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Education

Action to stop ‘grade banking’

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Pupils must always be put first: Kirsty Williams

EDUCATION SECRETARY Kirsty Williams announced new rules to reduce the number of pupils being entered too early for exams on Monday (Oct 16).

Ms Williams had previously expressed her concern regarding schools abusing the early entry system by entering whole pupil cohorts into Maths and English papers a year early.

An independent review by Qualifications Wales has found:

  • The continued widespread use of early and multiple entry at GCSE poses risks to students and to the system, which are not easily justified
  • The practice encourages a “teaching the test” approach at the cost of wider subject knowledge
  • More than £3.3m was spent by schools on early entry in the last academic year

Qualifications Wales concluded that they are ‘concerned about the extensive and growing use of early and multiple entry’.

In response the Education Secretary has announced that, from summer 2019, only a pupil’s first entry to a GCSE examination will count in their school’s performance measures. The current policy allows schools to count the best grade from multiple sittings.

Kirsty Williams said: “The changes I am announcing today, based on Qualification Wales’ findings, will ensure that the interests of pupils are always put first.

“I am concerned that pupils who had the potential to get an A*, A or a B at the end of a two year course end up having to settle for a C. Too often this is because they take their exam early and are not re-entered again. I want every child to reach their full potential in school. Early entry must only be for the minority of pupils who will benefit.

“GCSEs are designed to be sat after two years of teaching, not one. These changes will ensure our young people access a broad and balanced curriculum, and focus in on what’s best for our children and young people.”

Responding to research published by Qualifications Wales into the growing practice of schools entering pupils for their GCSE exams early, Llyr Gruffydd AM, Plaid Cymru’s shadow spokesperson for Education and Lifelong Learning, said: “I welcome the report as it provides a deeper understanding of the issues facing schools and students sitting GCSEs a year early. The cabinet secretary has already indicated her concerns and it’s important that she now acts on the recommendations being made.

“Retaining the option of early entry for some students is important, but it’s clear that too many are being entered for some subjects and this broad-brush approach can put additional pressures on students and cost valuable learning time in schools.

“At a time of growing financial pressure, it’s also worrying to note that early entry is placing an additional cost of at least £3.3m on our schools. The report also highlights that some schools are looking at sharing these costs with parents which is a further concern.

“Schools are under pressure to enter their students early and the Government must change the performance measures that have created this situation. Pupils should only be put forward for examination when they are ready and not to balance other competing pressures.”

Welcoming the Welsh Government move, Darren Millar AM, Welsh Conservative Shadow Education Secretary, said: “Student wellbeing should be at the heart of all decisions made by schools, so the Cabinet Secretary’s announcement is to be welcomed.

“This year’s GCSE results were the worst in a decade for Wales and early entry might well have fuelled this problem.

“Taking exams early isn’t for everyone. Most pupils will need to be given the time to develop their knowledge instead of being pressured to sit tests they simply aren’t ready for.”

NEU Cymru has welcomed the Qualifications Wales report into early entry exams which is calling for a change to the accountability model for schools. The National Education Union say that the way schools are held accountable often leads to unintended consequences within the education system. The Union has long argued for a change to the model to ensure that pupil progress is not undermined by the pressure put on schools to hit certain targets. The union will now look to work with the Welsh Government to find constructive changes that will address these concerns and others relating to how schools are judged.

Keith Bowen, Wales Director of the National Education Union Cymru, said: “We will naturally have to review the full findings of the report over time however the primary recommendations, in principle, appear sensible. It is important that while we seek to limit unnecessary early entry we do not underestimate the value of it for some pupils. The individual circumstances of each pupil need to be assessed and the professional judgement of teachers and head teachers should be respected in making the right choices for learners.

“What is encouraging in the report is the recognition that accountability measures are having unintended consequences on how schools operate. This isn’t limited to early entry but clearly it has had an impact in regards to this particular issue. We hope the Welsh Government do acknowledge the concerns of the report and works with the profession to develop a more innovative approach to assessing school performance. This would allow teachers to continue to offer early entry where appropriate, but to take away the accountability pressure that has put high stakes assessment above pupil progress.”

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Education

Apprentices deserve better financial support

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More and better funding: Committee calls for better deal for apprentices

APPRENTICES in Wales should have similar access to financial support as University students.

That’s the main finding from the Assembly’s Economy Infrastructure and Skills Committee, which published its latest report on Apprenticeships in Wales on Thursday​ (Feb 14)​.

Committee Chair, Russell George AM, said: “Parity of esteem between vocational and academic routes needs to be underpinned by parity of support for learners.

“There is a strong moral case for the Welsh Government to apply similar levels of support to apprentices as would be available to their peers in full-time education.”

The Welsh Government has this week launched an advertising campaign to promote a new package of measures for university students which it describes as ​’​the most generous student support package in the UK​’​.

While apprentices receive a wage while they train, they are not eligible for the support available to students, which can make being an apprentice seem less attractive.

The Committee heard that some young people are deterred from entering apprenticeships by the initial costs involved. These can be relatively minor sums of money to travel to interviews, or the first few weeks of work before they get paid.

The Committee’s work found that while there is much that is positive about Apprenticeships in Wales there were a few surprises.

Mr George added: “We were surprised that the number of disabled apprentices in Wales was far below the rate achieved in England.

“We were also concerned that a lack of providers may be preventing young people undertaking apprenticeships through the medium of Welsh.

“There is still a stubborn gender segregation when we talk about apprenticeships. Both the Welsh Government and stakeholders are committed to address this, and are taking steps to do so, but progress has been slow. This issue is not unique to Wales.

“We are recommending annual publication of figures to maintain pressure and ensure that apprenticeships in Wales are available to all.”

The Committee also looked at the role of careers guidance for young people – particularly in schools – to ensure they are being made aware of vocational as well as academic options.

Mr George added: “During the course of our investigation we heard concerns about the way careers advice is delivered in schools. Our additional scrutiny in this area has given us assurance that Careers Wales has a credible plan, and is working closely with the Welsh Government and schools to address these issues. We will keep an eye on whether this proves successful.​”

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Education

Minister visits adult learning initiative

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Eluned Morgan: Inspired by visit to Monkton School

WELSH Language and Lifelong Learning Minister, Eluned Morgan visited Monkton Primary School in Pembrokeshire on Friday, February 9, to hear more about a successful community adult learning initiative run from the school.

Started in September 2012 with support from the Welsh Government, the Launch Project aims to raise adults’ skills standards and education attainment within the community by making learning accessible to everyone.

Both accredited and non-accredited courses and workshops are delivered at the school and other community venues and have been specifically designed to remove barriers so that people in the community can gain the confidence and skills needed to seek employment.

The provision has also been designed to cater for a wide range of learner needs, from basic skills and IT courses to various accredited courses including a foundation degree in Education and Social Inclusion.

During the visit the Minister met with some of the adult learners who have benefitted from the project and heard their personal accounts about how it has helped them to turn their lives around, gain new skills and seize new employment opportunities.

Speaking after the visit, Minister said: “This project is a great example of a community-driven learning initiative that has been designed by the community for the community and I applaud Monkton Primary School for its pivotal role in that.

“The school is clearly committed to lifelong learning and building an ethos of working and learning together, built on mutual respect between adults and children.

“It was also inspiring hearing from those who have benefitted from the project and seeing first hand the positive impact it has had on their lives and their confidence.”

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Education

Extra investment in 21st Century Schools

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Announced £100m extra: Kirsty Williams

£100​M ​is to be invested over the next three years to accelerate the delivery of the flagship 21st Century Schools and Education programme, Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams and Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning Eluned Morgan ​has said.

An extra £75m, has been allocated to the 21st Century Schools and Education Programme a major, long-term and strategic capital investment programme to modernise education infrastructure.

In addition, £30m will be released from the programme in future years for immediate investment in capital projects that will contribute to the goal of reaching a million Welsh speakers by 2050. This is a shared priority with Plaid Cymru.

The money will bring the total invested over the life of the programme to almost £3.8bn. The first phase of the programme will finish in 2019 having invested £1.4bn to support the rebuild and refurbishment of more than 150 schools and colleges across Wales. The second phase will see a spend of £2.3bn.

Kirsty Williams said: “Our national mission is to raise standards, reduce the attainment gap and deliver an education system that is a source of national pride and confidence. Our 21st Century Schools and Education Programme plays a key part in this and is the largest investment in our schools and colleges since the 1960s.

“Having a comfortable, modern, fit-for-purpose environment in which to learn is vital to ensuring young people have the best possible education. This extra funding will mean that even more of our students will be able to benefit from having the best possible facilities in their schools and colleges.​”​

Eluned Morgan said: “Reaching a million Welsh speakers by 2050 is a significant challenge and education is key to the success of this ambition. This means we need to invest in new Welsh medium schools and improve and increase the teaching of Welsh in English medium schools. Bringing forward this funding for immediate investment allows us to ensure there is no delay in the work to achieve this target.”

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