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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

Inspirational Rose praises adult learning

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Rose Probert: Campaign ambassador for Adult Learners' Week

A SINGLE mum of gypsy traveller descent from Pembroke is supporting Adult Learners’ Week after adult education helped her achieve her dream of working with special needs children.

Rose Probert, 41, helped care for her disabled brother from a young age. She dreamed of becoming a special needs teacher, but learning wasn’t a priority in her community and she left school without any grade C or above GCSEs.

For years, Rose worked as a cleaner while also caring for her brother and bringing up her daughter, but when she was employed as a Gypsy Support Officer at Pembroke School she had the opportunity to restart her education and completed a Level 3 Award for Teaching Assistants.

From there, Rose completed GCSEs in English and Maths, achieving B and C grades, and a Foundation Degree in Education and Social Inclusion, studying for an extra year to graduate with a BA First Class honours degree. In September 2017, Rose completed a postgraduate course in special needs, gaining a distinction, and this year she plans to begin a Masters in mental health and wellbeing.

Rose is supporting Adult Learners’ Week 2018, which takes place from 18-24 June to highlight opportunities to continue developing and learning new skills as an adult and celebrate the positive impact of adult education on skills and employability.

Rose said: “Growing up with caring responsibilities in a traveller community made it difficult for me to achieve at school; my caring responsibilities took up a lot of my time and learning was always put on the backburner. When I was younger I didn’t have the maturity or self-belief I have now, for me that’s something that came with age, but as my daughter grew older I wanted her to see how important education is. Initially, I said yes to the opportunity to learn again to set an example to her.

“That first teaching assistant course opened my eyes. I didn’t know anything about adult education, I thought I’d missed my chance to learn and I’d given up on my dream of ever becoming a special needs teacher. Suddenly I realised there were opportunities open to me and my dream was still possible. It took several courses, and a lot of hard work, but completing my postgraduate certificate granted me permission to finally work in special needs. Words can’t express how proud I am of what I’ve achieved or how far I’ve come in just a few years.”

In 2016, Rose received an Inspire! Award for progression. She’s now employed full time as an Access to Learning Manager for Additional Learning Needs children.

Rose continued: “I work at Pembroke Comprehensive School – the same secondary school I attended. It’s in quite a socially deprived area with a large proportion of pupils on free school meals and a high number of children with special educational needs. I’m in charge of a class of 70 pupils, teaching between six and 12 at any one time. The work is everything I hoped it would be, I know I’m doing something which makes a difference to the lives of other people.

“I’ve had some fantastic support along the way. The partnership between Monkton school Pembroke and Trinity St David’s University got me on my first course, I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. My current employer Pembroke Comprehensive School is also extremely supportive and helped with gathering information for my postgraduate work.

“I can’t wait to start my Masters in Mental Health and Wellbeing in September, it’s a subject I’m really interested in and passionate about. A lot of my pupils display signs of mental health issues, so the course will help in my day-to-day work, but I’m also just looking forward to learning again. Education gave me the drive to carry on, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.”

Adult Learners’ Week 2018 is running from 18-24 June and celebrates lifelong learning, whether work-based, as part of a community education course, at college, university or online. Now in its 27th year, it aims to promote the range of courses available to adult learners, from languages to computing or childcare to finance.

Eluned Morgan, Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning, said: “We often think of education as something we do when we’re young, but learning is a lifelong activity.

“Rose is a perfect example of someone who has benefited from the opportunity to go back into education as an adult. Adult learning has been linked to improvements in health, overall wellbeing and social engagement. We want to ensure every person in Wales has access to the skills they need to help our communities thrive.

“Skills are vital to our economy and we want to support adults to gain the ones they need to find, or progress in, their chosen career. We hope Adult Learners’ Week will inspire people of all ages across Wales to find out more about how they can develop their skills. Skills Gateway for Adults also offers a range of careers advice and guidance for anyone looking to improve their skills and employability or get back into work.”

David Hagendyk, Director for Wales at Learning and Work Institute, said: “Going back into education has enormous benefits for adults. The evidence shows that it can improve your health, family life, the chance of a job, or a promotion at work. Taking that first step back into adult education might seem a little daunting at first but there is always someone to lend a helping hand and to support you along the way.

“Adult Learners’ Week has been running in Wales for 27 years and has helped hundreds of thousands of adults right across the country. It’s a great time to take the plunge to learn a new skill, meet new people and learn about something you have always been passionate about. With the world changing so quickly around us it is more important than ever that all of us are learning throughout our lives. Now is the perfect time to start.”

Adult Learners’ Week is funded by The Welsh Government and the European Social Fund and organised by the Learning & Work Institute Wales.

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Education

Welsh Youth Parliament launches

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Llywydd Elin Jones: Youth Parliament 'a significant development'

THE COUNTDOWN is underway to the establishment of a new Welsh Youth Parliament to reflect and represent the voices and opinions of young people in Wales.

During Plenary at the Senedd on Wednesday, May 23, the Llywydd of the National Assembly for Wales, Elin Jones AM, announced the voter registration drive for the inaugural election would start yesterday, Thursday, May 31.

There will be 60 Welsh Youth Parliament Members. 40 of which will be elected via First Past the Post through an electronic voting system in each of the 40 electoral constituencies in Wales. 20 will be returned by partner organisations to ensure the representation of diverse groups of young people.

All young people in Wales, between the ages of 11 and up to 18, can take part by registering to vote in the online election which will be over three weeks in November 2018.

The very first meeting of the Welsh Youth Parliament will be held in February 2019.

Elin Jones AM said: “As a nation committed to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, implementing such an ambitious project is a significant development for Wales and it is our privilege as a National Parliament to deliver this commitment.

“Article 12 of that Convention of the Rights of the Child sets out the right of children and young people to express an opinion and to have that opinion taken into account when decisions are being made on any matter that affects them.

“In the context of our work as a legislature, establishing the Youth Parliament ensures that we are discharging out duties to the voters of today and tomorrow – to each and every citizen in Wales – all of whom have a stake in our democracy.”

The National Assembly Commission agreed to establish a youth parliament in September 2017 following an extensive consultation with more than 5,000 young people around Wales.

The National Assembly has also worked closely with a steering group of youth organisations providing expert guidance and, critically, views from the point of view of young people which contributed to the shaping of the new Welsh Youth Parliament.

The formal launch of the voter registration drive will take place at the Urdd Eisteddfod at the Royal Welsh Showground in Llanelwedd where more details of how to register as a candidate or as a partner organisation will be released.

The Assembly’s youth outreach and education team will hold a series of workshops, school and colleges visits, train the trainer sessions and provide resources for organisations to hold their own events. More information will be available on the Welsh Youth Parliament website.

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Education

Children to learn food’s origins

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Hybu Cig Cymru: Family Fun on June 10

CHILDREN’S lack of knowledge about where their food comes from is an in increasingly hot topic. A recent British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) survey found that a quarter of primary school children thought that cheese came from plants, while 13% thought that pasta came from an animal.

Welsh red meat body Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) is doing its bit during the spring to address this lack of knowledge.

Earlier this month, HCC cook Elwen Roberts joined the innovative ‘Cows on Tour’ team at Marshfield Primary School near Newport. Cows on Tour is a programme in which children get the chance to meet farmers, interact with animals, and learn interactively where meat and dairy products come from.

Also, on June 10, HCC will also be involved with a major ‘Open Farm Sunday’ event in Pembrokeshire. In partnership with Blas y Tir, the National Trust, the Scarlets rugby region and the Farms for City Children charity, HCC will be serving samples of nutritious meals with PGI Welsh Lamb and PGI Welsh Beef and organising children’s activities, as part of a day of family fun at Lower Treginnis Farm near St. David’s.

Prior to the event, children in Pembrokeshire are being encouraged to design a healthy school dinner menu, with prizes being announced at Open Farm Sunday.

“HCC is proud to join with our partners to help children gain a better understanding of where their food comes from, and how to eat a healthy and balanced diet,” said HCC’s Elwen Roberts.

“At Newport, we helped the Cows on Tour team by preparing samples of Welsh Beef pasta with fresh vegetables for the children,” she said, “as well as a barbecue for the parents in the evening.”

Elwen added, “We’re looking forward greatly to taking part in activities around Open Farm Sunday on June 10 in Pembrokeshire with Blas y Tir and Farms for City Children. It’ll be exciting to be part of the ‘Healthy Living Zone’ at Lower Treginnis with Scarlets rugby players. There’ll be plenty to do for children and adults alike.”

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