possible will donate to Mattie’s brilliant fundraising effort, it’ll make it even more special when we finally get to climb Pen y Fan for real.’
If you want to support Mattie’s Pen y Fan challenge please go to: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/mattiesclimb
Housebuilder launches Coronavirus move in package
A South Wales housebuilder has launched new incentives which mean homes are ‘ready to move into’ during the Covid-19 crisis – without the need for tradespeople or delivery people.
People in Wales are allowed to move into new build houses during the lockdown – and many people have successfully done so.
However, the limitations of social distancing can add extra stress when it comes to having things like dishwashers, washing machines and turf installed in the new property.
That’s why Persimmon Homes West Wales has launched a new incentive package which gives purchasers the chance to buy a house with white goods and flooring already in place.
Sharon Bouhali, sales director at Persimmon Homes West Wales, said: “Our sales advisors have done a terrific job in talking with customers and guiding them through the buying process remotely, without the need of face-to-face meetings.
“It’s been a huge challenge, but we’ve risen to it – and Persimmon has sold more than 120 properties in South Wales during the lockdown period. We have customers moving into their new homes every week.
“But, understandably, some people are cautious about having too many tradespeople and contractors enter their home, even if they are doing their utmost to abide by social distancing rules.
“That’s why we have launched these new packages which mean people can turn the key, unpack and get on with enjoying their new home.”
The package includes carpets and vinyl throughout, turf in the back garden, sliding wardrobes, integrated fridge freezer, integrated washer/dryer, integrated dishwasher and £500 discount towards removal fees.
The deal is on offer at Glas Y Felin in Bridgend, Parc Yr Onnen in Carmarthen, The Bridles in Llanelli, Peterson Park in Pontyclun, Parc Brynderi in Llanelli and Allt Y Celyn in Rhos.
Persimmon’s marketing suites in Wales remain closed for the time being. Visit www.persimmonhomes.com or call 01792 229800 for details of homes available.
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