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Is targeted funding raising school standards?

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Lynne Neagle: Making sure funding going to right areas

A NEW inquiry will look at the Welsh Government’s approach to targeted funding in Welsh schools, and whether this has helped to improve the performance and standards of specific groups of pupils and schools.

The National Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee will be focusing on the Welsh Government’s Pupil Development Grant (PDG), and the now ended Schools Challenge Cymru programme (SCC).

More than £90m a year is spent on PDG, which specifically works towards helping children in more deprived areas at primary and secondary level. Schools Challenge Cymru focused on raising attainment levels at those secondary schools facing the greatest challenges in improving. Over its three years SCC cost around £40m.

Figures show that, while the number of pupils benefitting from PDG and who achieved five or more GCSEs at A*-C grade had risen over a decade, there was a sharp decrease from 71.6% in 2016 to 41.1% in 2017.

Schools Challenge Cymru had shown an improvement in 23 out of 39 schools with more pupils attaining five or more GCSEs at A*-C grade. However, a number of other schools saw a deterioration in standards with five dropping into the red band in the Welsh Government’s national school band scale.

“Raising the attainment levels of pupils in Wales’ most deprived areas is a key priority for the Welsh Government,” said Lynne Neagle AM, Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee.

“It is critical that every child in Wales has a high standard of education and the same opportunities as everyone else, regardless of their circumstances.

“The recent fall in standards in schools in receipt of the Pupil Development Grant is particularly concerning and goes against the general trend of improvement over the past decade.

“We will be looking at why that is and what schools and the regional education consortia are doing to make sure the millions of pounds set aside each year are going to the right areas in the right way.

“We will also be considering the impact of Schools Challenge Cymru and the consequences for the schools which benefitted from it now that the programme has come to an end.”

The Committee has launched a public consultation on targeted funding. Anyone wishing to contribute can found out more information on the Committee’s web pages. The deadline for the consultation is January 5, 2018.

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Education

Wales gets cosmic ray detector network

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Truly innovative research: Welsh students' major opportunity

A NETWORK of instruments used to detect showers of high-energy particles raining down on Earth, are in the process of being set-up in Wales for the very first time.

The major international project will give schoolchildren the chance to explore some of the most important questions in astrophysics.

The particles, known as cosmic rays, travel from deep space at nearly the speed of light and are thought to originate from the regions around black holes and exploding stars. They’ve been hitting the earth and other planets since the solar system formed.

By detecting cosmic rays, scientists all over the world hope to learn more about some of astronomy’s biggest questions, such as the origin of the Universe, the death of stars, and how galaxies and black holes form. On Earth, observations of cosmic rays have also been used to ‘look inside’ volcanoes, and recently helped discover a large hidden chamber in the Great Pyramid at Giza.

A detector is currently under construction in Swansea University, with plans for another at the proposed Oriel Science exhibition centre in Swansea’s city centre. The network’s first detector has already been installed on the roof of Cardiff University’s School of Physics and Astronomy near the city centre.

Professor Chris Allton, from Swansea University’s Oriel Science and Department of Physics, said: “We are excited to link with Cardiff and provide a detector array across south Wales for school students to access. It will really help inspire these students to become the next generation of scientists in Wales.”

The team are now exploring the possibility of installing another detector at a school in Wales, as the network will also be used as an educational resource for schoolchildren across the country.

The £93K ‘QuarkNet Cymru’ project is being funded by the Welsh Government’s National Science Academy and links Wales to two major international projects – the “High School Project on Astrophysics Research with Cosmics” (HiSPARC) in Europe, and US-based “QuarkNet” programme.

HiSPARC and QuarkNet enable secondary schools and academic institutions to join forces and form a network to measure cosmic rays. They offer students the opportunity to participate in real research, with the purpose of finding out more about these mysterious cosmic particles.

When a cosmic ray encounters the Earth’s atmosphere, it creates a cascade of secondary particles called muons which spread out as they travel to the ground. By using detectors sensitive to muons, the schoolchildren will be able to work with the data to find out information about the original cosmic ray, such as its energy and where it came from in the sky.

From January 2018, schools will be able to loan particle physics equipment from Swansea and Cardiff Universities, with the addition of workshops and presentations to engage the schoolchildren in real-life cosmic ray research.

Dr Paul Roche, from Cardiff University’s School of Physics and Astronomy, said: “It’s a fantastic opportunity for school students from across Wales to get involved with some exciting astrophysics, using data taken from our own instruments that are now part of this international research programme.”

Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport commented: “The QuarkNet Cymru project is an excellent example of how, working with global leaders in the field, Welsh Government investment is helping facilitate truly innovative research into some of the most important questions in astrophysics. More locally, it’s particularly pleasing to see such investment enabling QuarkNet Cymru and its network to deliver engaging Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics activities to pupils across Wales.

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Education

New standards for FE staff launched

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Eluned Morgan: 'Vocational learning every bit as important as academic education'

NEW professional standards for staff in the further education and work-based learning sectors were launched at the ColegauCymru Conference on Post 16 Education last Thursday (Nov 30).

The standards will set high expectations for all practitioners and be more explicit about the role of high-quality collaborative professional learning to support improvements. They reflect the importance of ongoing professional learning for staff and the role vocational learning plays in creating the skilled, innovative and adaptable workforce Wales needs.

Speaking at the conference, Eluned Morgan, Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning, said: “Vocational learning is every bit as important as academic education and if we want the best for our vocational learners their teachers, tutors and assessors have to be supported in their role. These new standards set out a clear, aspirational framework for the sector to work to.

“The critical principle of vocational education is that those working in both FE and WBL tend to operate as dual professionals, as experts both in a ‘vocation’ and as ‘teachers’. This has been made a central strand throughout the standards.

“I am confident that these standards will further engage and motivate practitioners and their employers in their pursuit for excellence and improved outcomes for all.”

Kelly Edwards Head of Work Based Learning Quality at the National Training Federation Wales said: “The Work-based Learning sector was delighted to be involved in the development of the new standards. The standards will support professional learning for WBL practitioners, with a key focus on developing the dual professional. We welcome the standards as an important step to enhance professional recognition for the WBL sector in Wales.”

Iestyn Davies, Chief Executive of ColegauCymru, Wales’ post compulsory education charity, added: “The development of professional standards is a move which is welcomed by ColegauCymru. Further Education provides the practical skills and knowledge that communities rely upon, we fully endorse and will promote these standards as a way of ensuring that the public and the profession alike are clear on what is required to continue to deliver world class skills in the rapidly changing world of work.”

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Education

Williams wants inclusive education

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Committed to needs-based approach: Kirsty Williams

EDUCATION SECRETARY, Kirsty Williams, has published a new plan outlining how the Welsh Government intends to work with the sector to improve outcomes for learners in Wales who access education otherwise than at school.

The new Education Other than at School (EOTAS) Framework for Action is the culmination of two years of hard work by the EOTAS Task and Finish Group and marks the start of the biggest reform of Pupil Referral Units and EOTAS provision in Wales.

Chaired by former Estyn Chief Inspector, Ann Keane, the EOTAS Task and Finish Group was established in September 2015 with the purpose of developing practical solutions to the recommendations of a number of reports which highlighted where current EOTAS provision in Wales could be strengthened.

The group included representation from the Welsh Government, local authorities, schools, Pupil Referral Units (PRU), Estyn and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales.

The report states that: “Children and young people in EOTAS, and in particular in PRUs, are some of the most vulnerable learners. They often come from chaotic and challenging backgrounds. They can frequently experience family breakdown and mental health issues, and are often exposed to substance misuse and domestic violence. It is no surprise therefore that these children and young people find themselves in negative patterns of behaviour which impacts on their learning and, as a result, have less than positive learning outcomes.”

The new Framework is a long term plan, consisting of 34 actions across six key areas, although some of the actions will be implemented in the short to medium term.

The key areas it seeks to improve are Leadership, Accountability, Resources, Structures, Learner Wellbeing, and Outcomes.

Launching the Framework and extending her thanks to everyone involved with its production, Kirsty Williams said: “We are committed to creating an inclusive education system for all learners in Wales, ensuring that everyone is able to receive the best level of support for their needs.

“I am extremely grateful to everyone involved with the Task and Finish Group for all their hard work in helping us to develop this plan and extend my support to the EOTAS Delivery Group who will now be charged with its successful delivery. The actions contained in this Framework reflect extensive engagement with the sector which has been, and continues to be, the best advocate for learners accessing EOTAS provision.

“We have deliberately adopted a phased approach to the proposals outlined in the plan, not only to ensure that they are implemented in a considered and timely manner, but also because the Framework has to complement wider education sector transformation. I am firmly of the view that EOTAS provision must form an integral part of our inclusive continuum of education; it should not be a ‘bolt-on’.”

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