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Education

Tests go online

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Approach tailor-made for Wales: Kirsty Williams

NATIONAL reading and numeracy tests in Welsh schools are set to replace paper with innovative online assessments that adapt to a pupil’s abilities, Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has announced.

Currently the tests, taken by all pupils in Years 2-9, are carried out on paper. They aim to find out about pupils’ reading and numeracy skills in order to identify what each child needs to focus upon to progress.

The paper tests will be replaced with new personalised assessments to be taken online that have been specifically designed for use in Wales. The new assessments will automatically adjust the level of the questions to match the individual taking the test, providing an appropriate level of challenge for each learner.

The change to online tests will reduce marking time and administration.

Benefits include:

  • Assessments tailored to individual pupils
  • More detailed information on a child’s performance
  • A reduction in feedback times to teachers and learners

Schools will be able to test classes, small groups or individuals according to their facilities and at a time that works for them and their learners

The new tests will be phased in over three years, starting from the 2018/19 academic year.

Kirsty Williams said: “These tests are about raising standards by showing the next steps that children need to take in their learning. The move to online personalised assessments for reading and numeracy will benefit pupils, parents and teachers.

“Pupils will be taking assessments that will adapt to their needs and skills. They will have the benefits of automatic marking and schools will have feedback faster than before, giving them a better picture of how they can help all their learners to move on.

“This approach is tailor made for Wales. It shows how we are investing in our schools to continue our national mission of education reform to drive up standards and make sure every pupil in Wales, whatever their background, has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.”

The NUT has welcomed the proposals to change the way the literacy and numeracy tests are conducted in Wales.

NUT Cymru says that the new proposals have the potential to improve the way the tests are undertaken but note there still remains compelling evidence that this form of testing is counterproductive to the style of education being developed in Wales.

NUT Wales Secretary, David Evans, said: “NUT Cymru are still of the view that standardised testing is a flawed concept that does not fit into the ethos of the existing education system in Wales, and certainly not alongside the principles of the curriculum as presented by Professor Donaldson. We would have liked to have seen the Cabinet Secretary announce these tests were to be scrapped. However, it is fair to say that the changes that are being put forward could have a positive impact on the way the tests are currently implemented.

“Two of the big concerns we have raised with the Welsh Government in the past are the workload burden these tests have created for teachers and the way they have hindered the confidence of large numbers of pupils. In theory, making the tests an online process and ensuring they are adaptive which allow pupils to work at their individual abilities, can help address some of those issues. Naturally we will have to monitor the implementation of the new approach and I am sure the Cabinet Secretary and her department will take on board the feedback from the profession that follows.”

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Education

Becoming a teacher

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Thinking of teaching: Do your research

TO TEACH in a Welsh state school, you must have a degree, and gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) by following a programme of Initial Teacher Training (ITT).

All teachers in Wales are also required to register with the Education Workforce Council (EWC).

In Wales, most training programmes are university or college-based, and you have a choice of programmes delivered in English or Welsh. QTS awarded by the Education Workforce Council in Wales is automatically recognised in England.

UCAS Teacher Training is the scheme to use to apply for the main postgraduate routes leading to QTS. If you don’t already hold a degree, you can apply via UCAS Undergraduate for teacher training programmes, to graduate with QTS.

Some more specialised teaching routes – including the Welsh Graduate Teacher Programme and Teach First – are not managed by UCAS and have a different application process. These training options offer different routes to gain QTS, depending on your professional or academic background.

Postgraduate training

University-led PGCE or PGDE

Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) and Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) training programmes are available for prospective primary and secondary school teachers. You’ll get classroom experience by spending time teaching and being trained in at least two schools, as well as time at the university or college you’ve chosen, working with a group of other students and being taught by university staff.

Typically a one year programme, students must complete a minimum of 120 days in a school, among blocks of study at their chosen training provider. Spaces on popular teacher training programmes fill up quickly. Places are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, so apply early.

Graduate Teacher Programme

For prospective primary and secondary teachers wishing to study for their Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) in Wales, the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) is an employment-based route into teaching which offers a way to qualify as a teacher while you work. Programmes typically last for one year and require students to pass a newly qualified teaching year.

The GTP is very similar to School Direct (salaried) programmes in England, but is managed and delivered by the three regional teacher training centres in Wales:

  • North and Mid Wales Centre for Teacher Education
  • South West Wales Centre of Teacher Education
  • South East Wales Centre for Teacher Education

There are a limited number of primary and secondary places available on the GTP in Wales each year. Applications are made directly to the regional teacher training centres. For more information, see Discover Teaching in Wales.

Teach First: Leadership Development Programme

This option combines leadership development and teacher training, giving applicants the chance to become an inspirational leader in classrooms that need it the most. It is a two year salaried programme leading to a Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) qualification. Following five weeks of intensive training, you’ll continue to learn on the job while you work towards QTS.

Undergraduate training

Bachelor of Education (BEd) degrees

Bachelor of Education (BEd) teacher training programmes are an undergraduate route for those who would like to follow a career in teaching, and graduate with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). BEd programmes typically last three years, and are a popular route for prospective primary school teachers. Some providers do offer secondary-level BEd programmes for specific specialisms.

Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BSc) with QTS

Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BSc) degrees with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) are popular with prospective secondary school teachers, and focus on developing specialist subject knowledge required to teach. Not a common route for those wanting to study for primary teacher training programmes, most providers only offer BA and BSc with QTS for secondary teaching.

Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE): Introduction to Secondary Teaching

This Wales-only training route is for prospective secondary teachers who may not have any formal academic qualifications, but do have a passion for maths, science, or design technology. This route gives you the chance to earn the credits needed to meet the entry requirements for BSc (Hons) degree programmes, enabling you to work towards QTS in three years.

Funding

Full-time undergraduate and postgraduate Initial ITE courses attract funding in the same way as other undergraduate degree programmes.

This means full-time students will be able to apply for student finance for fees and living costs in the same way as undergraduates on any other higher-education course.

In addition, the Welsh Government offers incentives for top graduates to train to teach in designated subjects, particularly sciences, modern languages, Welsh, and ICT.

Eligible students who are ordinarily resident in Wales and started full-time postgraduate ITE courses in the current academic year could also get a Fee Grant of up to £4,954.

Grants are also available, depending on the subject studied, for eligible ITE students undertaking full-time, pre-service PGCE PCET/FE courses.

Student teachers starting postgraduate secondary ITE courses and training through the medium of Welsh may be able to get the Welsh Medium Improvement Scheme grant. This is aimed at student teachers who need extra support to raise confidence in their ability to teach effectively in Welsh.

Student teachers on some employment-based teacher education courses will be paid a salary by their school. This will be at least equal to the minimum point on the unqualified teacher pay scale, but their school may choose to pay more.

Information on employment-based routes in Wales can be found under the ‘Employment-based routes’ section of the Teacher Education and Training in Wales website at http://bit.ly/1fFu5Ap

Students can also attend School-centred Initial Teacher Training courses in England if they have been designated to receive funding by the Welsh Government.

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Education

Education attainment gap widens

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Poverty: Still affecting children's opportunities

THESE days a huge amount depends on how well a young person does at school in year 11.

Whether they can go on to study A levels or even do an apprenticeship often depends on getting the golden ticket of 5 A*-C GCSEs. Yet the latest 2016/17 GCSE Examination results show that a huge proportion of our young people are not getting to this level, with those who are eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) doing much worse.

GCSE results

The cohort sitting their GCSE exams last year were the first to take the new versions of GCSE Maths and English. The overall proportions of year 11’s achieving 5 A*-C GCSEs including maths and English/Welsh first language have dropped from 60.3% in 2015/16 to 54.6% in 2016/17. There is also a dramatic drop in students achieving any 5 GCSEs A*-C, from 84% to 67%.

Free School Meals

Many more young people who are eligible for FSM are leaving school without the qualifications they need. The proportion of year 11’s that were eligible for FSM who achieved 5 A*-C GCSEs including maths and English/Welsh language dropped by 7 percentage points since 2015/16, and more worryingly have dropped by 30.3 percentage points for any 5 A*-C GCSEs, compared to 5.8 and 15.4 percentage points for those who were not eligible.

The attainment gap between students eligible for FSM and those not eligible for FSM is nothing new in Wales. There have been numerous statements and educational strategies centred around closing this gap and increasing the achievements of students eligible for FSM. However, as the data shows – the gap between those eligible for FSM and those who are not has increased.

Last year the gap between the two was 32.4 percentage points for 5 A*-C GCSEs including maths and English/Welsh language, compared to 31.2 in 2015/16, and 32.3 percentage points for any 5 A*-C GCSEs, compared to 17.4 the year before.

Reasons for the changes

Maybe students had not adjusted well to the changes to GCSE exams last year; early entry into exams might also have played a role. The Welsh Government advises that comparisons to previous years should not be made due to several changes to performance measures data. However, do these changes explain why the drop in achievement between last year and the year before is larger for those eligible for FSM and why the attainment gap is still not shrinking?

Effect it could have on young people

Many opportunities for young people are reliant on them achieving 5 A*-C GCSEs. Taking A-levels and most further education courses and even some apprenticeships require young people to have those crucial GCSEs. So, what about young people who leave school without those qualifications, which this year has increased?

We are working on a project looking at this, asking that exact question. We know that opportunities are limited and that the lack of them can seriously impact a young person’s life. The lack of good opportunities can increase their chances of earning low wages and in turn, increasing their chances of living in poverty.

The Bevan Foundation’s project is currently ongoing with findings due out early next Spring. To find out more on the better opportunities for young people project, please go to http://bit.ly/2CerDNH

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Education

Awards evening celebrates success

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Award winners: Freya and Stephen (inset)

JUST before Christmas, the educational achievements of Coleg Sir Gâr’s A-level and access students were celebrated with an awards evening.

The Principal’s Award for Academic Excellence was this year awarded to Stephen Hughes who is studying geography at Churchill College, Cambridge.

Stephen studied four A-levels and was part of ACE, the college’s more able and talented programme.

Whilst at college, Stephen also won one of three environmental awards by the Morgan Parry Foundation.

Vanessa Cashmore, head of A-levels said: “Stephen is an exceptional student with high aspirations and a committed approach to his studies.

“We are all incredibly proud of his achievements and never doubted his ability to succeed. It has been a privilege to support Stephen throughout his academic journey at Coleg Sir Gâr and we wish him all the best for his future.”

25 year-old Freya Hutton-Lightfoot won the Principal’s Award for Lifelong Learning.

Specialising in healthcare, Freya is studying an access to higher education course, which is a university entry qualification and preparation programme for university study.

Freya achieved straight distinction grades and achieved 45 full-mark distinction credits as well as achieving 100 per cent in two chemistry exams.

Bethan Norman, lecturer in access at Coleg Sir Gâr said: “Freya was a pleasure to have in class, she was always engaged and completed all tasks to a high standard with enthusiasm.

“I was immediately impressed by the high academic level that Freya came into the course with, particularly due to fact that she was home schooled and did not have any GCSEs.

“This demonstrates just how much work she has put in for her to develop into the outstanding academic that she is today and I am sure that she will be successful at university where she is currently studying adult nursing.”

Vanessa Cashmore, head of A-levels and Access at Coleg Sir Gâr, said: “Our annual awards evening is a lovely end to the year where we recognise students for their outstanding effort, academic excellence and lifelong learning.”

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