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Education

At last: The Diamond Report arrives

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Who’s funding whom?: Welsh students head for England not Wales

A FACTUAL summary of the evidence collected as part of the ongoing review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance Arrangements in Wales was published last week. The review, which is being carried out by a panel chaired by Sir Ian Diamond, began in April 2014. At that stage it was agreed that Sir Ian would produce a factual summary of the evidence he and the panel had collected in autumn 2015. Education Minister, Huw Lewis said: “Since April 2014 Sir Ian Diamond and his review panel have made good progress in reviewing a wide range of evidence and data relating to the Higher Education sector and to Higher Education funding. “The report identifies the key themes arising from that evidence, however it does not make any judgement about the validity or significance of that evidence.

Nor does it seek to represent the Review panel’s view or provide any recommendations. These will be presented in the final report which will be issued in September 2016.” Remarkably, the Minister’s statement contained no reference to the key evidence referred to in the report and the bald summary of facts it presented; namely that the current system of funding undergraduate higher education as it is currently constituted is unsupportable. Welsh Conservatives were swift to welcome Professor Diamond’s interim finding, which they claim confirm the party’s long-standing criticism of Labour’s ‘unsustainable’ tuition fees policy. The report’s conclusion that ‘many respondents were strongly of the view that, in light of sustainability concerns, there is a need to revisit the tuition fee grant policy’ was also highlighted by a Conservative press release which pointed out that their opinions had been reinforced by those expressed by Universities Wales, the Learned Society of Wales and in a report commissioned by the University and Colleges Union, which also called the policy ‘unsustainable’.

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Education, Angela Burns AM, said: “We welcome the review’s interim findings, which confirm what we have always said; Labour’s policy is entirely unsustainable. “This blunder has always been a misguided vanity project and the evidence against it continues to pile up. Welsh Conservatives are committed to replacing it with a progressive system of living cost support to enable students from all walks of life to get to university.” Mrs Burns restated Conservative claims that the Welsh Government’s commitment to capping the burden of tuition fee loans on Welsh students in England was resulting in Welsh public money subsidising English universities. UCAS’s response to Professor Diamond was particularly telling on that last point: ‘The 15 January (2015) statistical release shows that application rates for Welsh applicants choosing to study at English institutions have further increased, whilst numbers choosing to study at Welsh institutions have decreased’.

There has been an increase of 20% in Welsh domiciled applicants applying to English HE providers since 2010. William Powell, Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales told The Herald he wanted an alternative system for student finance: “Time and time again we see evidence that the struggle to afford living costs is the number one reason why many people are put off applying to go to university. This is why the Welsh Liberal Democrats would change the system and give students financial support upfront to pay for their living costs. William Powell claimed: “This would be a far better arrangement than giving them money in the form of a loan which they have to pay back over a number of years and simply adds an additional burden of debt.” Simon Thomas, Plaid Cymru Shadow Education Minister, said: “There is a case to be made for the refocusing of student support to students studying in Wales, so that Welsh colleges and universities benefit.”

Simon Thomas was clear on the current system’s shortcomings: “The unintended consequence of the current policy – that English universities benefit by millions a year from Welsh government money – must be addressed.” A Welsh Government statement appeared to concede that point, but said the report ‘highlights that Wales is a net importer of students and that as a result Welsh HE institutions receive more in tuition fees from English and other UK students than they pay out to institutions based over the border’. Current higher education (HE) students conveyed mixed views about whether the level of tuition fees acted as a disincentive to young people considering entering HE. Several contributors argued that the sums involved were so large that potential students had become inured to it.

Indeed the fact that it was not a critical consideration for most prospective HE students would seem to support this claim and prospective HE students seemed to take it for granted that they would either earn enough as a result of gaining a degree to be able to pay their debt off relatively easily or, that they would never have to worry about paying back their debt if they did not earn enough. Similarly, HE students alike did not seem themselves as averse to running up debt which would only be repaid in the long-term once earnings thresholds were exceeded. Generally neither current nor prospective HE students were overly concerned about the wider long-term consequences of accruing debt to fund their studies – although student support representatives in particular worried that they ought to be, given that the potential consequences of such debt on longer term prospects (e.g. borrowing for mortgages) was not yet clear. Employers, who generally did not have such a detailed insight into the tuition fees policy, generally thought that the current policy did not seem to be hindering any individuals from enrolling at HE when considering that there was currently an over-supply of graduates within the workforce.

Neither current nor prospective HE students thought that the full £9,000 tuition fees represented reasonable value for money, with some of the more informed current students noting that the idea of a market in HE with institutions offering varying fees had not been realised. It would appear that few prospective HE students had actually given serious consideration to the balance between the costs incurred in attending HE and any premium they would be likely to earn as a result of gaining a degree qualification. Professor Sir Ian Diamond said: “The commitment of so many people to a healthy and vibrant higher education system in Wales bodes well, not only for Welsh Higher Education but, more broadly, for Wales. It further inspires us for the next stage of our work which will be to build on the principles in the interim report to propose a sustainable system of higher education funding for Wales.”

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Education

Carmarthenshire students celebrate A Level and A.S. results

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CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council wishes to congratulate all of the county’s students that are receiving their A-Level and A.S. results today, Thursday 18th August 2022.

Whilst this year has seen a return to exam-based results, following two years of assessment-based grading during the COVID-19 pandemic, students and teachers have still had to contend with the ongoing impact of the last 2 years.

A total of 98.6% of A Level students in Carmarthenshire achieved A*-E, which is higher than the 97.3% in 2019 when exams were last sat.

Across Carmarthenshire, a total of 40.1% of A level students have received A or A* this year, which is vastly higher than the 24.9% when exams were last sat in 2019.

After 2 years without examinations, students at AS Level also had the opportunity this year to show what knowledge they had learned and skills they had developed, through a combination of exams and assessments, applicable to different courses. 91.8 % of AS students in Carmarthenshire achieved A-E grades which, again, is higher than in 2019.

Cllr. Glynog Davies, Cabinet Member for Education and Welsh Language said: “Congratulations to every single student receiving their A-Level and A.S. results today. These young people and their teachers have worked extremely hard, within the uncertain climate that exists due to the pandemic, and they should be very proud, as am I, of their fantastic achievements.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the students, teachers and support staff of Carmarthenshire as well as their families for their hard work over the last two years.”

In a joint statement, Carmarthenshire County Council’s Chief Executive, Wendy Walters and Director of Education and Children’s Services, Gareth Morgans added: “Congratulations to our A-Level and A.S. students for their, well deserved, excellent results. The last two years have been very challenging for students, teachers, support staff, families and friends and we are grateful to everyone for their commitment and support to each other during this period.

“These young people are a credit to their schools and our county, and we wish them every success for the future.”

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Education

St. Michaels School celebrates excellent A-Level results

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St. Michael’s pupils with their A-Level results

ST. MICHAEL’S School, Llanelli, is extremely pleased to announce another year of successful A-Level results, with 80.2% of all grades awarded either an A* or A grade.

The vast majority of pupils have earned a place at their chosen university to study courses such as Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and Economics.

This is the first year that traditional exams have resumed since the Covid-19 pandemic began with the majority of lessons in the first part of the A-Level being delivered online rather than in a classroom environment. This makes the results even more of an achievement considering the circumstances.

Headmaster Mr Benson Ferrari said: “We offer our sincere congratulations to our outgoing Year 13 class on the publication of their A-Level results, demonstrating that our pupils have worked so hard despite the challenges of returning to a conventional assessment approach.

“They approached the situation with resilience and dedication, which has resulted in grades that are truly representative of their ability.  I am confident that they will all go onto achieve great things at university and in their working lives.  

“We wish them the best as they move to this new and exciting stage of their education.  The preparation which St. Michael’s has provided will be built upon, along with our values and principles providing a lasting framework to tackle the challenges ahead.”

In 2020, St. Michael’s School was awarded The Sunday Times Welsh Independent School of the Decade and this was in part due to the excellent exam results that the school receives each year. 

St. Michael’s was also ranked 13th in The Times 2019 Co Ed League Table for UK Independent Schools, which was the last time that the results were published. The school hopes that this year’s results will continue to secure their place in the 2022 league table which will be published later this year.

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Education

Funding for music education trebled to the tune of £13.5m

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EVERY child will have the opportunity to benefit from music education as part of the Welsh Government’s plans for a national music service, which will help ensure no child misses out due to a lack of means.

As the National Plan for Music Education is published, the Minister for Education has confirmed funding will be trebled, with £13.5m being invested over the next three years.

The plan will make access to music education fairer and more consistent across Wales, with a particular focus on learners from low-income households and those with Additional Learning Needs. Support will be available for children and young people to access and progress with music tuition, with learners from disadvantaged and under-represented groups supported to join music ensembles.

The plan includes a number of key work programmes such as:

A review on music tutors’ terms and conditions, to ensure they are treated equitably and are recognised properly.
A ‘First Experiences’ programme to offer children in primary schools a minimum of half a term of musical instrument taster sessions, delivered by trained and skilled music practitioners.
A ‘Making Music with Others’ initiative, including opportunities for children and young people in secondary schools to gain industry experience through working alongside musicians and creative industries
A new national instrument and equipment library to support access to a resource bank to be shared across Wales.
These programmes will be rolled out from September 2022, supporting schools and settings to give all children and young people from the ages of 3 to 16 the opportunity to learn to play an instrument as well as singing and making music in our schools and our communities.

The National Music Service will operate as a ‘hub’, with the Welsh Local Government Association co-ordinating the Music Service’s programmes with a wide range of organisations. It will help schools and settings in their delivery of the Curriculum for Wales and provide more diverse opportunities for children and young people to experience music outside schools and settings.

First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford and the Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, visited St Joseph’s Cathedral Primary School in Swansea to see a cluster of primary school children taking part in a ‘Play Along’ session led by Swansea Music Service.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said:

“The establishment of a National Music Service for Wales is an important commitment in our Programme for Government and I’m delighted that we are delivering on this pledge.

“Learning an instrument was a formative part of my upbringing and a lack of money should not be a barrier to any young person who wants to learn to play music. We are fortunate in Wales to have a strong tradition of school, county and national ensembles, and we want to make sure that our children and young people are able to play a full part in these. This funding will support music services in schools and within the community to help nurture our young musical talent.”

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

“Our vision is for all children and young people across Wales, regardless of background, to have the chance to learn to play an instrument. The plan we are publishing today, backed by funding, will help deliver that vision.

“For too long, the chance to learn an instrument and develop musical skills has been for those few whose families and carers who can afford tuition. I want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to access music tuition, and that’s why we’re making this significant investment to deliver a range of activities for our children and young people to learn and experience the joy of music.

“The development of the National Music Service will ensure that we nurture our next generation and continue to produce new talent and showcase Wales to the world.”

WLGA Chief Executive Chris Llewelyn said:

“We are proud to work with the Welsh Government on delivering this vital service to children across Wales. Many families in Wales can’t afford an instrument, and this funding will go a long way to opening doors to children across Wales to have the opportunity of learning an instrument.

“Playing an instrument and reading music is a very important skill for a child, and music brings enormous joy to children. Local authorities believe that children across Wales will have better access to instruments, and this plan will develop many future talented musicians, and support pupils to develop their musical skills.”

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