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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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Town centre triumph as food festival returns

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THE people of Llanelli treated themselves on Saturday, October 16 as Llanelli Food and Drink Festival returned for its third stint in the town centre. 

Crowds turned out in droves as hot street food vendors and artisan producers lined the streets in the event organised by Ymlaen Llanelli, the town centre’s Business Improvement District (BID).

Chair of Ymlaen Llanelli, Lesley Richards, was thrilled with the event’s success: “The annual food festival is our biggest event, and it was great to see people excited for it to return after a year away. Our work at Ymlaen Llanelli is all about bringing people together in Llanelli town centre, so we’d like to say a massive thank you to everyone that came along and made the day what it was. We can always rely on the people of Llanelli to bring the party!”

The sun was shining as festival-goers as they tucked into their treats and were entertained as a lineup of acoustic acts took to the stage in Stepney Square. 

Children and adults alike got stuck into the food-themed crafty fun as the vintage pottery bus Annibendod offered Mad Hatter’s Tea Party pottery, while A Taste of Times Past hosted pickling and pasta-making workshops in St Elli Shopping Centre.

BID Manager, Mandy Jenkins, was pleased with the day: “It was brilliant to see town so busy, and we’ve had incredible feedback from our businesses who were choc-a-block on the day. On top of that, the public response has been phenomenal, so we really couldn’t be happier. Thank you Llanelli!”

Ymlaen Llanelli returns for some festive fun with Llanelli Reindeer Parade on Saturday, December 4.

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Police: New scientific evidence shows that David Morris was correctly convicted

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SOUTH WALES POLICE say that an independent investigative assessment into the Clydach murders in 1999 have shown that there is a scientific link between David Morris and a sock, widely accepted as being used by the offender during the killings.

David Morris was found guilty of murdering an entire family of four including two young girls.

But potential new witnesses, along with the views of experts, had given campaigners calling for his release fresh hope.

However Morris, 59, died in prison in August.

He spent 22 years in jail for killing Mandy Power, 34, her daughters Katie, 10, and Emily, aged eight, and her 80-year-old mother Doris Dawson.

A bid to again take his case to the Court of Appeal was rejected in 2018 by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

In July the Crown Prosecution Service said no information had been provided by the potential new witnesses to undermine the conviction.

The review, which was being overseen by Devon and Cornwall Police, was then expected to move on to look at forensic issues also challenged in a recent BBC television documentary about the killings.

Police say that the scientific examination of the sock has identified the presence of a mixed *Y-STR profile using technology which would not have been available to the original investigation team over 20 years ago.

While the presence of a link to Morris (or a male relative of his paternal lineage) and the mixed Y-STR profile has been identified, the science cannot determine how or when this profile was transferred onto the exhibit, but the conclusion of scientists is that it is “more likely” that Morris contributed to the DNA profile found on two different areas of the blood-stained sock than if he did not contribute DNA to them.

Following the tragic events in Kelvin Road, Clydach in June 1999, South Wales Police carried out an extensive investigation into the murders and the scale of the investigation was the largest and most complex ever undertaken by a Welsh police force.

In 2002, David Morris was convicted of the murders by a unanimous verdict at Swansea Crown Court. His conviction was overturned on appeal due to a conflict of interest by a defence solicitor. A retrial was held at Newport Crown Court in 2006 and Morris was convicted again. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The matter has been considered by the Criminal Cases Review Commission as recently as 2018. Following a thorough review of the case material they decided not to refer it to the Court of Appeal as no new evidence had been identified.

In November 2020, legal representatives of Morris contacted South Wales Police requesting the release of various exhibits from the investigation.

This request was the subject of careful consideration and the force decided on a course of action which involved the appointment of an independent senior investigating officer and an independent forensic laboratory to oversee a forensic review of the case material.

This work – carried out under the banner of Operation Dolomite – has been led by experienced detectives Steve Carey and Ian Ringrose, supported by police forensic expert David Lloyd, all of whom are from Devon & Cornwall Police. An independent forensic science laboratory, Cellmark Forensic Services, was commissioned to carry out forensic work.

Following the death of David Morris on 20th August 2021, permission was given by his family to obtain a blood sample to allow forensic examinations to take place.

Assistant Chief Constable David Thorne, of South Wales Police, said: “The decision to carry out an investigative assessment did not constitute a reopening or reinvestigation of the murders, nor did it demonstrate any lack of confidence in the conviction of Morris and the subsequent case reviews. Morris was convicted unanimously by a jury on the strength of the prosecution case and independent reviews by the Criminal Cases Review Commission have never identified any evidence which would determine the conviction to be unsafe.

“However, the advancement of forensic technology has provided the opportunity for evidence-based answers to some of the questions which have been raised about forensic issues in this case, along with other matters raised by the BBC Wales documentary ‘Beyond Reasonable Doubt’. The appointment of Steve Carey and his team has ensured the review has been conducted with a layer of independence.”

The outcome of the investigative assessment has been communicated to the victims’ families, the family and legal representatives of Morris and others affected by this case.

Mr Carey said: “My team has carefully examined the issues raised and subject to the terms of reference for Operation Dolomite.

“In the opinion of the forensic scientist regarding these results – which were obtained from samples extracted from two separate areas of the sock at the time of the original forensic examination – it is more likely that David Morris (or a close paternal-line male relative of his) contributed DNA to them than if he did not.

“In relation to one sample, the lead forensic scientist has stated to me that in his opinion the low-level and incomplete mixed Y-STR result is as would be expected if Morris had contributed DNA to it. For another person to have contributed to it, the components must match by chance.

“The scientist would have a very low expectation of selecting a male individual at random from the Western European population having components in their Y-STR profile being represented to the same extent as those in the Y-STR profile of Morris.

“To test this, an evaluative tool developed by Cellmark Forensic Services showed that from a dataset of 9,357 Western European males, no-one is represented to the same extent as the component in the Y-STR profile of Morris.

“It should be noted that the results do not allow the scientist to interpret how the DNA got onto the sock and therefore whether this was through directly touching the item or indirect transfer but the identification of this link has been possible due to the development of technology which would not have been available to the original investigation team.

“This is significant as the sock was recovered from the murder scene and it was widely accepted that it was used by the killer.

“The outcome of the forensic assessment and completion of further actions have not established any information that undermines the conviction of Morris. In my view, as the independent senior investigating officer, the new findings from the samples taken from the sock support the existing evidence that originally convicted him.”

Operation Dolomite also investigated accounts provided by two witnesses who featured in the BBC documentary. They were interviewed by officers and several enquiries were conducted to try and corroborate and support their accounts.  All this evidence was shared with the Crown Prosecution Service. None of the information provided by the witnesses undermines the conviction of Morris.

ACC Thorne added: “Notwithstanding the fact that Morris has been convicted based on overwhelming evidence against him, South Wales Police has shown a commitment to providing evidence-based answers to the issues which have been raised about this case over many years.

“This commitment has now resulted in a forensic link between the convicted killer David Morris and an item of great significance which was recovered from the murder scene. South Wales Police commissioned the review in the hope that we could in some way provide closure for those most affected by the murders. In particular, those who lost three generations of the same family and have had to revisit those painful memories time and time again over the last two decades.

“The findings from Operation Dolomite will be shared with the Criminal Cases Review Commission to complete the due process and demonstrate transparency.  However, in the knowledge of the conclusions drawn from this review, South Wales Police would like to show respect to the family and those affected by these terrible crimes by finalising this case.

“Our thoughts as ever remain with the family of Mandy Power, her children Katie, aged 10, and Emily, eight, and her 80-year-old mother Doris, who still experience such painful memories even to this day.”

Following the refusal by the CPS to look at new evidence before David Morris died, Janiene Morris, one of David Morris’s two daughters, said: “This is another massive blow to dad’s case and as a family we just don’t understand it.”

She said at the time that the evidence of a taxi driver who had sighted unidentified people near the murder scene had been discounted. In all, she said there were three witnesses that had placed others near the murder scene on the night of the killings.

“We’ve never met them and don’t want to because we want to do things properly. These witnesses have was not involved with anyone in the case and have absolutely no reason to lie. I cannot express how angry and frustrated we are right now. It is so frustrating, but we’re not going to take it lying down”.

Speaking in July, Janiene said: “He is up and down. He has good days and and bad days. Sometimes he is just exhausted with everything that is going on. We are looking forward to seeing him.”

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Moving the Welsh Economy Forward: “A Team Wales recovery, built by all of us” – Economy Minister

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THE WELSH GOVERNMENT will pursue a progressive economic policy that focuses on better jobs, narrowing the skills divide and tackling poverty, Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething, will say today.

At a hybrid Economic Summit, the Minister has invited businesses, trades unions and local government leaders to discuss how Wales can create a stronger, fairer, greener economic future.

In setting out his vision to move the Welsh economy forward, the Minister will commit to extending a Team Wales model to offer ‘as much certainty as possible’ for businesses facing a volatile recovery.  

He will promise a new era of partnership to strengthen regional economic development, a delivery plan to back the everyday economy and wide ranging support for workers in a fast changing economy.

The Welsh Government will work with unions and business to develop it’s ‘something for something’ approach so that Welsh public money is wedded to action on fair work, decarbonisation and skills.

The Minister will also start a conversation about the long term demographic challenge facing the Welsh economy. The proportion of the population aged 16 to 64 years old in Wales has been decreasing year-on-year since mid-2008 – and could be just 58% of the population by 2043.

In response, Welsh Ministers’ approach will be geared towards creating an economy where more young people feel confident about planning their future in Wales thus supporting job creation and more dynamic local economies.

The Welsh Government will set out a vision of what makes Wales an attractive place to live, study, work and invest – including the quality of life in an inclusive, open and green nation.

The Welsh Government will also call on the Chancellor to demonstrate the UK Government’s ambition for Wales by honouring promises made on EU successor funds, backing major renewables such as tidal energy and investing in Welsh research and development.

Later, the Minister will visit a family-run business that’s received Welsh Government support to grow, before delivering a speech to a predominantly virtual audience of business, trades unions and local government leaders and other partners at Transport for Wales’ new HQ in Pontypridd.

Speaking ahead of the summit, Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething said: “The Welsh Government is taking bold action to build a stronger, fairer, greener Welsh economy. It has taken a Team Wales effort to keep Wales safe and we will deliver a Team Wales Recovery, built by all of us. 

“A strong Welsh recovery will be based on the principles of fair work and sustainability as we invest in the industries and services of the future.

“As we face the headwinds of Brexit, I am determined that our credible plans will offer as much certainty as possible to help businesses plan ahead. 

“A new era of partnership for stronger regions, a young person’s guarantee, a plan to back our everyday economy and collaboration with world leading, advanced manufacturing. This is the cause for optimism for the future we are building in Wales.

“My ambition is to make Wales a place where more young people feel confident in planning their future here. You don’t have to get out to get on, make your future here in Wales.”

The Welsh Government’s approach includes:

  • Investing in our people – through the Young Person’s Guarantee and a strong employability and skills offer, including Apprenticeships;
  • Supporting those furthest away from the Labour market to find work. The upcoming Employability Strategy will highlight the support available for individuals, particularly those most impacted by the pandemic and furthest away from the labour market;
  • Accelerating the adaptation to new skills which are required for skilled, secure jobs, not least in the area of low carbon. The current recruitment challenge has also shown there is a need for some quick action on skills in certain sectors;
  • Exploring how we retain our graduates and talent in Wales by building strong linkages with universities, and between universities and businesses;
  • Support start-ups, including graduate start-ups, with possible incentives in some areas;
  • Ensure we have firms grounded in Wales who can provide future opportunities;
  • Wales can also benefit from the opportunities for far greater remote working and flexible commuting options.
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