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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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M4 closed westbound following lorry fire near Swansea

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A SECTION of the M4 near Swansea was shut on Monday (Aug 8) due to a vehicle fire.

The westbound section of the motorway, between junction 47 at Penllergaer and junction 48 at Hendy closed.

Emergency services were called to the scene, and there was queuing traffic in the area.

Traffic monitoring service Inrix reported: “M4 Westbound closed, queueing traffic due to vehicle fire between J47 A48 (Penllergaer / Swansea West Services) and J48 A4138 Pontardulais Road”

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News

Police appeal after Llanelli assault: victim required hospital treatment

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DYFED POWYS POLICE is investigating an assault which occurred on Regalia Terrace, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire at about 12.05am, Sunday 3rd July.

The victim required hospital treatment.

Officers have carried out all possible lines of enquiry, and are now appealing for help from the public.

They would like to identify the person in the CCTV image, who may have information that could help the investigation.

Anyone who knows who the person is, or if you believe you are pictured, contact Dyfed-Powys Police.

This can also be done either online at: https://bit.ly/DPPContactOnline, by emailing 101@dyfed-powys.police.uk or phoning 101.

If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.

Please quote reference DP-20220703-011

Alternatively, contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously by calling 0800 555111, or visiting crimestoppers-uk.org.

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Charity

Successful camping and riding weekends raise £1,400 for lifesaving charity

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MEMBERS from the North Wales branch Trail Riders Fellowship have presented the Wales Air Ambulance with a £1,400 donation following its successful camping and trail riding charity weekends.

The successful fundraiser, which was held for its members near Dolgellau, attracted around 60 members who took part over two weekends.

During both weekends donations were collected from each rider taking part. The riders took to the lanes both north and south of River Mawddach, where they were blessed with lovely weather.

This is not the first time they’ve supported the Wales Air Ambulance. They’ve raised around £3,000 during two previous events.

Reflecting on why the Wales Air Ambulance helicopter charity was chosen to benefit from the event, treasurer for North Wales TRF group, Mike Rowlands said: “We chose the Wales Air Ambulance knowing what a difference it can make when called upon to attend emergencies to all members of the public. It can’t be overstated how important our members see the value of this wonderful charity to the people of Wales.

“The club members are proud to contribute towards keeping the Wales Air Ambulance flying.”

The North Wales branch of the Trail Riders Fellowship promotes responsible trail riding on legal routes around North Wales.

The Wales Air Ambulance Charity emergency service offers advanced critical care and is often described as a ‘Flying ED’. The on-board consultants and critical care practitioners are highly skilled and carry some of the most pioneering medical equipment in the world. They can deliver blood transfusions, administer anaesthesia, and undertake emergency operations at the scene of the incident, before flying the patient directly to specialist care. 

Wales Air Ambulance’s Community Fundraiser Debra Sima was recently presented with the cheque of £1,400 by the North Wales Trail Riders Fellowship members at The Parrot, Drury.

A delighted Debra said: “A huge thank you to all the organisers and riders who took part in the two weekend events. We’re delighted that the North Wales branch of Trail Riders Fellowship has once again decided to support our lifesaving 24/7 charity. In total they’ve raised £4,400 for our Charity during three separate fundraisers, which is amazing. Their continued support will enable us to keep our helicopters in the air and our rapid response vehicles on the road. Thank you so much.”

There are several ways that the public can continue to support the Wales Air Ambulance. These include online donations, signing up to the Charity’s Lifesaving Lottery or by coming up with their own innovative ways to fundraise at home. Further information can be found via www.walesairambulance.com.

Alternatively, a £5 text-message donation can be made by texting the word HELI to 70711.

For more information on Trail Riders Fellowship visit http://trf.org.uk/

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