“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.”
Virtual graduation for Class of 2020
UWTSD is looking forward to hosting a series of online events to celebrate the academic success of the ‘Class of 2020’.
With formal degree ceremonies due to be held at a later date, UWTSD organised a series of digital celebrations that will take place on Tuesday, July 21, Wednesday, July 22, and Thursday, July 2.
Providing students with an opportinuty to celebrate their academic and personal achievements, the digital events included video messages from the Vice Chancellor, the Provosts, Universty Fellows as well as staff and fellow students.
“The Class of 2020 digital celebrations allowed us to come together – as family, friends and members of the University community – to mark our students’ academic achievements,” says Professor Medwin Hughes DL, UWTSD Vice Chancellor.
“These have been very difficult times for us all and yet students have succeeded, and these digital events help us to celebrate that academic achievement. Indeed, I would like to thank our students for the way in which they’ve responded to this pandemic and the way in which they’ve worked with the University. These celebrations were an opportunity for us to wish our students well for the future and to celebrate their hard work and success.”
Gwilym Dyfri Jones, Provost of the University’s Carmarthen and Lampeter campuses, said: “These virtual celebrations were an opportunity for the University to congratulate its Class of 2020 and to show that it is thinking of each and every one of the graduates at these unprecedented time,.
“It is also an opportunity for us to share our gratitude with the students for their valued contributions to the life of the university and its various campuses during these last few years,” he adds.
“We are proud of our graduates’ achievements and relished celebrating their successes with them in a virtual environment next week.”
Professor Ian Walsh, Provost of UWTSD’s Swansea and Cardiff campuses is immensely proud of the graduates’ achievements.
“During this difficult final term, the students of UWTSD have demonstrated the true meaning of the phrase ‘the best of us’,” says Professor Walsh. “It is fitting that the University takes a moment to celebrate the striking success of the class of 2020.
“Their hard won achievements demonstrate that this generation of UWTSD graduates possess all the necessary resourcefulness, resilience and determination to overcome the most challenging circumstances. In the process they have made their families, friends and lecturers extremely proud.”
James Mills, Group President of the Students’ Union at UWTSD also acknowledges the unprecedented challenges faced by the Class of 2020 and echoes the pride felt by all at UWTSD: “On behalf of everyone here at your Students’ Union we are incredibly proud of the hard work and success of our students over the past few months under incredibly difficult and challenging circumstances and adapted well to online learning.
“We also look forward to welcoming our students back in the next year for their graduation ceremonies on their respective campuses,” he adds.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, UWTSD – like all other Universities – had to respond swiftly to the lockdown restrictions with teaching moving on-line and celebrations such as graduation, being postponed.
However, UWTSD has already announced that its campuses will be open and ready to start teaching at the beginning of the new academic year, subject to government guidelines. The University is planning a blended delivery pattern for its programmes in Wales which means a combination of online delivery and on-campus teaching, when it is appropriate to do so.
The University is working to a detailed plan which anticipates various scenarios around the coronavirus context and government directives, much in keeping with the Welsh Government’s traffic light system.
It aims to ensure the safe return of students and staff to the campuses whilst also enabling as much face-to-face teaching as possible in order to ensure that students can enjoy an academic and social programme.
BAME advisor appointed to education post
PROFESSOR Charlotte Williams OBE has been appointed by the Welsh
Government to lead a new working group to advise on and improve the
teaching of themes relating to Black, Asian and minority ethnic
communities and experiences across all parts of the school curriculum.
Professor Williams accepted an invitation from the Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, to chair the new ‘Communities, contributions and cynefin: BAME experiences and the new curriculum’ working group.
In 2007, Professor Williams was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List for services to ethnic minorities and equal opportunities in Wales.
Professor Williams said: “I’m delighted and honoured to be leading the working group in advancing this step-change towards integrating Black and minority ethnic history, identity and culture into the everyday learning of every child in Wales. The goal is that the new curriculum will become a shining example of resourcing and enabling broad engagement in learning and teaching with BAME contributions past and present.
“The challenge is to ensure that Black and minority ethnic peoples have a presence across the new Welsh curriculum so that within all of the Areas of Learning and Experience we can hear the sound of their voices, know of their experience, history and contributions, past and present.
“This requires appropriate resourcing because we want all teachers in Wales to be able to rethink their materials and feel confident in the ways of delivering them to reflect this presence. It’s a very exciting prospect. In this way, our curriculum in Wales will ultimately be reflective of our common experience of a vibrant, inclusive, multicultural society.
“We have a rich history in Wales, built on difference and diversity.
“This isn’t about adding an element of Black and minority ethnic history here and there in the new curriculum, but about reimagining learning and teaching across all the elements of the curriculum so that it reflects a Wales that is, and always has been, ethnically diverse, internationalist in its outlook and progressive in its aspirations.”
The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, said: “Our diversity is one of our strengths as a nation and our many histories have combined to shape Wales today.
“I’m delighted Professor Williams will be leading this important piece of work and I look forward to seeing the group’s recommendations.
“The working group will complete a review of learning resources currently available to support the teaching of themes relating to BAME communities and ‘cynefin’ across all parts of the curriculum. The group will also review associated professional learning opportunities and resources. The group will be closely aligned to the review of Welsh history by Estyn, the education inspectorate.
“The Welsh word ‘cynefin’ loosely translates as ‘habitat’ or ‘place’, but also conveys a sense that all human interactions are strongly influenced and determined by both personal and collective experiences, such as through stories or music.”
The group will present their initial findings in the autumn, and a full report in the spring.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams said: “I’m very pleased Professor Williams has agreed to chair the working group.
“I look forward to receiving the group’s recommendations on learning resources to support the teaching of themes relating to BAME communities.
“Wales is made up of a multitude of stories. We must understand and analyse our own cynefin, and make those connections across our communities, nation and the world. It isn’t just about history as a subject, it’s language, literature, geography, and so much more.”
The group will oversee the development of new learning resources in advance of the phased introduction of the new Curriculum for Wales in 2022.
Summer Reading Challenge underway
THE WELSH GOVERNMENT launched the Summer Reading Challenge on Friday, July 17.
The annual Challenge aims to get children between the ages of 4 and 11 to read 6 books over the summer holidays.
This year’s challenge sees a shift to a new bilingual digital platform, supported by library e-lending services, online events and links to existing digital resources. The challenge includes both English and Welsh-medium books.
The theme of the challenge this year is ‘Silly Squad’ and will celebrate funny books, happiness and laughter. Children taking part in the challenge will join the Silly Squad, an adventurous team of animals who “love to have a laugh and get stuck into all sorts of funny books!”
Last year, more than 37,000 children from across Wales took part in the challenge. Over 3,000 children joined libraries as new members, and 33,000 children took part in library events.
Wales’ Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, said: “As a book lover myself, I know what a great pleasure it is to read over the holidays.
“Each year, thousands of children join libraries because of the Summer Reading Challenge, which is a really good way to develop reading skills, discover new authors and gain a lifelong passion for books.”
The Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Dafydd Elis-Thomas, said: “I’m really pleased the Welsh Government can support libraries with this year’s challenge. The scheme has become an annual event for many children, who look forward to taking part every year.
“I’d like to thank all of the library staff involved in making the Summer Reading Challenge such a success in Wales.”
Nicola Pitman Chair of the Society of Chief Librarians Wales, said: “Libraries in Wales now have their biggest ever range of eBooks, comics and magazines to download, and this year’s Summer Reading Challenge is set to really help young readers and parents maximise opportunities to engage with fun topics and stories.
“Click & Collect services are also coming into place across the country to help access library books safely during this time. With a new-look website offering lots of great resources, ideas and incentives, we love how easy it is to sign up online and get started. We’re looking forward to everyone getting silly and joining the Summer Reading Challenge squad.”
Karen Napier, Chief Executive Officer of The Reading Agency, said: “We’re thrilled to be developing a bilingual Welsh/ English Summer Reading Challenge digital platform, which will be ready for families to enjoy from mid-July.
“The Reading Agency is committed to ensuring the proven power of reading is accessible for all. I’m looking forward to public libraries and families in Wales taking part in the Challenge and having a seriously silly summer!”
Chief Executive of the Books Council of Wales, Helgard Krause, said: “Nurturing and encouraging reading is more important at this time than ever before. Research clearly shows that picking up a book is not only good for our mental health and wellbeing – it also helps to strengthen and reinforce children’s language and educational skills. Good luck and enjoyment to everyone involved in this year’s Summer Reading Challenge.”
Further information can be found on the Summer Reading Challenge website.
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