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Education

Pupils face phased return to school

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WALES’ teaching unions reacted cautiously to the Welsh Government’s announcement of a phased return to face-to-face schooling.


Most under-16s in Wales have not attended school since before Christmas. At that time, a rolling series of lockdowns in schools combined with parents’ anxieties to cut classroom time.


At the last minute, the Welsh Government abandoned a planned return to direct teaching for the current school term.


Since January, the overwhelming majority of under-16s have got their lessons online.


FIRST MINISTER SETS TARGET


Last Friday (Jan 29), Mark Drakeford announced the youngest children in Wales could begin returning to school after the February half-term. Their return will depend on rates of coronavirus continuing to fall. 


Rates of coronavirus across Wales have fallen below 200 cases per 100,000 people for the first time since early November. And every day, thousands more people receive their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine – the latest figures show almost 11% of the population have been vaccinated.


The return to primary school will be planned in a phased and flexible way from February 22, if the public health situation continues to improve. Students studying vocational qualifications will also be among those prioritised for the phased return to colleges.


However, those studying at Welsh universities will not return to their campuses until after Easter.


SCIENCE & SAFETY MUST LEAD WAY


Dilwyn Roberts-Young, UCAC General Secretary said “Everyone wants to see a return to face-to-face learning as soon as it is safe to do so – the advantages for children, young people, families and staff are clear.


“We welcome the fact that the final decision about any possible phased and flexible return will be based on the latest scientific and medical evidence. We note the need to provide schools and colleges with sufficient notice to put the relevant arrangements in place, before half term.


“We will continue discussions with the Welsh Government, local government and Further Education colleges to ensure that any return is as safe as possible for everyone. We will certainly be raising the issue of vaccinating staff in these discussions, as well as the need to ensure support for the mental, emotional and physical health of staff and pupils.”


First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “We are making steady progress in bringing coronavirus under control once again. Every day, the vaccination programme is speeding up as more people are vaccinated and more clinics open. Each vaccine is another small victory against the virus.


“We’ve seen a really welcome fall in cases of the virus all over Wales, but they are still too high and the NHS continues to be under intense pressure.
“We need to keep the lockdown restrictions in place for a little while longer to help us bring rates of the virus down further. If we can do this, we will create the headroom we need to get children back to school after half term – starting with the youngest at primary schools


“We will work with teachers, colleges, local authorities to plan for the safe return of children to school over the next couple of weeks and keep parents updated.”


CAUTION CALLED FOR
NEU Cymru’s Senior Wales Officer, Gareth Lloyd, said: “We welcome that Welsh Government want to use any ‘headroom’ created by sustained efforts to suppress the virus, to support the education sector. We have highlighted the need for a range of measures to be put in place – such as smaller class sizes and social distancing. NEU Cymru continues to work with the Welsh Government to try and make any wider return as safe as possible. 


“We must be mindful that everyone will be apprehensive about a potential rise in the virus levels if we open up too quickly, so a phased approach is welcome, as a safe return is essential. 


“It is really important to remember that schools and colleges are open now, and that education professionals are working hard to support children and young people with their learning, through this challenging time for everyone. Educators want a full return to the classroom, as nothing is better than face-to-face learning for everyone. But sadly we are not in that place at the moment.”


Laura Doel, director of school leaders’ union NAHT Cymru, said: “It has been a challenge for families to juggle employment and home-learning, and school leaders want to see nothing more than pupils back in class as soon as it is safe to do so.


“But it is clear that there are still too many unknowns, such as the effectiveness of the vaccine and the pace at which infections are falling, to put the February 22 date firmly in the diary yet.


“Talks have already begun between the Welsh Government and trade unions to make sure that there is a workable plan for lifting the lockdown. This includes reviewing all of the safety measures that schools have been using up to now, to make sure they are still effective.


“The Welsh Government will also have to put effort into reassuring families that it is safe to send their children back to school – there is a confidence test the government must pass to make the return a success.


“It is also important that the teaching workforce is prioritised for vaccinations. This would give confidence as well as providing a better chance that once lockdown measures are lifted, children’s education is less likely to continue to be disrupted by staff absence and illness.”


VACCINATE TEACHERS


The Welsh Government has so far resisted calls to move teachers up the priority list for vaccinations, although Suzy Davies, the Conservatives’ Shadow Minister for Education first called for it to do so at the beginning of January.


Speaking on January 8, Suzy Davies said: “Welsh Conservatives have called for early vaccination of school staff. Everyone recognises how the virus has damaged education, affecting pupils and teachers alike, and no stone should be left unturned.”


At the same time as making that call, Mrs Davies highlighted the digital deficit which discriminates between those with access to devices to enable remote learning and those without. This week, the Welsh Government confirmed it had provided thousands of devices and means of access to school students in need but could not identify how many children remained without online access.


Responding to the First Minister’s announcement last week, Suzy Davies said: “The effectiveness of remote online learning across all age groups during the pandemic has been at best patchy, and our young people’s education has consequently suffered terribly for almost a year now.


“So, we welcome the announcement that a phased return for pupils, beginning with primary-aged ones, will begin from February 22. It’s what Welsh Conservatives have advocated as a safe and sensible approach to take knowing that Coronavirus doesn’t seem to follow any sort of predictable pattern.


“What we want now is a can-do, will-do attitude to opening all our schools as quickly as possible”


“We’re all hoping that this lockdown will be the last one, and Welsh Conservatives will work with the government to make this happen because too many futures depend on it working.”


Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for Education, Siân Gwenllian MS said that the safety of all pupils and school staff should be the main driver of policy in preparation for the reopening of schools.


Ms Gwenllian continued: “The UK Labour Party has called for teachers to be vaccinated, suggesting this be done during half term week ahead of schools re-opening. Yet – in Wales – the Labour government has ruled out prioritising giving teachers the vaccine.


“The safety of all pupils and school staff should be the main policy driver as we prepare

 
“Vulnerable groups should not be de-prioritised as the vaccine is rolled out, but the staff in school settings should be added to the second tranche of the rollout unless sufficient vaccine supplies allow them to be included earlier. This will give maximum confidence that schools can re-open as safely as possible.”

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Education

U-turn on compulsory lifesaving lessons in Welsh secondary education

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SCHOOLS in Wales will now teach first aid and lifesaving skills as part of the new curriculum.

Wales will join England and Scotland by introducing first aid and lifesaving kills to their national secondary education curriculum.

Kirsty Williams, Education Minister had previously rejected the calls for emergency resuscitation skills to be compulsory in school.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was introduced in the secondary school curriculum in England in September 2020.

Local authorities in Scotland have also committed to introduce lifesaving skills to their secondary education curriculum.

The British Heart Foundation had backed the campaign for CPR to be taught in schools.

In a long fought battle, Suzy Davies, a Welsh Conservative Member of the Senedd for South Wales West, secured the commitment from the Welsh Education Minister in the course of debating amendments to the new Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill, which will make sweeping changes to the way Welsh children are educated.

The new curriculum for Wales is planned to come into force from 2022.

Children, parents, families and medics have long argued that regular teaching of CPR in particular will raise our children to have the skills and confidence to step in and save the life of someone in cardiac arrest if they encounter them outside a hospital setting.

The commitment was included in the Welsh Conservative manifesto for the Assembly election in 2016, and Suzy Davies, the Shadow Education Minister, said:

“After 10 years campaigning for this, I was beginning to wonder if it would ever happen.

“From securing cross-party support for this in my early days as an Assembly Member, through several debates and pitches to different Ministers, on to my own proposed legislation which found favour among Senedd Members, it was difficult to understand why Welsh Government was so resistant.

“In this country, our chances of surviving a cardiac arrest outside hospital are as poor as 10%. In countries around the world where teaching CPR and defibrillator use is compulsory, those odds improve dramatically. These skills are quick and easy to learn and easy to remember.

“ Alun Davies MS – himself a cardiac arrest survivor – has rightly argued that we should be able to learn these skills at any time in our lives and that defibrillators should be a commonplace feature of our public landscape. I couldn’t agree more – but how simple it is to ingrain these skills from an early age and raise generation after generation of lifesavers.”

Under the new curriculum, teachers must follow statutory guidance made by Ministers to support various aspects of the new way of teaching. After changes guaranteed by the Education Minister, this guidance will now instruct teachers that they should teach lifesaving skills and first aid: It is no longer optional.

The mandatory teaching of life saving skills and first aid (not just CPR) has been supported by the medical profession, including paramedics and fire service co-responders, as well as charities like St. John’s Cymru, British Heart Foundation, Calon Defibrillators, Cariad and the Red Cross.

It is taught through many youth groups, including Torfaen Sea Cadets who trained Aneurin Metcalfe, the young man who saved someone’s life only this week.

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Education

Styling their way to the top

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FOUR hairdressing learners: Holly Mathias, Jenna Kilgallon, Helaina Thomas and Leah Rees, recently earned themselves a place in the next stage of the Concept Hair Magazine Learner of the Year Competition.

The candidates were invited into the College to show their fully presented entries as evidence and then submitted them remotely to the Concept Hair Magazine judges in December.

The categories for the competition were: Festival Hair, Red Carpet, Old School Barbershop, Celebration of Colour and Safari.

The unique styles allowed the learners to show off their creative hair styling skills from plaits to updos, to bold colour creations.

Charlotte Jones, Hairdressing lecturer was over the moon with the learners’ success; “We were all so impressed with the creativity, dedication and enthusiasm of all the students who took part in the competition. Also, the students who supported the entries during the day and the models who gave up their time to be involved. They should all be very proud of what they have achieved. The results were amazing!”

The students worked to COVID regulations ensuring all the correct PPE and procedures were followed.

Finalist, Holly Mathias entered three categories which included; Styling Level 2 – Festival Theme, Hair Up Level 2 – Red Carpet and Avant Garde – Safari.

Holly shared her experience; “Taking part in the Concept Hair competition, has really boosted my confidence and proved that hard work really does pay off. The support from the staff at Pembrokeshire College is outstanding. I would recommend everyone to take part in this competition as not only is it an amazing experience, but it really allows you to think outside the box and be as creative as you can! I would 100% take part in this competition again.”

Holly plans to go into full-time employment when she completes her course and hopes to one day work on cruise ships or even own her own salon.

The next stage involves the candidates submitting photographic entries on the 12th March where six will be shortlisted for the national finals which is set to take place virtually in April.

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Education

Senedd approves Wales’ National Curriculum

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MEMBERS of the Senedd voted to pass the National Curriculum Bill’s final text, meaning the Curriculum for Wales will now be introduced in 2022.

Throughout the debate on its final stage, which took place on Tuesday (March 9), opposition members praised Wales’ Education Minister, Kirsty Williams. Members from all sides saluted her patience and diligence in guiding a significant piece of legislation onto the statute book.

Even members who disagreed with the Bill’s content and opposed its passage highlighted the Minister’s personal contribution and commitment to creating Wales’ first national Curriculum.

A NATIONAL MISSION

The Bill was the subject of intensive scrutiny and broad consultation.

Speaking in the Senedd, Mrs Williams said the Bill’s passage was ’a national mission’.

“It would have been simpler to cook up plans in Cathays Park in a back office and issue a ‘take it or leave it’ offer,” the Education Minister said.

She continued: “But our combined efforts with teachers, academics, parents, and many organisations here and abroad is worth so much more because of that ‘national mission’ spirit.”

Kirsty Williams paid a personal tribute to Labour MS Lynn Neagle, Chair of the Children’s and Young Persons’ Committee.

Under Lynn Neagle’s leadership, the Committee rigorously scrutinised the Bill and made a series of recommendations in its text.

Of the Labour backbencher, Kirsty Williams said: “I conclude by thanking Lynne Neagle for her tough, astute, tenacious, sometimes bloody-mindedness in her approach to this legislation. I mean that as a compliment, Lynne. 

“As I said earlier, the results of the committee’s work have made this a better Bill.”

She had similarly warm words for her Conservative opposite number, Suzy Davies.

Mrs Williams acknowledged: “She has worked incredibly hard on this Bill, and I know that she’s been fully committed to the scrutiny process. As I said in opening my comments today, I think we have a better Bill due to the CYPE committee’s efforts. I have gone to great lengths to try and respond positively to the cross-party report that the Committee published to try and meet those aspirations.”

Like Mrs Williams, Suzy Davies steps down as an MS in May. She was unable to attend the debate.

CURRICULUM CONTROVERSY

Despite the Minister’s warm words, the new Curriculum’s journey to the statute book has not been without controversy.

Activists railed against the Curriculum’s Religion Values and Ethics element and its focus on Welsh language teaching’s importance to all of Wales’ pupils. The inclusion of Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in the Curriculum provoked vituperative responses from a small group of parents. They opposed children receiving what they’ve claimed will be inappropriately explicit sexual education.

Senior Policy Researcher for NSPCC Cymru/Wales, Dr Sarah Witcombe-Hayes says: “The strength of support for mandatory relationships and sexuality education to be included in the new Curriculum for Wales by leading child protection experts and charities highlights what a game-changer this is.

“The changes are long overdue, but in passing this Bill Senedd members are helping to protect children and young people from abuse – making sure every child and young person in Wales can access high quality RSE that is relevant, sensitive and appropriate to their own capacities and needs.

“It will help all learners understand their rights to safe, healthy and fulfilling relationships throughout their lives, and schools must now be supported and fully resourced to deliver inclusive and high quality RSE from September 2022.”

Regarding Welsh Language teaching and RSE, those with genuine concerns had those worries preyed upon to grandstanding political effect by fringe political movements, such as Ukip and Abolish the Assembly (sic.)

Speaking for the latter group, Gareth Bennett said: “The downgrading of English teaching in the interest of immersion in Welsh is a sinister development. It will surely disadvantage Welsh schoolchildren who are not from a background of speaking Welsh at home.”

Dr Felix Aubel, a noted controversialist, said: “UKIP would divert millions of pounds by abolishing the legal requirement to forcibly impose the Welsh language on people.”

Like Abolish, UKIP will campaign on a platform of abolishing Welsh parliamentary democracy.

Those organisations’ concerns on Welsh language education ignore the fact Welsh is the national language of Wales. Every credible educational study underlines how children benefit from bilingual education.

HISTORY TEACHING CONCERNS PLAID

On Tuesday, further and concerted criticism of the new Curriculum came from Plaid Cymru.

Perturbed by the absence of Welsh history’s teaching, Plaid’s Sian Gwenllian announced the party would vote against the Bill in its final stage.

Plaid’s Shadow Education Minister said that, although her party supported the Bill’s direction of travel: “Plaid Cymru argued for the inclusion of two other mandatory elements that could also contribute towards creating that social, far-reaching transformation that we want to see, namely the history of Wales in all of its diversity, including black and people of colour history, and environmental education, including climate change.

“There is no assurance [these subjects] will be given due attention, and for me, that is a fundamental flaw within the Bill. Guidance simply isn’t enough. It’s easy to scrap guidance or change it, unlike issues that have a statutory basis and are included on the face of the Bill.

“We will, therefore, vote against the legislation today.”

In response, Kirsty Williams said: “For the absolute avoidance of any doubt, Welsh histories and the story of Wales will be a compulsory part of this Curriculum. It is included in the statutory guidance that has already been issued and will have a statutory underpinning. 

“There will be no way a school cannot teach the history of Wales. Indeed, every single area of learning and experience must have a golden thread of a celebration of Welsh identity in all its diversity in every area.”

The Minister observed acidly: “I accept it’s election time, and there are petitions and e-mails to be sent, but it’s regrettable, as I said, on this historic day, with the opportunity for the first time in our nation’s history to have our own curriculum, that The Party of Wales will choose to vote against.”

SCHOOLS GIVEN

TIME TO PREPARE

The Bill passed by 32 votes to 18 with one abstention. Four Conservative Senedd Members voted with the Government, including Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies.

Following Royal Assent, which is anticipated in April, the Bill will become the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act 2021.

Last year, the Minister published an updated action plan setting out the next steps in Wales’ reform journey, ahead of the new Curriculum’s introduction.

Alongside the updated ‘Our National Mission’ action plan, the Welsh Government also published a document setting out shared expectations of what curriculum realisation means for practitioners and schools from 2022. Curriculum for Wales. 

The journey to 2022 has been created to help schools prepare for designing and implementing their Curriculum. In January, the Welsh Government published the Curriculum Implementation Plan, which will steer its work with partners to deliver the Curriculum for Wales.

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