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Education

Estyn report gets mixed response

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SUGGESTING that the problem is not so much ‘fake news’; as fishing for facts to suit different agendas, the reaction to the Estyn report into Wales’ education and training has been a particularly illuminating example of cherry-picking for attention-grabbing headlines.

Estyn states that: “The underlying picture gained from this year’s inspections is similar to last year. Progress with fundamentals such as basic literacy and numeracy; and behaviour and attendance; that learners need to be ‘ready to learn’ generally continues: but variability within and between providers remains a prominent feature of our education system.”

A lot of words to say that improvement continues but there is a variation between different schools in different areas.

Not, perhaps, the sort of se arching conclusion that could not be ascertained without producing 158 pages of text, graphs, pictures, and excerpt boxes.

The chief finding of the report alighted upon by BBC Wales was that ‘teaching is one of the weakest aspects of provision in most sectors’.

Conservative AM Darren Millar, who could be relied upon to lambast the Welsh Government for discovering a diamond mine inside a mountain of gold, said: “The Chief Inspector’s report highlights a huge deficit of strong leadership in around half of schools across Wales, which is holding back teachers and children from achieving their potential.”

NUT Cymru Secretary David Evans said: “The key findings of the report are not a major surprise. The idea that there needs to be a focus on professional development for teachers tells us nothing we did not already know and that the NUT have not been saying for some time.

“No one would argue with the notion of promoting school to school collaboration or better access to professional development. The reality is that there remain significant barriers to ensuring this happens From a lack of high quality training provision, a lack of financial resources to release teachers or workload pressures making non-classroom activity almost impossible.”

Commenting on Estyn’s Annual Report, Rob Williams, Director of Policy for NAHT Cymru, the school leaders’ union for Wales, said: “NAHT Cymru wholeheartedly agrees that concentrating on developing excellent teachers and excellent learning in our classrooms is the most important core aim of school leadership.

“The mixed picture described by Estyn across Wales reflects the unprecedented workload required of schools and particularly school leaders against the backdrop of financial pressures.”

Against all of those words of warning needs to be set one key finding: improvement in education performance is continuing – at least according to Estyn, although you would be hard-pressed to tell.

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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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Education

Over £100m of new funding will help make schools and colleges Covid-secure

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Schools and colleges to receive additional funding

SCHOOLS and colleges will receive £103 million in Welsh Government funding, as learners return for the January term.

£50m will be provided via local authorities through the Sustainable Communities for Learning programme. The funding will help schools carry out capital repair and improvement work, with a focus on health and safety measures, such as improving ventilation. The funding will also be used to support decarbonisation.

£45m of revenue funding will also help support school budgets, assisting schools as they continue to deal with the ongoing impacts of the pandemic and to prepare for the requirements of the new curriculum.

An additional £8m will be provided to further education colleges, to ensure learning can continue safely and ensure the most disadvantaged learners are not further impacted by the pandemic.

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

“I know schools and colleges have faced a very difficult time and everyone across the workforce has worked incredibly hard to meet the challenges of the pandemic. This funding will further support our schools and colleges to keep settings as Covid-secure as possible.

“While we want to support the sector in recovering from the pandemic, we also have to make sure we continue to plan for the future, and help all education settings across Wales fulfil our collective goals of making Wales a net-zero nation.

“The funding announced today will help us to ensure sustainability across the sector – be that the environmental sustainability achieved through decarbonisation, or sustainability in provision.”

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Education

Welsh schools plan to work from home after Christmas

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Jeremy Miles MS

SCHOOLS across Wales have been told by the Education Minister to prepare for at-home learning starting in January. 

Jeremy Miles MS has repeated the Welsh Government’s aspiration to stick to in-person learning in schools. However, he added that some measures may need to be taken to protect children and staff members. 

He has written to schools, suggesting they have preparations in place to move to remote learning if needed. 

Schools will be given two days at the start of the spring term to create plans for all children to return to school. 

Colleges have also been given the option to use the two “planning days” at the start of term, and have been advised they can move to some online learning from January.

The use of face coverings in schools will continue, as well as an increase in taking Lateral Flow Tests. Secondary school pupils and staff are expected to test at least three times a week. 

Schools have also been given permission to stagger starting and finishing times in the new term to help combat the spread of the Omicron variant.

Mr Miles has said: “Our collective priority continues to be to minimise the disruption to education, and ensure where possible learners continue to receive in-person learning, as well as protecting staff, learners and communities,

“I know that the autumn term has been particularly challenging for school staff, learners and their families, and the level of disruption due to staff capacity has resulted in some schools having to make the difficult decision to move certain classes or year groups to remote learning for short periods.

“In recognition of the challenges that schools and colleges have faced, and the current levels of uncertainty regarding the impact of Omicron, I have today written to all schools and colleges to provide as much clarity now as I can to enable them to plan and prepare for the return in January.

“I am providing all schools with two planning days at the start of the spring term. This will  allow time for schools to assess staffing capacity and put the necessary measures in place to support the return of all learners.

“Schools will be asked to make use of the planning days to ensure they have robust plans in place to move to remote learning if required – this could be for individual classes or year groups or possibly for the whole school.

“Schools will be asked also to use this opportunity to revisit contingency plans, ensuring exam years are prioritised for on-site provision should there be a need to restrict in person learning at any time and consider what arrangements might need to be in place for vulnerable learners and the children of critical workers during any periods of disruption.

“This is a fast evolving situation and we continue to monitor the latest data and evidence.

“I would like to reiterate my thanks to all in the education community for all they have done during these most challenging of times.”

Commenting Laura Anne Jones MS, Welsh Conservative and Shadow Education Minister, said:

“The youngest in our society have sacrificed so much during the pandemic to protect others at a huge cost to their own life chances.

“Therefore, it is essential we do everything we can to ensure schools are kept open at their normal capacity.

“Education is not expendable, especially for vulnerable children where their time away from home is their only respite from abuse.

“There are legitimate concerns over workforce availability if a significant wave hits the country, and that’s why the priority and energy of government must be directed at rolling out the booster jab programme as quickly as possible.”

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