EDUCATION SECRETARY Kirsty Williams announced new rules to reduce the number of pupils being entered too early for exams on Monday (Oct 16).
Ms Williams had previously expressed her concern regarding schools abusing the early entry system by entering whole pupil cohorts into Maths and English papers a year early.
An independent review by Qualifications Wales has found:
- The continued widespread use of early and multiple entry at GCSE poses risks to students and to the system, which are not easily justified
- The practice encourages a “teaching the test” approach at the cost of wider subject knowledge
- More than £3.3m was spent by schools on early entry in the last academic year
Qualifications Wales concluded that they are ‘concerned about the extensive and growing use of early and multiple entry’.
In response the Education Secretary has announced that, from summer 2019, only a pupil’s first entry to a GCSE examination will count in their school’s performance measures. The current policy allows schools to count the best grade from multiple sittings.
Kirsty Williams said: “The changes I am announcing today, based on Qualification Wales’ findings, will ensure that the interests of pupils are always put first.
“I am concerned that pupils who had the potential to get an A*, A or a B at the end of a two year course end up having to settle for a C. Too often this is because they take their exam early and are not re-entered again. I want every child to reach their full potential in school. Early entry must only be for the minority of pupils who will benefit.
“GCSEs are designed to be sat after two years of teaching, not one. These changes will ensure our young people access a broad and balanced curriculum, and focus in on what’s best for our children and young people.”
Responding to research published by Qualifications Wales into the growing practice of schools entering pupils for their GCSE exams early, Llyr Gruffydd AM, Plaid Cymru’s shadow spokesperson for Education and Lifelong Learning, said: “I welcome the report as it provides a deeper understanding of the issues facing schools and students sitting GCSEs a year early. The cabinet secretary has already indicated her concerns and it’s important that she now acts on the recommendations being made.
“Retaining the option of early entry for some students is important, but it’s clear that too many are being entered for some subjects and this broad-brush approach can put additional pressures on students and cost valuable learning time in schools.
“At a time of growing financial pressure, it’s also worrying to note that early entry is placing an additional cost of at least £3.3m on our schools. The report also highlights that some schools are looking at sharing these costs with parents which is a further concern.
“Schools are under pressure to enter their students early and the Government must change the performance measures that have created this situation. Pupils should only be put forward for examination when they are ready and not to balance other competing pressures.”
Welcoming the Welsh Government move, Darren Millar AM, Welsh Conservative Shadow Education Secretary, said: “Student wellbeing should be at the heart of all decisions made by schools, so the Cabinet Secretary’s announcement is to be welcomed.
“This year’s GCSE results were the worst in a decade for Wales and early entry might well have fuelled this problem.
“Taking exams early isn’t for everyone. Most pupils will need to be given the time to develop their knowledge instead of being pressured to sit tests they simply aren’t ready for.”
NEU Cymru has welcomed the Qualifications Wales report into early entry exams which is calling for a change to the accountability model for schools. The National Education Union say that the way schools are held accountable often leads to unintended consequences within the education system. The Union has long argued for a change to the model to ensure that pupil progress is not undermined by the pressure put on schools to hit certain targets. The union will now look to work with the Welsh Government to find constructive changes that will address these concerns and others relating to how schools are judged.
Keith Bowen, Wales Director of the National Education Union Cymru, said: “We will naturally have to review the full findings of the report over time however the primary recommendations, in principle, appear sensible. It is important that while we seek to limit unnecessary early entry we do not underestimate the value of it for some pupils. The individual circumstances of each pupil need to be assessed and the professional judgement of teachers and head teachers should be respected in making the right choices for learners.
“What is encouraging in the report is the recognition that accountability measures are having unintended consequences on how schools operate. This isn’t limited to early entry but clearly it has had an impact in regards to this particular issue. We hope the Welsh Government do acknowledge the concerns of the report and works with the profession to develop a more innovative approach to assessing school performance. This would allow teachers to continue to offer early entry where appropriate, but to take away the accountability pressure that has put high stakes assessment above pupil progress.”
Parents warned to look out for respiratory illness in children
RESPIRATORY Syncytial Virus (RSV) is circulating amongst children and toddlers in the Hywel Dda area (Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire)
Hywel Dda UHB Medical Director and Deputy Chief Executive Dr Philip Kloer said: “Because of the COVID restrictions, there have been few cases of RSV during the pandemic, but this virus has returned and in higher numbers now people are mixing more.
“RSV is a common respiratory illness which is usually picked up by children during the winter season, and causes very few problems to the majority of children. However, very young babies, particularly those born prematurely, and children with heart or lung conditions, can be seriously affected and it’s important that parents are aware of the actions to take.”
Parents are being encouraged to look out for symptoms of severe infection in at-risk children, including:
*a high temperature of 37.8°C or above (fever)
*a dry and persistent cough, difficulty feeding, rapid or noisy breathing (wheezing).
The best way to prevent RSV is to wash hands with soap and water or hand sanitiser regularly, dispose of used tissues correctly, and to keep surfaces clean and sanitised.
Most cases of bronchiolitis are not serious and clear up within 2 to 3 weeks, but you should contact your GP or call NHS 111 if:
- You are worried about your child.
- Your child has taken less than half their usual amount during the last two or three feeds, or they have had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more.
- Your child has a persistent high temperature of 37.8C or above.
- Your child seems very tired or irritable.
Dial 999 for an ambulance if:
- your baby is having difficulty breathing
- your baby’s tongue or lips are blue
- there are long pauses in your baby’s breathing
University to host industry summit online
SUPPORTING industry’s recovery from the impact of the pandemic is a key priority for the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD).
The University has a track record for working with industry through knowledge transfer, research innovation, workforce development and by providing a ready pipeline of skilled students and graduates, in partnership with employers.
In addition, UWTSD’s MADE Cymru initiative was established to support manufacturing industries in Wales to adapt to the challenges of Industry 4.0.
The initiative, funded by the EU via the Welsh Government, aims to support the economic recovery of manufacturers in Wales by offering part and fully funded training to businesses to upskill staff, as well as research and development that improves processes and products to reduce waste and costs.
In addition, UWTSD and MADE Cymru have organised an Industry Summit to be held online between June 8-10 to inform, engage and inspire businesses during this critical period of post-Covid recovery.
Expert speakers will be sharing their insights including James Davies from Industry Wales, Carol Hall, Regional Investment Manager, Development Bank of Wales, Chris Probert, Innovation Specialist, Welsh Government and Geraint Jones, Knowledge Transfer Adviser at KTN.
The line-up also includes Welsh manufacturers who will be sharing their own experiences, including Tim Hawkins, Managing Director, Markes International, Julia Chesney-Roberts, Commercial Manager, Riversimple, Angus Grahame, Founder of Splosh and Jacques Bonfrer, Co-Founder and Team Lead, Bot-Hive.
There will be guest talks from circular economy expert Eoin Bailey and lean author Daryl Powell and an opportunity to find out about the range of services offered by the University.
Graham Howe, Executive Head of the MADE Cymru project at UWTSD says: “This Industry Summit aims to explore issues and challenges facing manufacturing in Wales so that we can work together with employers to find solutions.
“We always start with asking a manufacturer what their biggest problem is today and look at how we can help them with it.
“We aim to unravel potentially confusing challenges like these. Our approach begins by looking at what companies need to increase their productivity and competitiveness.
“We aim to lead the businesses we work with through a journey of continuous improvement – a journey that makes the most of Industry 4.0 technologies and their ever-growing digital capabilities to help solve the specific problems faced by each company.
“All of the feedback we receive from businesses shapes our curriculum – we want to produce employable, digitally literate graduates who can contribute to their workplace from day one”.
Alison Orrells is CEO and Managing Director of Safety Letterbox and has been one of the organisations participating in the MADE Cymru initiative.
She said: “It was important to keep innovating and investing to set us apart and come out stronger. It’s been intense but we had a game plan – now it is all about business future-proofing, being agile, collaborations and being adaptable.”
Covid-19 has affected every part of a business and shifted the focus from production to survival.
UWTSD recently led a round table discussion with Welsh manufacturers about the future of manufacturing in Wales.
That discussion found that their outlook is positive about the future.
Manufacturers accelerated their adoption of new technologies to enhance and optimise production.
With many employees on furlough, managers took the opportunity to rethink and invest in better IT, particularly communications, training and diversified into new product areas. They looked to local colleges and universities to help shift perceptions of jobs in manufacturing and demonstrated the career opportunities and pathways available.
They also loosened their reliance on overseas imports and looked for suppliers in the UK to minimise future risk of disruption.
All sessions of the Industry Summit are free to attend and places can be booked on the UWTSD website: https://uwtsd.ac.uk/made/made-cymru-industry-summit/
A long road back for education
EVEN before schools find out what the new normal will be, the pressure is already on the education system to deliver significantly more.
Some talk about a ‘lost generation’ needing to ’catch-up’ amid concerns those comments stigmatise children. However, the reality is that children have missed months of face-to-face teaching, and that has inescapable consequences.
DISADVANTAGED SLIP FURTHER BEHIND
Wales’s learners have been part of the pandemic’s ‘collateral damage.’
Although, for now, there are more questions than answers, solutions to repair that ‘damage’ will need to be carefully considered and delivered during the Welsh Parliament’s sixth term.
Even before the pandemic, Wales already faced an uphill struggle to secure good educational outcomes for all its learners.
The most disadvantaged learners have extra challenges which can prevent them from achieving their full potential.
Even though the previous Welsh Government invested £585 million since 2012 through the Pupil Development Grant (PDG), the attainment gap it was seeking to close, didn’t narrow.
It also typically widens as learners get older.
There’s a stark difference between children eligible for free school meals and their peers at Key Stage 4, the two years where learners usually take GCSEs and other examinations.
Children and young people themselves are well placed to give their verdict.
A 2021 Children’s Commissioner survey of 20,000 children found that 35% didn’t feel confident about their learning, compared to 25% in May 2020.
63% of 12–18-year-olds were worried about falling behind.
There are countless reports setting out adults’ views about how missing more than half a year of ‘face-to-face’ schooling has affected learners.
One of the major concerns is the variation between what schools have delivered to pupils.
There’s a long list of potential impacts:
· ‘Lost learning’ meaning pupils could underperform academically and have their long-term prospects affected.
· A loss of confidence in the examination and assessment system.
· Long-term reductions in school attendance, a factor known to be key to educational outcomes.
· Difficult transitions between school years and from primary to secondary.
· Challenges in re-engaging learners and addressing low motivation.
· An unhelpful ‘catch up’ narrative about lost learning placing unnecessary psychological pressure on children and young people; and
· A negative effect on learners’ ability and confidence to communicate in Welsh where they haven’t been able to do so at home.
As well as these obvious educational issues, there are wider predicted effects.
Current learners could earn less, with one estimate of up to £40,000 in a lifetime.
The harm to children’s physical health and a higher prevalence of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, are also serious concerns.
The pandemic’s wider economic impact is also likely to increase the number of children living in low-income families.
Again, it’s the most disadvantaged learners who are predicted to bear the brunt in the longer term.
For example, in March 2021, the Child Poverty Action Group found that 35% of low-income families responding to its UK wide survey were still without essential resources for learning, with laptops and devices most commonly missing.
The Fifth Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education (CYPE) Committee heard that there is “plenty of evidence” that” there are striking differences between families in terms of their ability to support young people in their learning: the resources they have around them, the enthusiasm, the engagement, the commitment”.
There must be work to rebuild relationships that have been under significant strain during the past 12 months.
Those between teaching unions and the decision-makers within the education system; between parents/carers and schools; and perhaps, most importantly, re-establishing the relationship between learners and their teachers.
Some of the immediate solutions which are already on the table or up for discussion are: more money, including the ‘Recruit, Recover and Raise Standards funding’; more teachers and learning assistants on the ground; changing term times; and setting up summer schools, holiday clubs and home tuition.
However, the longer-term problems are far harder to solve.
One estimate puts the cost of Wales’s journey back from COVID-19 at £1.4 bn to meet the challenges to the education system alone.
The opportunity exists for major reform and an examination of the whole approach to and aim of education.
Children and young people’s return to the classroom has been heralded as a big chance to put their well-being at the heart of education. As well as having a positive impact on well-being, put, mentally healthy children are much more likely to learn.
Following pressure from the Fifth Senedd’s CYPE Committee and its stakeholders, Wales has already made a significant shift towards establishing a ‘Whole School Approach to Mental Health’. The challenge during the Sixth Senedd will be to deliver it.
The potential sting in the tail is that, at the same time, the education system is getting children back to school, it also contends with major legislative reform.
This is in the form of wholesale changes to both the school curriculum and support for learners with Additional Learning Needs.
Some may argue that there’s been no better time to have such significant changes.
If the education system can successfully implement these three major reforms, arguably Wales will complete significant leg work and be on a firmer footing to meet the challenges presented by Covid-19.
At this stage there may be many more questions than answers for the education system.
The world into which learners will move has changed forever.
Not only has the pandemic interrupted their schooling, but the future journeys they were expected to make into the workplace or further and higher education could be unrecognisable.
The skills and aptitudes needed in the ‘new normal’ are only now beginning to be identified and are likely to be different from those needed before the pandemic began.
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