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West Wales schools perform above average



tasker1AS THE EDUCATION consultation period comes to a close, with a vote due on July 16, figures this week show that Pembrokeshire has a huge problem with pupil retention rates.

Though the County Council may feel this is a justification for change, what will be of concern to parents and educators alike is the form that change will take and whether or not it will be change for the better.

What those figures did not show, is that Sir Thomas Picton (STP), whose 6th form is under threat to Pembrokeshire College, had a significantly better retention rate than the Pembrokeshire average suggests, and indeed, when various factors are taken into consideration, appears to have a better retention statistic for its year 12 pupils than the college itself, which has its own in-house career advisory team. In fact, Tasker Milward, had an even better retention rate at a whopping 87%.

Dr Poole, of STP, explained in an email to The Herald, that his school’s official retention figure, listed as 84%, did not take into account pupils who had, in year 12, switched to other courses, taken employment or moved to other centres to study vocational courses, or indeed some pupils who re-started year 12 for a different course, rather than go on to year 13, and he believed his school’s retention figure was nearer a massive 90%, which is well above the Welsh average. The data also does not say what the official retention figures are for Pembrokeshire College. This is a view that it seems is backed up by the Welsh Labour government, with a spokesperson saying: “The Year 12 data needs to be read with caution as it only tells part of the picture. The data provides information on the retention rates in schools, it does not take account of those Year 12 students who go on to attend a FE college or in to Work Based Learning.”

The figures were delivered and explained by Rob Hillier, 14- 19 education system leader, in a children and families overview and scrutiny committee meeting last week. Given a series of graphs, committee members were shown figures for both those young people not in education employment or training (NEET) and the retention figures in full time education at school for 2014. Mr Hillier, explained that Pembrokeshire schools retained only 78% of their Year 12 leavers, a reflection of a significant percentage of early leavers from their AS provision, and a reduction from 80% in 2013. He went on to explain that the 2014 data was significantly below the Welsh average and Pembrokeshire was the 18th ranked Local Authority.

At the meeting there was much discussion as to how the figure could be improved. Cllr Pat Davies stated: “It is an ongoing problem – pupils not receiving correct advice. Pupils that sometimes don’t have the academic qualifications to continue that course (that they start in year 12). I am convinced for some years now that in the 14-19s we are not getting the learning pathways right. School reorganisation is addressing this problem.” Though she was not able to elaborate as to how this re-organisation would address the problem, specifically, or indeed that a significant cut in the Careers Wales service could be having an adverse affect on the schools, given the vote on July 16 on schools reorganisation, for which she did not wish to prejudice herself.

Cllr Ken Rowlands was also keen to question the courses pupils are taking: “Are we providing the right vocational courses? Children want to progress, but have found themselves on the wrong course and dropped out. We must address the needs of the young people of Pembrokeshire, and not look at vested interests.”

The report made a number of suggestions as to how this problem could be resolved:

– Year 11 Information Advice and Guidance

Young people in Year 11 receive assemblies from Job Centre Plus staff that provides them with information about the local labour market. These are timed to coincide with them beginning their post-16 options choices. This compliments the work undertaken by Careers Wales.

– “Choices Events”- all Year 11 young people meet the full range of Pembrokeshire Post-16 education providers face to face in their Secondary Schools in the “Choices Events”. This enables them to get a better understanding of their potential learning pathways; they are further signposted onto options evenings.

– Year 12 AS level entry requirements have been reviewed and each school has revised its Year 12 entry requirements to ensure that learners have the appropriate ability to complete their courses.

Common Area Prospectus and Application Process (CAP). All Year 11 learners will apply for their post-16 education and training through the Welsh Government’s new CAP system from September 2015. This system will allow learners to view the full range of educational opportunities in the county, and will greatly contribute to tracking their progression through the post-16 transition process. This is similar to the UCAS university application process.

Speaking about finding solutions was Education Director, Kate Evans Hughes, who said: “It’s not the data itself but the conversations that follow. We are starting to work with parents too. If the parents’ aspiration is for higher education there are lots of pathways to higher education. This protects the children who are not high flyers.”

What is not certain, is whether the figures are merely a blip for one year, and many people in academia will hope that a cautious approach is taken to any school re-organisation based on such figures. As Jonathan Nutting of the Pembrokeshire Alliance said, when speaking about the figures: “I feel there could be several reasons. Maybe it’s just one of those blips that happen once in a while. I am confident that Kate Evans Hughes took note and will already be finding out more if she does not already have a handle upon it. Perhaps there is major economic pressure on schools, or a large number of year 12s became disaffected. They saw no job prospects at the end of their courses and they did not feel carrying on was worth it. This is possible.”

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Parents warned to look out for respiratory illness in children



RSV is a common respiratory illness which is usually picked up by children during the winter season

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
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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:

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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.


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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