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Education

Fund to cut class sizes introduced

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Investment: Targeted at infant classes

A NEW £36m fund to reduce infant class sizes and raise standards has been announced by Education Secretary Kirsty Williams.

Directed at the front line and starting with the largest class sizes, it will target classes where teaching and learning needs to improve and where there are high levels of deprivation.

The money, consisting of both revenue and capital funding, will be invested over the next four years, up until 2021.

The latest figures show that 7.6% (8,196) of infant pupils in Wales were in classes of over 30.

Kirsty Williams said: “Our national mission is to raise standards and extend opportunities for all our young people.

“Time and time again parents and teachers tell me that they are concerned about class sizes. We have listened to these concerns, looked at the international evidence, and are today announcing a new £36m fund to address infant class sizes.

“There is a positive connection between smaller classes and attainment, particularly for pupils from poorer backgrounds. This is most significant for younger children, which is why we are targeting this investment at infant class sizes.

“This announcement, linked to our other reforms, will create the space for teachers to teach and for pupils to learn.”

Jess Turner, UNISON Cymru organiser for schools, said: “Classroom-based support staff really welcome this news. Smaller classes reduce workload and give support workers more time with pupils and this more personalised support helps to tackle inequalities. UNISON would like Welsh Government to go much further and also apply additional funding to junior and secondary schools too. The evidence around class size shows they need to be reduced very significantly to make a real difference to student attainment.

“It’s essential teaching assistants are properly deployed in the classroom and never used as cheap stop-gap replacements for teachers.”

“While we welcome this statement, it’s important to put it in context. When one considers that the money will be paid out over a five year period, it is not a vast amount; it is, however, most certainly a small step in the right direction,” said Ywain Myfyr, Policy Officer with UCAC.

“We hope that in helping to reduce class sizes this money will go some way towards reducing teachers’ workload and improving standards of attainment, especially for pupils living in areas of social deprivation,” he added.

“The introduction of the Foundation Stage was a visionary step but it was not properly funded from the outset. It is essential that we ensure that no child in the Foundation Phase in Wales is educated in a class which exceeds the legal limit in terms of size. It is now important that this money is shared carefully to ensure fairness.”

“We now call on the Welsh Government to go one step further and make classes of under 25 statutory for all age groups and to plan for a general reduction in class sizes for the benefit of pupils and the education workforce in general in Wales. We believe that this would match the principles expressed in this morning’s statement.”

NUT Cymru Secretary David Evans said: “This announcement is very welcome news. Kirsty Williams and the Welsh Government should be congratulated for responding to the concerns of parents and the teaching profession who see unmanageable class sizes as one of the most concerning issues they face. For too long, this problem has been ignored. Putting it on the agenda has been a major campaign for the NUT and we are grateful there has been a positive reaction from the Cabinet Secretary for Education.

“Naturally, we will have to monitor exactly how this money is utilised. What we do not want to see is local authorities using it to fill holes in their budgets. The Welsh Government are absolutely right to demand that any and all business cases show explicitly how they will contribute to reducing class sizes. It will be crucial that local authorities are not only clear about how they are going to use this funding, but also that they are accountable at the point of implementation.

“If this funding is put to good use it could have a profound impact on an issue that is at the very top of the agenda for teachers, which is why it absolutely must find its way to the front line.”

The Welsh Conservatives’ education spokesperson gave a less enthusiastic reception to the Education Secretary’s announcement.

Questioning how the policy can feasibly be implemented in the face of Wales’ teacher recruitment crisis, Darren Millar AM said: “The scant evidence base for this policy is well documented with a Welsh Government adviser having publicly spoken out against the idea of its implementation back in June.

“Conversely, there is growing evidence of Wales’ worsening teacher recruitment crisis, and so it remains unclear how this policy can be made to work; smaller class sizes mean more classrooms, which in turn demands more teachers – of which our country is in woefully short supply.

“Today’s announcement is little more than a multimillion pound sop to the remaining Welsh Liberal Democrat and will not be the silver bullet to solving the education crisis facing Welsh schools.”

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Education

Into the Looking Glass

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Selfie culture: Becoming one with the screen

A FILM about the future of selfie culture produced by two Aberystwyth University’s media lecturers has been shortlisted for the British Universities Film & Video Council’s Learning on Screen Awards 2018.

Into the Looking Glass​ ​- how selfie culture is preparing us to meet our future selves​ -​ has been produced by Dr Greg Bevan and Dr Glen Creeber from the University’s Department of Theatre, Film & Television Studies.

The 24​ ​minute video essay takes a close look at the future development of selfie culture and its proliferation via smart technology.

The British Universities Film & Video Council’s Learning on Screen is a charity whose members are experts in the use of moving image in education, delivering online academic databases, on demand video resources, training, information and advice.

Dr Bevan said: “Video essays as academic outputs are still a fairly new idea. It’s a way of engaging with your audience more imaginatively, and also of introducing theories and concepts to new and non-academic audiences who might never ordinarily read a journal article.

“We also hope the video essay will be a useful teaching aid in the fields of digital media, digital culture, media and communications, and beyond​.”​

The film explores the idea that the screen is coming increasingly nearer to the viewer – from the village cinema to the living room. Now it is carried in the form of a tablet or phone; but what lies beyond the likes of VR sets and smart watches? Could eye and brain implants lead to the screen disappearing altogether? Will the viewer eventually become one with the screen?

Dr Creeber said: “The ideas explored in this film affect almost everybody in society today, and in future societies. Not only is the screen coming physically nearer, but we are increasingly seeing ourselves reflected in it.

“We are no longer passive spectators watching the screen from a distance; we are now active participants. Rather than taking a typically pessimistic view of this technological change, the film suggests some ways in which these developments could in fact be of benefit to humanity.”

The original score for the film was composed by Dr Alan Chamberlain, a Senior Research Fellow at the Mixed Reality Lab, Department of Computer Science at the University of Nottingham.

Dr Alan Chamberlain said: “It’s exciting to see the importance of this collaboration being recognised at a national level and nominated for an award. Working with Aberystwyth University has allowed us to show the impact that cross-disciplinary research across universities can have.

“This project brings together the Arts and Sciences in a way that it is both interesting and innovative. Aberystwyth University is one of the creative powerhouses in the academic landscape of Wales and it’s been a great experience to work with people there, we’re already working on our next project.”

The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony at the BFI Southbank, London on April 26.

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Education

Lampeter Masterclasses open for all

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Lifelong learning: Lampeter offers the opportunity

THE UNIVERSITY of Wales Trinity Saint David has officially launched a new ‘Lampeter Masterclasses’ programme and brochure.

The ‘Lampeter Masterclasses’ programme includes a range of residential weekend and evening courses for 2018. The courses on offer will appeal to a range of different audiences, covering new subject areas such as yoga, meditation and wellbeing, alongside the University’s more traditional humanities courses and disciplines which are for the first time being offered in new and different ways. UWTSD’s Lampeter campus is nestled in the heart of Lampeter and is the oldest University in Wales, and the third oldest in England and Wales after Oxford and Cambridge. It was established by Royal Charter in 1822 by Bishop Thomas Burgess of St David’s (1803-25) as St David’s College, Lampeter, with the gift of land from the local landowner, John Harford. The college took five years to build and the first students were admitted in 1827.

The new ‘Lampeter Masterclasses’ brochure provides details of the type of courses and workshops on offer, as well as the range of subject areas and topics you can study at the University’s Lampeter campus this year.

Dean for the Faculty of Humanities and Performing Arts. Dr Jeremy Smith said: “We’re very committed to lifelong learning and education for all. Regardless of age and background, whether you are retired or in fulltime employment, studying for reasons of career development or simply for the pleasure of learning, then studying the humanities in all their breadth and sweep should be available to all.

“Our structure of delivery has been adapted to offer a more personalised approach to learning. This approach to study is one that fits in with a student’s own needs and demands. So whether you want to study on certain days of the week, or study at a slower or faster pace, or simply study for its own sake and love of subject, rather than for a qualification, then we have a course appropriate to you. In other words Lampeter offers you a wide choice of courses. These range from weekly workshops, evening courses and study at a distance, occasional or ‘drop in’ lectures, weekend workshops, day courses, larger academic conferences and weekend field trips.

“We’re very proud of what we have to offer on the Lampeter campus and this brochure will show you the variation of provision we have here throughout the year. We look forward to welcoming you to the wonderful county of Ceredigion and to our beautiful Lampeter campus.”

Jacqui Weatherburn, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the University said; “The Lampeter Masterclasses’ is a new and exciting development for the University which has seen us re-imagine the Masterclass concept. This is a unique and exciting offer from our Lampeter campus which has something for every level and interest, from Expert Lectures, to Mindfulness Retreats, Interactive Workshops and a family Mediaeval day. The Programme on offer will continue to grow as the University moves to its 200th Anniversary in 2022 and as we extend the Masterclass concept across our campuses.”

To book any of the Weekend courses listed in the brochure, please visit: www.uwtsd.ac.uk/humanities-workshops

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Education

Foundation Phase Excellence Network launched

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'A new level of professional development': Kirsty Williams introduces scheme

A NEW network which aims to improve the teaching and learning of the Foundation Phase across all schools and education settings in Wales is to be launched by Education Secretary Kirsty Williams today during a visit to Llanrhidian Primary School in Swansea.

The Foundation Phase Excellence Network brings together leading figures from across the education spectrum to ensure a more structured approach to develop Foundation Phase practitioner support for those working with children age three to seven.

With the aim of inspiring young minds together, and supported by £1millon Welsh Government funding, the network will include representation from local authority education services, schools and child care settings that deliver the Foundation Phase, regional consortia, Higher Education and third sector organisations which will work together to share expertise, experience, knowledge and best practice.

A new online community learning zone has also been established to facilitate the sharing of information, resources and research between practitioners. The zone will also host 20 new case studies including three short films which showcase effective practice in Foundation Phase.

They have been produced by working collaboratively with schools and settings from across Wales in five key areas of practice: child development, environment experiences, leadership, pedagogy, and Welsh language. The case studies will be available on the new zone during March and April.

Welcoming the launch, Kirsty Williams said: “Building on similar models to our already successful National Network for Excellence in Mathematics and National Network for Excellence Science and Technology, this new Foundation Phase network will support workforce and leadership development, boost the research capacity of the education profession in Wales and ensure that implementation of the Foundation Phase happens in a consistent and effective manner.

“Practitioners in the Foundation Phase are doing an incredible job, one the toughest but most rewarding jobs around, and they deserve all our support. This network and its supporting online resources are just the start of a new level of professional development in Foundation Phase for school settings.

“This development goes to the heart of what our national mission and the new curriculum is about – raising standards, reducing the attainment gap and delivering an education system that is a source of national pride and confidence.”

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