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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

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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Education

Work starts on new £8.25m primary school for Pembrey

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WORK has started on building a new £8.25million primary school for Pembrey.

The new school building is being constructed on the recreation ground/playing field immediately adjacent to the existing school site on Ashburnham Road.

It will provide high-quality teaching facilities to improve the overall learning experience for learners, as well as benefitting the local community.

The new school will have capacity for 270 primary pupils, 30 nursery pupils and will incorporate a Flying Start facility which is currently located in a mobile classroom on the current school site.

Headteacher Helen Jacob said: “We are looking forward to having our brand-new school building at Pembrey where we can continue to provide quality educational opportunities and experiences for our children.

“Everyone is excited at the prospect of learning in a modern purpose-built school that will be at the heart of the community.”

The project is part of Carmarthenshire County Council’s Modernising Education Programme which aims to give every child in the county access to first class accommodation and facilities.

It is being jointly funded by Welsh Government through its 21st Century Schools initiative.

The new school building has been designed by the council’s own architects and the work is being carried out by local contractor TRJ Ltd. 

The estimated completion date is the autumn term of 2023.

Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services Cllr Glynog Davies said: “I am delighted that building work has started on the new school for the community of Pembrey. Building it on the adjacent recreation ground means that we can reduce disruption as much as possible.

“The council is committed to investing in our children’s futures, and the new school building will provide the very best educational facilities for both pupils and staff and accommodation fit for 21st century teaching and learning.”

Local member Cllr Hugh Shepardson said: “I am delighted that we are making a start on the new Pembrey Primary School. The facility, which I understand will be completed next year, will provide state-of-the-art teaching facilities for our children at Pembrey and will allow our children to be taught in a modern and welcoming environment.

“I am grateful to the Education department’s Modernising Education Programme team and the authority’s Cabinet for their diligence and hard work in making the completion of the new school a reality.”

To date, the Modernising Education Programme has invested more than £300million in Carmarthenshire schools, including the building of 12 new primary schools, two new secondary schools, and 48 major refurbishments and extensions.

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Education

£18m to support children and young people with additional learning needs

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NEW funding to support children and young people with Additional Learning Needs has been announced by Jeremy Miles, the Minister for Education and Welsh Language.

£18m will be made available to provide extra support for children and young people with ALN who’ve been affected by the pandemic and to help educational settings as learners move to the new ALN system from this month.

£10m of the funding will be used to support learners with ALN affected by the pandemic and to improve their wellbeing. During the pandemic, many disabled children and young people, including learners with ALN, continue to experience a negative impact on their mental health and difficulties accessing education.

The funding will add to existing support for ALN learners, such as intensive learning support and speech and language therapy. The funding can also be used to provide extra resources to target the impacts of the pandemic, such as mental health support and tailored support to help with attendance.

£8m will be allocated to schools, nurseries, local authorities and Pupil Referral Units to move learners from the old Special Educational Needs (SEN) system to the new ALN system, as the roll-out of the Additional Learning Needs Act continues.

The new ALN system, being rolled out over three years, will ensure children and young people with ALN are identified quickly and their needs are met. The Act makes provision for new individual development plans, designed to put the views of learners at the heart of the decision-making process, alongside those of their parents or carers.

Minister for Education and Welsh Language Jeremy Miles said:

“We are determined to deliver a fully inclusive education system in Wales – a system where additional needs are identified early and addressed quickly, and where all children and young people are supported to thrive in their education.

“Schools and nurseries are already doing a fantastic job of supporting their learners, but we know they need more resources to do this. That’s why I’m announcing this additional investment to support learners to overcome the effects of the pandemic and prevent the entrenchment of inequalities on their education, employment opportunities, their health and wellbeing.”

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