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Education

‘Testing fails pupils’

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STANDARDISED testing continues to leave pupils and schools distressed, according to a national survey of teachers in Wales. 

The research, conducted by NUT Cymru, shows that after four years, the literacy and numeracy tests are even more divisive than ever.

Some teachers have even expressed the view that they are considering leaving the profession rather than continue to subject pupils to the testing regime.

As a result of the survey’s findings, the NUT has again called for a review of the system, which it claims is undermining the impact of the Foundation Phase and hindering children’s emotional and educational progress.

The union says some teachers are questioning their long-term commitment to the profession, with one survey respondent stating: “I want to hang my head in shame for what I’m doing to the mental health of the children in my care. I’m ashamed of being a part of a system where all the encouragement of the past year is wiped away by a cross on a scale which says they aren’t good enough. I have seriously considered leaving teaching rather than be part of this testing regime again.”

In 2012, 33% of teachers said they received contact from parents in relation to the assessments and that these were almost exclusively negative. This year’s results showed that the figure was now 56% with the majority stating it remained negative or mixed at best.

NUT Cymru Secretary, David Evans, said: “Once again we see an alarming level of anger and frustration from teachers when asked about the impact of these tests on pupils and on their working conditions.

“The headline figures are extremely worrying but what is particularly worth highlighting is the fact there is a rising level of opposition to the testing. Far from being convinced by standardised testing, the profession is becoming increasingly disillusioned with the policy.

“Perhaps the most depressing evidence is the anecdotal feedback from teachers in regards to the impact those tests have on their pupils. Children are being left demoralised, in tears and with low self-esteem. This is not the outcome any teacher or parent wants to see and it is certainly one of the reasons cited by teachers for considering leaving the profession.

“There is a new Cabinet Secretary in place at the Welsh Government. These tests are not her policy. We have written to Kirsty Williams with the details of this survey and hope a fresh pair of eyes can lead to a new way of thinking, in particular for the very youngest children and in light of the Donaldson recommendations around a less intrusive approach to assessment.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We believe the best way to ensure children make regular progress is to make sure they never fall behind and that this can only be achieved through careful monitoring and assessment of their progress. The national reading and numeracy tests were introduced so that practitioners could gain a clearer picture of pupils’ reading and numeracy skills and use that information to support their progression.

“Our guidance is very clear that there should be no undue preparation for the tests and that all schools are expected to maintain a broad and balanced curriculum throughout the school year. While familiarising children with the format of the tests is good practice, drilling children is never acceptable because it will almost certainly generate feelings of negativity.

“We have taken a number of steps to minimise the impact of the tests on schools’ workloads. Through the Education Improvement Grant, we provide funding to schools which allows them to bring in invigilators, markers or clerical help. We also provide a supported marking service for the Numerical Reasoning tests which we know from feedback is highly valued by practitioners.

“Professor Donaldson’s report ‘Successful Futures’ makes clear that testing is an important element in the range of assessment techniques available to schools but that improvements can be made. Our move to online adaptive tests in 2018 will deliver this.”

While the union reports that 97.5% of respondents did not believe the tests were a positive experience for pupils (up 4% from the original 2013 survey and overall 86% of teachers felt the tests had added to their workloads), the proportion of teachers in Wales who provided responses was very low indeed.

There are around 25,000 teachers in Wales. Even taking into account that not all of those teachers are members of the NUT, a figure of 287 respondents is a very small sample upon which to base definitive conclusions.

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Education

Funding for music education trebled to the tune of £13.5m

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EVERY child will have the opportunity to benefit from music education as part of the Welsh Government’s plans for a national music service, which will help ensure no child misses out due to a lack of means.

As the National Plan for Music Education is published, the Minister for Education has confirmed funding will be trebled, with £13.5m being invested over the next three years.

The plan will make access to music education fairer and more consistent across Wales, with a particular focus on learners from low-income households and those with Additional Learning Needs. Support will be available for children and young people to access and progress with music tuition, with learners from disadvantaged and under-represented groups supported to join music ensembles.

The plan includes a number of key work programmes such as:

A review on music tutors’ terms and conditions, to ensure they are treated equitably and are recognised properly.
A ‘First Experiences’ programme to offer children in primary schools a minimum of half a term of musical instrument taster sessions, delivered by trained and skilled music practitioners.
A ‘Making Music with Others’ initiative, including opportunities for children and young people in secondary schools to gain industry experience through working alongside musicians and creative industries
A new national instrument and equipment library to support access to a resource bank to be shared across Wales.
These programmes will be rolled out from September 2022, supporting schools and settings to give all children and young people from the ages of 3 to 16 the opportunity to learn to play an instrument as well as singing and making music in our schools and our communities.

The National Music Service will operate as a ‘hub’, with the Welsh Local Government Association co-ordinating the Music Service’s programmes with a wide range of organisations. It will help schools and settings in their delivery of the Curriculum for Wales and provide more diverse opportunities for children and young people to experience music outside schools and settings.

First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford and the Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, visited St Joseph’s Cathedral Primary School in Swansea to see a cluster of primary school children taking part in a ‘Play Along’ session led by Swansea Music Service.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said:

“The establishment of a National Music Service for Wales is an important commitment in our Programme for Government and I’m delighted that we are delivering on this pledge.

“Learning an instrument was a formative part of my upbringing and a lack of money should not be a barrier to any young person who wants to learn to play music. We are fortunate in Wales to have a strong tradition of school, county and national ensembles, and we want to make sure that our children and young people are able to play a full part in these. This funding will support music services in schools and within the community to help nurture our young musical talent.”

The Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles said:

“Our vision is for all children and young people across Wales, regardless of background, to have the chance to learn to play an instrument. The plan we are publishing today, backed by funding, will help deliver that vision.

“For too long, the chance to learn an instrument and develop musical skills has been for those few whose families and carers who can afford tuition. I want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to access music tuition, and that’s why we’re making this significant investment to deliver a range of activities for our children and young people to learn and experience the joy of music.

“The development of the National Music Service will ensure that we nurture our next generation and continue to produce new talent and showcase Wales to the world.”

WLGA Chief Executive Chris Llewelyn said:

“We are proud to work with the Welsh Government on delivering this vital service to children across Wales. Many families in Wales can’t afford an instrument, and this funding will go a long way to opening doors to children across Wales to have the opportunity of learning an instrument.

“Playing an instrument and reading music is a very important skill for a child, and music brings enormous joy to children. Local authorities believe that children across Wales will have better access to instruments, and this plan will develop many future talented musicians, and support pupils to develop their musical skills.”

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Education

Work starts on new £8.25m primary school for Pembrey

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WORK has started on building a new £8.25million primary school for Pembrey.

The new school building is being constructed on the recreation ground/playing field immediately adjacent to the existing school site on Ashburnham Road.

It will provide high-quality teaching facilities to improve the overall learning experience for learners, as well as benefitting the local community.

The new school will have capacity for 270 primary pupils, 30 nursery pupils and will incorporate a Flying Start facility which is currently located in a mobile classroom on the current school site.

Headteacher Helen Jacob said: “We are looking forward to having our brand-new school building at Pembrey where we can continue to provide quality educational opportunities and experiences for our children.

“Everyone is excited at the prospect of learning in a modern purpose-built school that will be at the heart of the community.”

The project is part of Carmarthenshire County Council’s Modernising Education Programme which aims to give every child in the county access to first class accommodation and facilities.

It is being jointly funded by Welsh Government through its 21st Century Schools initiative.

The new school building has been designed by the council’s own architects and the work is being carried out by local contractor TRJ Ltd. 

The estimated completion date is the autumn term of 2023.

Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services Cllr Glynog Davies said: “I am delighted that building work has started on the new school for the community of Pembrey. Building it on the adjacent recreation ground means that we can reduce disruption as much as possible.

“The council is committed to investing in our children’s futures, and the new school building will provide the very best educational facilities for both pupils and staff and accommodation fit for 21st century teaching and learning.”

Local member Cllr Hugh Shepardson said: “I am delighted that we are making a start on the new Pembrey Primary School. The facility, which I understand will be completed next year, will provide state-of-the-art teaching facilities for our children at Pembrey and will allow our children to be taught in a modern and welcoming environment.

“I am grateful to the Education department’s Modernising Education Programme team and the authority’s Cabinet for their diligence and hard work in making the completion of the new school a reality.”

To date, the Modernising Education Programme has invested more than £300million in Carmarthenshire schools, including the building of 12 new primary schools, two new secondary schools, and 48 major refurbishments and extensions.

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Education

£18m to support children and young people with additional learning needs

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NEW funding to support children and young people with Additional Learning Needs has been announced by Jeremy Miles, the Minister for Education and Welsh Language.

£18m will be made available to provide extra support for children and young people with ALN who’ve been affected by the pandemic and to help educational settings as learners move to the new ALN system from this month.

£10m of the funding will be used to support learners with ALN affected by the pandemic and to improve their wellbeing. During the pandemic, many disabled children and young people, including learners with ALN, continue to experience a negative impact on their mental health and difficulties accessing education.

The funding will add to existing support for ALN learners, such as intensive learning support and speech and language therapy. The funding can also be used to provide extra resources to target the impacts of the pandemic, such as mental health support and tailored support to help with attendance.

£8m will be allocated to schools, nurseries, local authorities and Pupil Referral Units to move learners from the old Special Educational Needs (SEN) system to the new ALN system, as the roll-out of the Additional Learning Needs Act continues.

The new ALN system, being rolled out over three years, will ensure children and young people with ALN are identified quickly and their needs are met. The Act makes provision for new individual development plans, designed to put the views of learners at the heart of the decision-making process, alongside those of their parents or carers.

Minister for Education and Welsh Language Jeremy Miles said:

“We are determined to deliver a fully inclusive education system in Wales – a system where additional needs are identified early and addressed quickly, and where all children and young people are supported to thrive in their education.

“Schools and nurseries are already doing a fantastic job of supporting their learners, but we know they need more resources to do this. That’s why I’m announcing this additional investment to support learners to overcome the effects of the pandemic and prevent the entrenchment of inequalities on their education, employment opportunities, their health and wellbeing.”

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