“WHAT the Welsh Government needs to do,” said Simon Thomas, “is stop complaining about what those nasty Conservatives are doing and start setting out proposals of its own on Welsh education.”
The Plaid Education spokesperson and candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire was very clear on that point when he spoke with The Herald.
“Labour always seems to want to set up a Labour/Conservative fight. I would prefer to concentrate on formulating a Welsh policy, saying this is what we want to do; then, if the UK Treasury doesn’t play fair, we can point out what opportunities have been lost because of it. By just complaining, the current Welsh Government is simply not offering an alternative, positive vision.”
And being positive was very important to Simon Thomas.
“We have just launched our policy from Cradle to Career. That sets out a plan from 3-16 and in the post-16 framework gives a clearer balance between tuition fee policy and apprenticeships.”
Of that policy, Leanne Wood, Plaid’s leader has said: “We are investing in the very early years but also making sure people have a range of choices when they get to fourteen, fifteen and sixteen so that the academic route is not the only option but that there are serious vocational options as well.”
That point is clearly close to Simon Thomas’s own heart: “Last month we announced our plans to create 50,000 additional apprenticeships in Wales. Those would be new apprenticeships. Today, Labour has announced 100,000 apprenticeships in total. There are already 44,000 Welsh apprenticeships, so the level of apprenticeships being offered is in the same direction as our policy. We have made a commitment to show what we would do with the UK Government’s Apprenticeship Levy.
“It was a budget deal we made with Labour which stopped the fall in the numbers of Welsh apprenticeships. So I am, and Plaid is, committed to providing more apprenticeships and – importantly – more higher apprenticeships at Level 4 and beyond. By investing in higher skills there is a huge potential for Wales.”
And as for the narrower party point, Simon Thomas did not mince his words: “A clearer framework is vital. There are a lot of missing pieces in Labour’s plans and they have made no announcement on tuition fees at all.”
He continued: “The Welsh Government has kicked the question of tuition fees into the long grass. That is dishonest. After the election there will be a new Education Minister, Huw Lewis is retiring, and it will be up to them to make a decision the Welsh Government knows has to be made on tuition fees for higher education.”
The Welsh Government commissioned a report into higher education funding in Wales and we asked Simon Thomas about what it reported: “The report (by Professor Sir Ian Diamond) could not be clearer. All of those bodies which responded to it agreed that the current tuition fee policy is completely unsustainable.
“The evidence is overwhelming and unanswerable, but the Welsh Government has decided to wait until October and then probably feign surprise when it is told things have to change. As I say, the Welsh Government’s position on tuition fees is dishonest.
“It was Labour that introduced tuition fees. I fought it every step of the way in Parliament to stop it applying to Wales.
But what of Plaid’s policy?
“We’ve kept some flexibility in our plans, because we don’t know what will be the recommendation about the maintenance element of student support. But we have made it clear that continuing to send £100m of the Welsh block grant to English universities is a non-starter. You could argue that it would be tolerable in times of plenty, but these are times of austerity.
“We need to remember that of the tuition fee loan, the student sees not one penny. The students are funding the universities who are charging the maximum possible. 45% of students do not even reach the level of income where they need to repay the loans made to them.”
We asked where that left Plaid’s policy on tuition fee abatement, the ‘Learning Bonds’ it announced recently: “For a Welsh student studying in England, if they return to Wales within five years of graduation we will offset their tuition fee loan repayments for each full year. We want everyone to be able to study any subject and in any university they want to. But the current tuition fee policy means we give more money to universities outside of Wales than we do inside of Wales. This is unsustainable and Plaid Cymru believes that this is wrong. Our plans will enable students from Wales to study anywhere they want, and will ensure that the Welsh economy can benefit from the talent of Welsh students.
“Under Plaid Cymru’s plans, students from Wales who study a three-year degree will have £18,000 of their loans written off.”
Simon continued: “Our plan acknowledges wages in Wales are generally lower; it means that if you are, for example in London in a wellpaid job, a positive incentive exists for you to take your skills back to Wales.”
He smiled: “Significantly, I think, there’s been no attack on our policy from Labour: I think they are probably looking at something similar.”
Regarding postgraduate funding, Simon Thomas returned to his core grievance about the existing Welsh Government’s approach: “This is an example of where Labour is simply complaining instead of putting forward a positive alternative itself. The Welsh Government should be saying this is what we are going to do and challenging Osborne to allow Welsh students access to the loans system English students will have.
“It’s the usual thing: the Treasury has not considered the Welsh aspect: it is not devolution-aware when it comes to this sort of policy. But the lack of challenge from the Welsh Government, the lack of an alternative policy: that is letting Wales down.”
He continued: “We want to see similar scheme as in England, where from September people studying for postgraduate degrees will have access to loan funding for their studies. What this means is that English students will have tuition fee support for studying in Wales, whereas Welsh students are not eligible for any support to study anywhere.
“Our tuition fee policy will release money back to Hefcw to support part time study, Coleg Cymraeg and postgraduate study for Welsh students. The problem now is that, if we are in government after May it will already be too late to do something this year. There’s simply no headroom in the budget.”
On the deep cuts to the further education sector, Simon Thomas was cautious: “I don’t want to make a firm commitment before seeing the books, I have talked already about £100m being released back through changing the tuition fee policy. £70m of that was taken from HEFCW’s budget, the rest was robbed out of the Further Education budget. So, our higher education policy will release significant money back to FE and enable us to strike a fairer balance.
“A University education is not the be all and end all of education. We have to realise that. Young people need to have more and better choices: at the moment they are all being pointed in one direction – towards Higher Education. We are committed to looking from starting from the position that there is more than one option and that it is possible for young people to develop graduate level skills through further education and higher skills apprenticeships. The benefit for those young people is that they will not have student debt and will have the sort of higher skills that will be an advantage to them and an advantage for Wales.”
Simon reflected: “The problem is around tuition fees. If you want to pack the maximum number of people in for 9K a year, then the cheapest way is humanities but not at a high level. Not with the rigour associated with it. We’re in danger, and unis have said this, of a race to the bottom to feed the machine because everyone comes with 9K a year on their head.
“We have to change that. We have to provide a better infrastructure for young people, not simply churn them through a factory to produce graduates without the skills the economy needs.”
On Welsh Medium Education, Simon Thomas acknowledged: “There is a weakness in College education in Welsh. In sixth forms, there is some provision but that is centred about academic subjects, not things like Gofal Plant and other vocational skills.”
What about locally: “What Pembrokeshire County Council is clearly seeking to do is to scrap sixth forms through a partnership with Pembrokeshire College and then place the onus for post-16 Welsh Medium Education on Ysgol Preseli. I do not see how that can deliver vocational post-16 training in Welsh. There is an extent to which I share the view of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, that post-16 there is an issue about continuing Welsh Medium education post-16.”
He continued: “The important thing about the legislation about reorganisation is that decisions are made locally and not nationally. Local decision-making must come first. I can see people fighting for their schools’ sixth forms, but education has changed enormously. In rural areas, it is sometimes not going to be possible to retain sixth forms that can provide the range of courses needed.”
A wintry smile: “That said, when we’re out and about knocking on doors, Pembrokeshire County Council comes up and has a poor reputation on the doorstep.”
We concluded by asking Simon Thomas about a recent remark made by Carmarthenshire Councillor Meryl Gravell. Ms Gravell opined at a recent Executive Board meeting that the standard of teachers coming out of Wales’s training centres was substandard.
“Let’s put it this way, I don’t think she worded it correctly, or described the problem correctly. The issue is one of the training we give our teachers. It’s not the quality of the individuals, we are not delivering them with the skills they need. There has been a number of failed reorganisations. The problem has been that changes have aimed to provide a little bit for everyone.”
Simon Thomas was generous to Huw Lewis, the outgoing Education Minister: “I believe he is sincere in wanting to put things right with the way teacher training is delivered. We have to focus on preparing teachers for their careers and retaining them. Huw Lewis seems genuinely committed to raising the bar on teacher training.”
And Plaid’s policy: “As part of our Cradle to Career policy, we want teachers in Wales to get to the level of Masters in Education; providing CPD for two years and then a premium for teachers to reach higher standard.
“Teaching is the most important factor in raising schools standards and raising pupils’ attainment. That’s why Plaid Cymru wants to invest in our teachers, helping them remain on the cutting edge of best practice in order to drive up standards and raise attainment levels.
“We will offer teachers and teaching assistants a premium of up to 10% on their pay in return for developing additional skills. Plaid Cymru will reward upskilling and best practice, and will work with the sector to develop a system of accreditation, aiming for 25% of teachers to gain this premium.”
Simon Thomas concluded: “Education is the bedrock of a strong economy, and our plans are aimed at raising children’s attainment and delivering tangible economic benefits.”
Minister visits to celebrate new curriculum and partnership work at Ysgol Glan-y-Môr
YSGOL Glan-y-Môr school was visited last week by the Minister for Education Kirsty Williams. Mrs Williams was visiting the school to celebrate the school’s work in STEM subjects, and their strong working partnerships with local primary schools.
During the visit Mrs Williams met staff and pupils from the school and its four feeder primaries, Pembrey Pwll, Ysgol y Castell and Burry Port, and saw some of the projects that the schools have worked together upon as they look to develop the new Curriculum for Wales.
During the visit Mrs Williams was also able to unveil a plaque to celebrate the schools work with the Wolfson foundation that has enabled the school to revolutionise the technology available to young people in the school to aid their learning. The Wolfson Foundation is an independent charity that supports and promotes excellence in the fields of science, health, education and the arts and humanities. Since it was established in 1955, over £900 million (£1.9 billion in real terms) has been awarded to more than 11,000 projects throughout the UK, all on the basis of expert review.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams said: “It was a pleasure to visit Ysgol Glan-y-Môr today to meet the staff and pupils and hear about their fantastic approaches to learning’”
“I am very grateful and impressed by the quality of engagement the school has had in the process of developing the new curriculum; they have gone above and beyond its duty, and have excelled especially within the fields of Science and Technology.
“I can’t overstate the importance of developing STEM skills and knowledge, especially for our young women. These skills can offer rewarding careers and exciting opportunities that can bring learning alive, preparing them for the world of work.”
Mrs Sharon Cole, Chair of Governors said: “The Governing Body are delighted with the fantastic achievements of Glan-y-Môr schools students, teachers and Senior leadership team. It is with great pride that we witness our school grow from strength to strength and truly reap the rewards of our motto of “success through effort”. As we move into a new era, with a new curriculum for Wales that will allow our children to thrive in the future, together with the Wolfson Foundation Investment and an already strong STEM ethos, we are excited to witness great potential unfold at Glan-y-Môr.”
Mr Paul Jones, Headmaster of the federation said: “Following an excellent inspection – STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) had been identified by ESTYN as an outstanding feature of the school, and had been developed into a best practice guide. Developing ambitious and very capable learners with these sort of transferable skills is hugely important to us a school as we prepare all our learners for further education, training or employment.”
Mr John Jones, Head of School said: “Once again it is great to be able to celebrate exciting times at Glan-y-Môr. We are always looking for the next step in our journey, and even though recently classified as a “green” school for the third successive year we are keen to move ever forward. When inspected in 2017 we were praised for the way that we were developing the skills in our students, but it was commented that we lacked the facilities to enable them to develop and show these skills. Our work with the Wolfson foundation has enabled us to redevelop the facilities around STEM in our school, and our students now have the facilities to match their potential as the school continues to grow.”
Llanelli: Leavers’ Prom for Pen Rhos Pupils
PUPILS in Year 6 at Llanelli’s Ysgol Pen Rhos were able to bring their time in primary education to a wonderful close with a leavers’ ‘Prom’ party (June 13). This was the second year group of pupils to leave the newly-established school in Seaside, which opened in April 2018.
The event was organised by parents of the school who wanted to give the pupils a send-off to remember as they embark on the next chapter in their journey.
School teacher Mr N Davies said: “It was a lovely opportunity for pupils to come together to celebrate the end of their time in Ysgol Pen Rhos. They have worked extremely hard throughout the year and deserve to enjoy every moment before their transition to secondary school.
“We would like to extend a big thank you to parents, teachers, the entertainers at ‘Starlight Celebrations’ and of course the parents who arranged the event and made it a success.
“The school wishes the best of luck to all pupils in their future endeavours.”
Llanelli: Ysgol Pen Rhos thanked for charity boost
A RECENT charity event held at Llanelli’s Ysgol Pen Rhos was a great success after it raised hundreds of pounds towards a worthy cause when staff and pupils turned up for school wearing their own clothes instead of normal schoolwear. Each participant donated £1 to a cause which has a personal connection to one member of the school’s staff.
Deborah Jayne Griffiths has been an LSA at the school for 27 years and is raising funds to provide community defibrillators.
On Saturday (Jun 15), she took part in a skydive at Swansea Airport to raise money for a cause which means a lot to her.
June 15 was the fourth anniversary of the passing of her son, Cameron Jervis, who would now be twenty-two years old. Cameron passed away in his sleep four years ago.
Deborah said: “The school, they said that they’d come up with a money-raising scheme to help towards the purchase of the defibrillators.
“My sister Lindsay Kennedy who also works as an LSA designed t-shirts #jumpforcam for the tandem skydive, which I’ll be wearing as I jump. My older sister Sharon Evans, who works in Heol Goffa also as an LSA, plus her friend Sian will also be jumping.
“I’m petrified of heights so this will be a big deal for me. Cameron had wanted to do a skydive when he was eighteen, sadly he never had the chance, so this is for my boy. He was eighteen when he passed away in his sleep. All the money raised will go into Cameron’s Memorial Account, we then distribute to local communities. We have already had one defibrillator put up in Dafen Park. That has already been used a few times to help saves lives within our community.
“Ideally I want to raise money to be able to provide as many as I can. All the staff have had the defibrillator training here at Ysgol Pen Rhos which is obviously a worthy skill to learn.
I want to thank everyone for their support, this includes family, friends, staff and of course the pupils.”
There is a JUSTGIVING page on Facebook if anyone is happy to donate to this fantastic cause.
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