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Education

Labour seeks ‘nuanced changes’ to student finance

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Labour ‘dishonest’ on higher education fees: Simon Thomas

Labour ‘dishonest’ on higher education fees: Simon Thomas

A DECISION to kick announcements regarding the future of student finance in Wales made by former Education Minister Huw Lewis appears to have spectacularly backfired following comments made by former minister Julie James during a media interview.

Speaking at a Labour campaign event in Aberdare on Monday, Julie James, a Deputy Minister in the Education and Skills department of the last Welsh Government told BBC Wales: “We’re committed to continuing our current policy until Professor Diamond reports in the autumn.

“And then we’re committed to an evidence-based policy after that, with the commitment that Welsh students will always be better supported than their counterparts elsewhere.”

The Diamond report into Welsh Higher Education was commissioned as long ago as 2013 and a summary of evidence presented in December 2015 made uncomfortable reading for the then Welsh Government.

Speaking to The Herald at the time, Plaid Cymru’s Simon Thomas, a candidate in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, said: “The report (by Professor Sir Ian Diamond) could not be clearer. All of those bodies which responded to it agreed that the current tuition fee policy is completely unsustainable.

“The evidence is overwhelming and unanswerable, but the Welsh Government has decided to wait until October and then probably feign surprise when it is told things have to change. The Welsh Government’s position on tuition fees is dishonest.”

Indeed, every education institution – including the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales – that provided evidence to Professor Diamond said that the Welsh Government’s commitment to its student finance policy – especially tuition fees – was damaging the Welsh higher education sector and was untenable.

On the campaign trail, Labour has been combative on the issue, claiming that only it will maintain the favourable settlement on tuition fees that Welsh undergraduate students have. Leighton Andrews, the former Minister who can always be depended on to stick a spoon in a pot and stir it, has even taken to social media to deride parties who have failed to commit to maintaining an unaffordable and wasteful policy.

Now, Ms James, a former minister who was actually in the Education and Skills ministry when Professor Diamond’ summary of evidence was released has hinted that Welsh Labour’s approach may change ‘depending on what Professor Diamond says’. In particular, Ms James has hinted that the Assembly Learning Grant (currently set at around £5,000) will be targeted by any new Welsh Labour Government as a way of making up the shortfall in subsidising tuition fees for Welsh students.

Ms James suggests that: “There might be nuanced changes.”

Taking the fight to Plaid and the Conservatives on student finance when one of its own candidates and a former minister has now hinted at change and, moreover, claimed that a future Welsh Labour Government’s policy will be determined by a report which it kicked back until after the election, has drawn predictable fire from both Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Conservatives.

A Welsh Conservative spokesperson told The Herald: “Welsh Labour’s stance on this issue changes from one day to the next which is indicative of a party in complete disarray.

“Welsh Conservatives have long campaigned for a reform of Labour’s unsustainable tuition fee support policy and would introduce ‘Student Rent Rebate’, offering undergraduates timely and sustainable help with university living costs.

“We would further support students in reducing their debt by exploring the viability of fast-track degrees studied over two academic years.”

Responding to a Labour politician’s admission that the current level of support given to university students may be cut, Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Education Minister Simon Thomas said: “This is the first sign that Labour politicians are realising that they cannot maintain the fiction of their tuition fee policy as it is.

“Plaid Cymru has always said that the current system is unsustainable and our manifesto has committed to a more sustainable model of funding, whereby students who live and work in Wales within five years of graduating will have £6,000 of their loans written-off, up to £18,000.

“Voters deserve an honest answer about Labour’s plans. Pretending that things won’t change is unsustainable and there will be a huge black hole in Labour’s budget if they don’t explain what they will do with their tuition fee policy.”

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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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