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Categorisation treats small schools unfairly

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Defending school categorisation: Huw Lewis

Defending school categorisation: Huw Lewis

THE HEAD TEACHER of a Carmarthenshire School has told the Herald that small schools are disproportionately affected by the Welsh Government’s school categorisation scheme.

The Head teacher explained: “In our Y6 cohort last year, each pupil was worth 20% and so by using data alone, the performance of this cohort could be either 100% achieving expected levels, or 80% or 60% etc. Data samples of this size are not statistically valid.

“Classes in small schools where pupils have SEN / statements, are badly affected by this system.”

The Head teacher continued: “We also have an autistic unit and it has been a real battle to try to have these pupils disaggregated from our data. Even though they have agreed to amend the colour where we can show that the inclusion of these pupils is the reason why our data does not appear healthy, they do not remove the number (1-4).”

Explaining the effect on categorisation of their own school, the Head told The Herald: “If you look on our local schools’ website you will see that we are in category 3 out of 4 for standards. This is because our pupils from the autistic unit are mixed in with mainstream data. The WG say they will not change this number. The Welsh government call this an inclusive approach. Judging all pupil performance using criteria designed for typically developing pupils is, however, clearly not an inclusive approach.”

In fact, the Head told us, the reverse was a risk: “There are now clearly benefits for a school in having more able pupils attend the school, and in many cases, particularly with small schools, significant potential negative consequences when admitting pupils with SEN. To work in a system where Head teachers may be happier about admitting a high-ability pupil over a pupil with SEN, due to the impact upon their data, is deeply concerning.

“The more schools are beaten over the Head with this approach, the worse Head teachers will feel about having pupils with SEN in their classes. How can is this promoting inclusion in schools? On top of that, why does no one really look closely at the progress of the individuals with SEN? Because you can’t easily measure it (against unknown potential), and therefore compare it, and therefore put you in a category for it!”

And with regard to the categorisation of their own school, the Head was clear that the Welsh Government’s approach was having a serious effect: “Due to us being a small school with a large number of pupils with autism in our data, last year we were categorised amber, when in fact our mainstream pupils performed exceptionally, and our pupils with autism also ‘performed’ exceptionally, relative to their starting points.

“Comments made to my teachers by friends/relatives included ‘You teach in a crap school’.”

As for the pressures this places on school staff and the Head, they expressed concerns about the amount time they have to spend trying to explain the ridiculous situation a successful school has been placed in: “I have to spend a lot of time – either via letter or the school website – trying to explain this situation to parents, but I obviously can’t speak to the parents who are thinking about bringing their children here, but are put off by the data they see on the Welsh Government site.

“I really don’t see that grading schools helps anyone. In a green school you may have ‘red teachers’. In a red school you may have pockets of outstanding practice. Any system where you compare like for like would be a step in the right direction. Taking health and well-being into account would certainly be useful.”

As to whether categorisation reflects their own school’s strengths, the Head told us: “This year it is closer. Last year was a complete disaster. My advisor this year listened to our situation and applied exceptions to the process to ensure the autistic unit could be taken into account.

“Next year I have other pupils with statements in mainstream classes who have achieved very well but won’t reach the ‘expected’ level, and in our small cohorts we may well be named and shamed for it, I daresay.”

They continued: “Your readers should note that due to specific learning needs, no sane person would ever ‘expect’ some of these pupils to achieve the ‘expected’ level. It is a miracle that some of these pupils do as well as they do – due in large part to the work of fantastic teachers, support staff and devoted parents.”

Identifying the benefits of attending a small school, we were told: “Almost all my pupils, by the time they leave, know what it is like to be in a council, take main parts in concerts, have been part of a school sports team. They work with teachers who know every little detail about each child, and we are a close community with a real personal/family feel to the school. Many of our pupils go on to take on lead roles in secondary schools – in concerts and councils, Head boys/girls etcetera.

What, we asked, could be done to reflect the dynamics of a small school more fairly in categorisation tables: “The Welsh government have a ‘one size fits all’ approach. It is simple, easy to number crunch with.

“If we had 30 or 40 pupils in Y6 every year I would be on board with it, because the data then means something. However, last year one pupil represented 100% of my boys in one year group. That boy’s performance data here was either 100% or 0%. It is just nonsensical to even be having a discussion about ‘data’ on that sort of scale.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Our National School Categorisation System does take into account the problems faced by small schools. It uses three years’ worth of data to counter the impact of the volatility of small cohorts and the school’s Challenge Adviser and Consortia will have taken into account issues relating to the cohort before making their assessments about the school’s category.

“Categorisation has been developed collectively with the education sector. It is widely supported by Consortia, local authorities, schools and teaching unions. It is very deliberately not based solely on performance data and takes account of a number of other factors including the quality of a school’s leadership, selfevaluation and its wider capacity to improve.”

Rob Williams, Director of Policy, NAHT Cymru, the school leaders’ union for Wales, told The Herald: “The additional allocation of resource and support provided to schools in the amber and red categories do not mask the huge funding disparities that continue to exist between schools across Wales.

“School leaders continue to have concerns about a system that uses single cohorts of pupil data in isolation, with no inclusion of the progress those individual pupils make whilst in a school.”

Rob Williams continued: “This can prove to be a particularly acute problem within smaller schools. In a small school for example, each child can represent a significant percentage of performance. In addition, pupils with SEN are not disaggregated from the measures and so are included in overall outcomes. This means that smaller schools can be disproportionately disadvantaged.

“Categorisation therefore fails to assess the positive impact the school has on every child which is the true measure of its success.”

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Alcohol seized and teenager arrested as police deal with antisocial behaviour

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POLICE seized large amounts of alcohol and arrested a teenager as they continued to deal with antisocial behaviour over the weekend.

Dyfed-Powys Police had proactive plans in place to deal with ongoing issues of groups of youngsters gathering in Carmarthenshire following rising reports of alcohol-related antisocial behaviour over the past two months.

Dispersal orders were in place across Llanelli and Burry Port, giving police the powers to move anyone believed to be causing a nuisance, harassment or distress out of the area.

Officers patrolling the rail network in Carmarthenshire on Saturday noticed a large amount of young people getting off the train at Ferryside, where an additional dispersal order was put in place and alcohol was seized.

Officers were also required to deal with children trespassing on the railway tracks.

Sergeant Gemma Davies said: “We had received reports of children with alcohol running across the tracks, which posed a huge danger to themselves and others, and had to be stopped as a priority.

“One boy who was detained became abusive towards officers and could not be reasoned with. Officers had no choice but to arrest him for his own safety and to prevent further offences from being committed.

“This incident goes to show that the kind of behaviour we are dealing with goes beyond groups of young people meeting to have a good time, and is putting people in highly dangerous situations.”

A 17-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of trespassing on the railway and using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour to cause harassment, alarm or distress.

He has been released under investigation pending further enquiries by British Transport Police.

Early intervention was taken in the Trostre area of Llanelli, where officers noticed groups of children meeting on Saturday.

Sgt Davies said: “More than 60 young people were moved on from both locations and a large amount of alcohol was seized.

“Out of these groups, four notices were issued to those causing the most trouble in the Trostre area which prevented them from returning, and each of these youngsters were taken home.

“This swift action was a deterrent to other young people who were planning on joining the groups and were still travelling to the area.”

“We will continue to put plans in place each weekend and over the summer holidays to deal with antisocial behaviour, using all powers available to us to put a stop to it.”

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Coronavirus cases in Wales still lowest in UK says Health Minister

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WALES continues to have the lowest rate of coronavirus cases in the UK, Welsh Health Minister Eluned Morgan said today. 

The minister said the number of confirmed cases in Wales is currently 9.3 per 100,000 people. 

Eluned Morgan said: “The number of people in hospital with coronavirus is at the lowest level since the start of the pandemic.  We have recently seen a period of 10 days where no new deaths from the virus were recorded – sadly Public Health Wales reported one death yesterday.

“These achievements reflect the hard work of people throughout Wales to keep themselves and their families safe.

“Over recent weeks we have however seen very troubling developments in relation to the so-called India variant of concern – or as the World Health Organisation has re-named it, the delta variant.  This is further proof that coronavirus has not gone away. 

“We have been carefully monitoring this new variant, which appears to be spreading in many parts of England.   We have identified a growing number of cases here in Wales, including a large cluster of cases in Conwy which is under close investigation.  

“This delta variant has the potential to become the next dominant strain of the virus in the UK.  We hope we can contain cases and prevent this variant spreading further but we expect the number of cases in Wales will continue to increase.

“Whilst the public health situation therefore remains good in Wales, the delta variant brings a new level of uncertainty.  It was in this context the most recent review of the coronavirus restrictions took place on 3 June. 

“Whilst Wales is moving to alert level one as previously signalled, we will now do this in a phased way.  

“Changes to the regulations from 7 June therefore focused on easing restriction on outdoor events and activities.  The risk of transmission is much lower outdoors and these changes will allow people to take advantage of the summer.”

Up to 30 people can now meet outdoors, including in private gardens, outdoor hospitality and public places.

Larger outdoor organised gatherings and events for up to 4,000 people standing and 10,000 people seated can also now take place.  This includes concerts, football matches and sporting activities, like organised running groups. All organisers must undertake a full risk assessment and put in place measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, including social distancing.

Finally, provision now allows for extended household to be made up of three households who can meet and have contact indoors.  This is an increase from two households previously. 

We will consider further changes to the regulations on indoor activity later in the month, if public health conditions allow.   In line with the coronavirus control plan, at alert level one this would mean the rule of six would apply for meeting indoors in private homes and in holiday accommodation.

We will also consider increasing numbers for indoor organised gatherings and restarting indoor events.

This phased approach will provide time for more data on the impact of the delta variant to become available.  It will also allow time for more people to be vaccinated, which remains our best route out of the pandemic.

I am extremely grateful to Health Board vaccination teams, local partners and the many volunteers across the country for the incredible progress of our vaccination programme. 

At this rate, and subject to supply, we expect to have offered all adults 18 and over their first dose by early next week and to have hit our 3rd milestone of an uptake of 75% in all of the age ranges by the end of June, a month earlier than expected.  In reality, the percentage of people who have taken up their offer of a vaccine is far higher, which was always our aim.

We are currently recognised as the world Leader amongst countries over 1 million inhabitants.  We have vaccinated more than 86.5% of the adult population with their first dose and nearly half have completed the two-dose course.

Yesterday I published an update to our COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy. 

The updated strategy looks back at what has been achieved to date and sets out preparations for what comes next, potentially including a booster for our most vulnerable citizens and a vaccine for children and young people. We are also planning to reoffer the vaccine to those who did not take up the original offer. The roll out of second doses will also continue.

To underpin this delivery, an online system will be established in the Autumn to allow people to book appointments convenient for them. This system could potentially be used for other vaccinations moving forward.

Wales’ successful Test, Trace, Protect service was established a year ago.  The Welsh Government has allocated an additional £32m to health boards and local authorities to extend contact tracing until the end of March 2022. This increases the total Welsh Government investment in contact tracing this financial year to £92m.

On 2 June we also published a refreshed Test, Trace, Protect strategy setting out how the service will adapt and respond to the pandemic in the months ahead.   This includes strengthening and enhance the tracing of variants of concern, as well as the management and quarantine of people returning to Wales from red and amber-list countries.

On 20 May I set-out plans for a £100m investment to kick-start the health and care system’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. This money will provide for new equipment, staff, technology and ways of working to help health boards increase capacity and cut waiting times. 

As we begin resuming non-emergency care following the pandemic we have an opportunity to create a health and care system fit for the future.

Following the three week review of the restrictions on international travel, we are following the same traffic-light approach to international travel as the rest of the UK.

From today Portugal has been moved from green to the amber list. This decision follows increased concern in the spread of variants, including a mutation of the Delta variant, and the risk posed of bringing these back to the UK if people are not required to quarantine. 

Seven countries have also been added to the red list, including Egypt and Sri Lanka.

I have today described some of the most recent developments in our ongoing efforts to tackle coronavirus.   It remains vital we continue to work together to keep each other safe and to keep Wales safe.

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Strength of Police evidence led prolific drug dealer to admit possession with intent to supply

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THE strength of evidence gathered by police within hours of a man being arrested on suspicion of possessing drugs with intent to supply led to an immediate guilty plea and a prison sentence.

Dyfed-Powys Police officers worked swiftly following the arrest of Sanjit Sanghera, from Llanelli, putting together a file of evidence proving the defendant had been involved in the supply of illegal substances in Carmarthenshire since 2018.

Officers trawled the 21-year-old’s phone after cannabis and cocaine with a potential street value of up to £10,000 were found during a warrant at his home in School Road, Morfa.

Detective Sergeant Andrew Clatworthy said: “Thorough digital enquiries uncovered reams of messages in which senders asked for availability and prices of specific substances.

“When printed, there were 32 pages of messages, all of which suggested the user of the phone was involved in the supply of cocaine and cannabis from September 2018 to May 2021, with messages as recent as the day before the warrant was executed.

Drugs seized by Dyfed-Powys Police

“These messages gave us clear evidence that Sanghera has been a prolific dealer in the area for a number of years. Coupled with the amount of substances seized from his house, they led to an immediate admission from the defendant.”

Officers raided Sanghera’s home on Wednesday, May 19 as part of an investigation into wider drug supply in Carmarthenshire.

Bags containing cannabis and cocaine were found in the garden shed, where it was established the defendant had been running his supply business.

Further substances were found hidden in biscuit jars in kitchen cupboards.

DS Clatworthy said: “A full search of the property resulted in over £4,000 in cash, along with more than half a kilo of cannabis and around 41g of cocaine being seized.

“This is well in excess of what we would expect to find for someone’s personal use.”

The substances were tested within hours of the warrant, and all proved positive for cannabis and cocaine.

Sanghera was charged with possessing class A drugs with intent to supply, possessing class B drugs with intent to supply, and acquiring, using or possessing criminal property – namely £4,227.

He admitted all three offences when he appeared at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court the following day, and was sentenced to 26 months in prison at Swansea Crown Court on Friday, June 5.

DS Clatworthy said: “Excellent work from a number of departments resulted in a very early guilty plea thanks to the strength of evidence obtained while Sanghera was in custody.

“I would like to thank all officers involved for their efforts, and for the part they played in disrupting an organised crime gang operating in Carmarthenshire.”

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