FUNDING to help pupils from deprived backgrounds improve educational attainment should be better targeted and regularly assessed for value for money, according to a National Assembly Committee.
The Children, Young People and Education Committee has been looking at the impact of the Welsh Government’s Pupil Development Grant (PDG) which provides extra money per pupil eligible for a free school meal (eFSM).
The grant costs £94 million per year and while the Committee concluded the Welsh Government is right to use PDG, it was concerned by evidence from schools watchdog Estyn that only two thirds of Welsh schools were using the money effectively.
During evidence committee members were told that PDG is not used enough to support more able and talented eFSM pupils. This is despite the fact that the PDG should be used to improve the educational outcomes of every eFSM pupil, including helping them achieve the highest grades.
The Committee also heard that targeted funding such as the PDG is masking pressures on schools’ budgets and is no longer considered an extra resource, but is part of core funding. The Committee has recommended that the Welsh Government keep the sufficiency of school budgets under review and also intends to undertake its own work in this area.
The Committee’s inquiry looked at the impact of the PDG on attainment and the implications of changes to the way schools’ performance is measured. The attainment gap between eFSM and other pupils narrowed following the introduction of PDG, but the Committee’s inquiry highlighted that the gap was already narrowing before then.
PDG has also been extended to include pupils who were eligible for free schools meals in the past two years, but may not be anymore. But the Committee found that no extra funding had been provided to meet the new demand. Similarly, the PDG which is provided for Looked After Children can also be used on adopted children but no additional money is given for this. This means either education authorities are not targeting the money on adopted children, or are diluting PDG funding, effectively taking resources away from other Looked After Children. The Committee has called for a more strategic approach to the PDG for Looked After Children and adopted children.
“The link between deprivation and attainment is well established,” said Lynne Neagle AM, Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee.
“Breaking this link has been a priority for the Welsh Government for many years.
“The Committee supports the use of the Pupil Development Grant to help narrow the gap between disadvantaged and deprived pupils and their peers but we believe much more needs to done to ensure this funding helps more able pupils from deprived backgrounds get the highest grades.”
The Committee also examined the now discontinued Schools Challenge Cymru programme which provided extra funding and support for 39 underperforming schools in Wales.
The Welsh Government brought in Professor Mel Ainscow, who had developed a similar, successful scheme in Manchester, to head up the programme. But Welsh Government decided to end the programme after three years and before the results of a government-commissioned performance evaluation were known.
Critics of the decision said Schools Challenge Cymru ended too soon and that similar models used in other parts of the UK had been given more time to raise standards. The Welsh Government has said that the regional consortia, established in 2012, are now well placed to take over support for Wales’ most underperforming schools as part of their functions for overall school improvement.
Lynne Neagle AM said: “The Welsh Government established Schools Challenge Cymru in recognition that some of our schools need targeted and tailored challenge and support to improve and ensure pupils are given the best opportunity to do well.
“Results among the schools in Wales were mixed, but the Committee is concerned that those that made good progress risk losing momentum now that the programme has ended. The Welsh Government and the regional consortia must make sure this doesn’t happen.
“It is also unclear to what extent the Welsh Government is learning lessons from the Schools Challenge Cymru programme.”
Community safety promises as students return to Aberystwyth
Aberystwyth University has launched five ‘community promises’ as part of its plans to ensure the safety of students, staff and the wider community as it prepares to welcome students back later this month.
The ‘community promises’ outline five pledges for students, staff and the wider town community. The five points are:
1. Maintain good hygiene – wash hands regularly
2. Keep our distance – follow guidelines
3. Know who we are with – test and trace saves lives
4. Protect those around us – wear a face covering where advised
5. Respect each other – be kind
The pledges come on top of the comprehensive safety measures the University has already introduced.
These include introducing one-way systems, classroom layout changes and signage, along with enhanced cleaning and hygiene arrangements, including providing hand sanitizer stations and regular cleaning of frequently touched surfaces.
It has also restructured its teaching timetable to support social distancing, is introducing contact tracing in co-operation with the local council and health board, and expects all staff, students and visitors to wear a face-covering while indoors on all University sites.
Aberystwyth University’s Vice-Chancellor, Elizabeth Treasure, said: “As we bring teaching on-campus later this month, our priority is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all our students, staff and the wider community. The University has been working very hard over many months to adapt our campus and activities in light of the global pandemic. These comprehensive measures include enhancing cleaning, ensuring social distancing, contract tracing, and expecting all staff, students and visitors to wear a face-covering while indoors on all University sites. These adaptations have been introduced as a result of an extensive programme of risk assessments in order to identify and mitigate risks.
“All these detailed arrangements have been developed in close collaboration with Students’ Union representatives, as well as in discussions with Ceredigion Council, Hywel Dda Health Board, the Welsh Government and UK wide stakeholders. From the outset of the current pandemic, safety has been at the forefront of our thinking and will continue to be so for the new academic year.”
The new commitments have been backed by the Leader of Ceredigion Council, Students’ Union representatives, and the Mayor of Aberystwyth.
Ellen ap Gwynn, the Leader of Ceredigion County Council, said: “Ceredigion County Council has been working closely with Aberystwyth University over the last few months in ensuring that arrangements are in place to welcome students back safely to the County. We support the range of safety measures that Aberystwyth University has put in place, as well as the ‘community promises’ so that the students can return and once again become part of the community in Aberystwyth. We will continue to work closely with Aberystwyth University over the coming months to ensure the safety of the students and the local community.”
Aberystwyth Mayor Cllr Charlie Kingsbury added: “I’m very grateful for the hard work the University has undertaken to ensure that students return safely to Aberystwyth. Sensible measures, which are cognisant of the risk are essential as we welcome students back, and I have every confidence in the University’s commitment to support the health of the community in Aberystwyth.”
President of Aberystwyth Students’ Union Nate Pidcock commented: “These commitments are an important part of a package of adaptations which are being made in light of the pandemic. With students gradually returning to campus, these changes are going to be relatively new to everyone. We are going to do our very best, alongside other partners, to ensure that students are aware of this new normal. We are going to do all we can to work together to protect all the people and communities of Aberystwyth and Ceredigion as a whole.”
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the University has been working with a wide variety of local and national partners to keep infection rates low in the Ceredigion, including providing facilities to the local health board and producing and supplying PPE. The University has also planned for a more gradual return of students this month, including making special provision for students who may need to self-isolate on arrival.
Vital support for job seekers and employers in West Wales
TO MATCH job seekers with employers and career agencies across West Wales, a virtual jobs fair is taking place on Wednesday 9 September.
The free online event will be hosted by Working Wales, which is delivered by Careers Wales, and is in partnership with Job Centre Plus teams across West Wales and the south west and mid Wales Regional Learning and Skills Partnership.
Now, more than ever, job seekers and employers are relying on online support to find jobs and fill vacancies.
The event will run through Working Wales’ Facebook channels and will be split into two regional events covering West Wales mid and south. 10am-11am is for job seekers and employers in Bridgend, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Powys and Neath Port Talbot. 2pm-3pm will focus on Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Swansea.
Attendees for the free event will have access to a wide variety of job vacancies from many sectors across West Wales as well as expert careers advice to support with job applications.
Working Wales is funded by the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund and was launched by the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, Ken Skates in May 2019.
Within the first year the service has directly assisted over 37,000 people across Wales. Careers Wales chief executive, Nikki Lawrence said “We are delighted to be working with our partners in the west to deliver a virtual jobs fair. Our careers advice and guidance is a vital part of supporting the economy during this pandemic, and these online events allow us to effectively and safely continue reaching and supporting our customers during these challenging times.”
To register your interest in these events, follow Working Wales on Facebook @WorkingWales. If you are an employer with vacancies to fill please also get in touch.
Available to anyone over the age of 16, Working Wales provides a one-to-one, tailored employability advice and guidance service, supporting people across Wales with job searching, CV writing, interview preparation, training and upskilling as well as with redundancy support.
For more information on Working Wales visit: www.workingwales.gov.wales or call 0800 028 4844
Ceredigion ready to welcome pupils back safely
Ceredigion pupils will return to school gradually from September onwards.
The autumn term begins on 3 September 2020, with pupils gradually returning until everyone is back on a full-time basis by 14 September 2020.
Ceredigion County Council would like to thank all staff for their hard work over recent weeks in ensuring that the appropriate arrangements are in place to safeguard the health and welfare of staff and pupils.
One-way systems will be in place in schools, bubble groups by year and class groups, and pupils will sit facing the front of the class, rather than facing each other, and scattered break and lunch times. Staff will also continue to take the temperature of each pupil as they arrive on site. We will ensure good hygiene by ensuring regular hand washing opportunities throughout the day and a supply of hand sanitizers in places where hand washing is not possible, as well as ensuring adequate fresh air within classes. In addition, the schools will be cleaned during the day and after school hours. The Contact Tracing system will be used in the event of any coronavirus case, and each school will have a dedicated isolation room if a pupil or member of staff feels unwell during the day, with clear signs placed around the sites to emphasize the importance of hygiene and keeping a social distance. Secondary schools will also be asking all pupils to carry face coverings with them and they will be expected to use them in line with the school’s Risk Assessment policy.
Transport arrangements will continue in Ceredigion for pupils who are eligible for school transport, in accordance with the county’s Transport policy. Ceredigion County Council expects pupils to wear face coverings on school transport. It will be the duty of parents/carers to provide a face covering for their child. Social distance is not a requirement on school transport and therefore the Council believes that wearing a face covering on school transport should be taken as one means of reducing risks.
The situation will be continually reviewed, and we thank everyone for their patience and co-operation as we prioritise the health and safety of all pupils and staff. We aim to ensure that our pupils receive as full an educational experience as possible within these circumstances.
The Headteachers of each school will be on hand to reassure pupils, parents and carers of any aspect of these preparations.
We look forward to welcoming old and new faces back to the schools in September, and we wish everyone a successful term, brimming with education.
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