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Education

£1.3m spent to cut class sizes

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Class sizes are a concern: Kirsty Williams

SCHOOLS across Wales are to benefit from 80 new teachers as a result of a £36 million fund to reduce infant class sizes, Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has announced.

£1.3m of the fund, which was announced in January 2017, has been used to recruit the teachers.

When the Welsh Government announced the £36m fund last year, it said that the fund would make “a real difference” to class sizes.

The new teachers will be appointed to schools which have large infant class sizes and also have high levels of deprivation, special education needs and/or where teaching and learning need to improve.

The new teachers will help to create smaller infant classes, so a school which currently has two infant classes of 29 or more pupils could instead have three smaller more manageable infant classes.

The Welsh Government hopes that the scheme will improve both the quantity and quality of the time that teachers spend with their pupils, while also helping to reduce teachers’ workload.

The £36m fund comprises of £16m of revenue which allows local authorities to recruit the extra teachers, and £20m of capital which allows local authorities to build the additional classrooms and learning space needed to further reduce class sizes.

All local authorities in Wales will benefit from extra teachers after submitting bids for the revenue element of the grant, which amounts to £1.3m in 2017/18. Bids for capital element of the grant will be approved shortly.

The Education Secretary yesterday visited pupils in the nursery class at Awel y Môr Primary School in Port Talbot who will, as of this September, benefit from an extra teacher when they move into Reception.

Awel y Môr is a prime candidate for the funding, having above national average levels of both free school meals and SEN.

Kirsty Williams said: “Time and again, teachers and parents tell me that class sizes are a concern. That’s why one of my first actions as Cabinet Secretary was to announce this £36m fund.

“International research and evidence tells us there is a positive connection between smaller class sizes and attainment, particularly for our youngest pupils from poorer backgrounds.

“Additional teachers at schools like Awel y Môr will be able to devote more time and individual attention to each of their pupils.

“That’s good news not only for the pupil and the teacher but the school’s ability to improve as a whole; smaller class sizes are crucial for both improved attainment in those early years of education and helping teachers to manage their workload.

“When seen in the context of broader reforms we’re making such as reducing unnecessary bureaucracy and strengthened initial teacher training and professional development, this will also make a real difference in giving teachers the time to teach and learners the space to learn.

“This is central to our mission to raise standards, reduce the attainment gap and deliver an education system which is a source of national pride and confidence.

Sam Greasley, Headteacher of Awel y Môr Primary School said: “This new fund will have a genuine impact on Pupil Standards. Securing smaller class sizes enables us as teachers to work more closely with individual children.

“We set high expectations for all pupils but acknowledge that pupils need differentiated levels of support, which is more achievable in smaller classes.”

Shadow Education Secretary, Darren Millar, said: “When so many schools are laying off staff and struggling to balance the books, you have to question whether this is the right approach.

“Smaller class sizes require extra classrooms, which in turn demands more teachers – and yet Welsh education is in the midst of a deepening teacher recruitment crisis.

“Despite the Cabinet Secretary’s soaring rhetoric, it’s becoming clear that this fund isn’t going to make any meaningful impression on class sizes.

“It would be better to distribute the money to local education authorities to enable them to ease the funding pressures in our schools, help close the pupil funding gap between England and Wales, and reduce unnecessary bureaucracy.”

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Community

Strictly Cymru brings dancing a-plenty to 2020

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Disabled people from all over Wales have waltzed into 2020 for Strictly Cymru – the country’s renowned inclusive dance competition.

Run by charity Leonard Cheshire, in partnership with the national governing body Paradance UK, the competition has seen dancers in both inclusive and wheelchair-specific categories compete in six heats across South Wales, in preparation for the grand final on 6 June. Strictly Cymru is now in its third year.

Winning in the inclusive categories at the Carmarthen heat on 17 January were Coleg Sir Gar students Kieron, Toby, Thomas, and Max, as well as Richard, who came independently from Coleshill Day Centre in Llanelli and wowed the judges with his Michael Jackson inspired fast feet and moonwalk. A few days later, Rebecca, Chloe, and Anesha from Heronsbridge School lifted the trophy at the Bridgend heat on 21 January.

Gower College students Daniel and Carys wowed the judges with their synchronised dancing at the Cardiff heat, while Coleg Gwent student Matthew secured a place on the final in the inclusive heat held in Newport last week.

Meanwhile, in the wheelchair dance category, dancers Chad and Ben took gold in Carmarthen and Bridgend respectively. The Carmarthen heat rang with the sound of Chad’s catchphrase of “Absolutely fantastic!”

Then, the fifth heat in Cardiff saw the youngest person to take part in Strictly to date, five-year-old Inga, win in the wheelchair category, before Robin John won the final wheelchair heat in Newport after being inspired by his partner Dianne, who was highly commended in last year’s competition grand final.

Dance instructors from Paradance UK also took the participants, who came from schools the community and Leonard Cheshire services in the area, through their paces ahead of each dance-off to give everyone the best chance at reaching the final.

Chad said: “It has been a really great two days and I’ve enjoyed getting to know new people and learn tango. I’m looking forward to the final.”

Robin John, winning at Newport, said: “It’s absolutely wonderful, I’ve tried before and lost, but it feels on a whole different planet to win a heat! I’m looking forward to the final and don’t mind which genre of dance I get, I can adapt to most things.”

Ruth Jones, MP for Newport West, was a judge at the heat there. Ruth said: “I wasn’t sure what to expect beforehand, but it was amazing. As you walked into the room the enthusiasm hit you like a wave. It was so hard to choose a winner because they were all brilliant in their own way, everybody did the maximum they could possibly do.”

Alan Dear, Head of Theatre and Arts at Newport Live, helped support the Newport heat and said: “It is the most joyful thing I have done in years.”

The heats were open to people of all ages and abilities and the overall winners of the competition will be crowned in the Ffwrnes theatre in Llanelli on 6 June 2020.  There they will receive the coveted Strictly glitter ball trophy.

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Education

Lee Waters in School Council Summit

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LOCAL Member of the Senedd, Lee Waters has held the third Llanelli School Council Summit in the Welsh Parliament for secondary school pupils from across the constituency.

Over 70 pupils from schools right across the area visited the Senedd to learn how the Welsh Parliament works and take part in debates in the old Assembly debating chamber.

Pupils chose to debate lowering the voting age and banning diesel cars. They also had the opportunity to question the Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething about their concerns and on his experiences as a Minister in the Welsh Government.

Lee Waters MS said

“Every year since becoming elected I’ve invited the school councils from the secondary schools across Llanelli to the Senedd for a School Council Summit. I’m really pleased that the event has grown and grown.”

“The pupils enthusiasm and grasp of the issues was really impressive, and it was great to hear their thoughts on some really important issues.”

“I was delighted to give pupils a chance to discuss their ideas with the Health Minister Vaughan Gething, debate issues that are important to them, and get practical careers advice learn from past pupils at their schools who now work in Welsh public life.”

“I want to show that pupils from Llanelli can succeed at whatever they choose in life, and get them involved in Welsh democracy.”

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Community

Llanelli MP & AM call for school transport solutions

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Llanelli’s MP and AM joined Tumble residents on Friday (15.01.20) to walk along the unlit path that children have been forced to take since a bus service to Maes y Gwendraeth school was scrapped.

A number of school bus routes in Carmarthenshire have been cancelled in response to UK Government legislation which has restricted the types of vehicles that bus companies can use. This has left many children who relied on these services with no safe way to get to school.

Nia Griffith MP and Lee Waters AM are working with local residents and councillors, like Dot Jones in Tumble, to find solutions that can be implemented by the County Council or UK Government.

Lee Waters AM said, “After carrying the bags and instruments of a Tumble pupil three miles to school on Friday morning it’s clear we need to get these services running again. I’ve been working with the Council and Welsh Government to try and find a common sense resolution to the problem of cancelled school buses right across Llanelli.

“It’s a complicated situation, and unfortunately the Welsh Government’s powers are limited, but we may have found a way forward if the UK Government are willing to be flexible. The Welsh Government has written to ask them to exempt school transport in Carmarthenshire from the new regulations which would allow the local services to resume.”

In addition to commercial school bus routes, there is also a scheme for pupils to access spare places on the coaches that pick up children who live further away from school for a small fare. However, local parents have raised concerns about the availability of this scheme and the process by which places are allocated.

Nia Griffith MP said, “We must work together to find ways to restore bus transport as soon as possible, even if the situation is complex.

“I understand the County Council will now review the scheme which lets pupils use spare places on existing school buses, but this needs to be done as quickly and effectively as possible to ensure the maximum number of pupils benefit.

“It is crazy to have buses with spare capacity passing the bus stop and leaving pupils to walk. But we need transport back for all pupils who have lost it.”

Cllr Rob James, who joined the walk to Ysgol Maes y Gwendraeth on Friday, said: “The bus services that have been withdrawn are vital services to many of our communities and must be retained.

“The local ward Councillors and I are thrilled with the support we are getting from the local MP and AM to solve these issues and we hope that there can be a resolution shortly.”

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