EDUCATION MINISTER, Huw Lewis has announced he is to reorganise the whole system of initial teacher education training in Wales.
The Minister’s announcement follows publication of a critical Estyn report on the North and Mid Wales Centre for Teacher Education which the Minister has described as “very disappointing”.
Estyn’s report concludes that both the North and Mid Wales Centre’s performance and its prospects for improvement are unsatisfactory. It also identifies aspects where the centre is failing to comply with statutory requirement for initial education teacher training.
The Minister said: “The North and Mid Wales Centre for Teacher Education has had some two years since shortcomings were identified to develop and improve its provision. However this report shows the necessary improvement has not been made. Frankly, this is not good enough.
“This latest report leaves me in no doubt that more needs to be done to accelerate the process of improvement in ITET provision across the whole of Wales.
“We need an ITET sector that can act as a key driver in building workforce capacity, particularly as we prepare for the new Curriculum for Wales. This is something that the school sector, local authorities, Consortia and the public are all, quite rightly, calling for.
“I am meeting Vice Chancellors in November, including those leading on current ITET and will be clear that I am calling time on the current system of initial teacher education training in Wales and moving to a focussed improvement plan, designed and delivered across the education system.
“Going forward, participation in genuine collaboration will be a requirement for any institution who wishes to play a part in the initial training of teachers.
“We know it is possible to deliver radical change in a short time frame – the recent news about the progress of the South East Wales Centre for Teacher Education and Training proves that.
“But improvements cannot stop there. We simply must deliver systematic improvements, with more effective collaboration between ITET centres in Wales, more partnership with Consortia, local authorities and schools, more learning from the best from elsewhere and more challenge.”
In 2009, following a report by Professor John Furlong, the Welsh Government reorganised Initial Teacher Training in Wales into three centres: one based in North Wales, one serving South-East Wales and the other Mid and West Wales.
At the time the Welsh Government claimed that concentrating teacher training and education into fewer centres would drive up standards of training and produce consistency of results.
Critical reports have, however, followed into both South East Wales’ provision and that of North Wales.
While a recent report from Estyn demonstrated some improvement in South East Wales’ centre, the same report concluded that ‘the centre was “not able to show the impact of the systems on trainees’ outcomes’
Huw Lewis has suggested that further radical reform is required to change the system again: “The landscape of ITET in Wales will be different. For those ITET centres that genuinely want to work with us to improve and provide genuinely sector leading practice then the door is open but – if you are not prepared to raise your game then you will not be part of our future vision for Wales.”
The Minister announced that he and Professor John Furlong would be holding two summits in December and January to engage the ITET sector in challenging reform.
This complements the task and finish group that Professor John Furlong is already leading to revise current ITET statutory criteria for accreditation and to implement change so the ITET system is more robust and fit for purpose.
The reform of ITET in Wales, the effective delivery of the New Deal and the implementation of a new curriculum for Wales are key parts of the Welsh Government’s ongoing programme for Education reform.
The Minister’s announcement has received short-shrift from opposition AMs, who have pointed out that the Welsh Government appears only now to be seeking to remedy flaws in the system of teacher training to which its own 2009 reorganisation of the sector has contributed.
Focusing on the challenges of equipping teachers to deliver a new curriculum, Aled Roberts AM, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Minister said: “There is a widespread consensus that the Labour Government in Wales has failed to address the fact that teacher training has not been of a high enough standard to serve the needs of Wales either now or in the future.
“The Estyn report into the North and Mid Wales centres at Bangor and Aberystwyth is extremely disappointing and is the most recent example of reports raising concerns with regard to the quality of training provision in Wales.
“There are major curriculum reforms on the horizon in Wales and we need a profession that is properly equipped for such change and which is in receipt of ongoing support through continuing professional development following qualification.
“The Welsh Liberal Democrats believe in empowering teachers to be able to take a lead so they have more responsibility in innovation and are able to work collaboratively with other teachers in the development of their practice. We would also look to attract and increase the quality of new entrants to the teaching profession.”
Making concrete proposals for the future of teacher training, Mid and West AM Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for Education, Skills and the Welsh Language Simon Thomas, a Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire candidate said: “We have had Labour Education Ministers since 1997 responsible for the education of our children. This unsatisfactory report into the North and Mid Wales Centre for Teacher Education is another example of a culture of complacency in Cardiff Bay.
“A Plaid Cymru Welsh Government would give our teachers and classroom assistants the time to teach so that they can focus on ensuring the development of core skills in schools.
“By working with teaching unions and staff, Plaid Cymru will reduce red tape and bureaucracy so that head-teachers can lead their schools and more time is spent teaching children, rather than completing paperwork. The best way to spread good teaching practice is between schools, peer to peer.
“We will consider for all teachers to be educated at a Masters Level with a focus on classroom techniques. We will look to establish one professional-led body to deal with Continuous Professional Development to take politics out of education as happened in Scotland.”
“We need the powers over pay, terms and conditions to facilitate the best allocation of resources – it is only a Plaid Cymru Welsh Government that can deliver this.”
Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Education, Angela Burns AM, told us: “We’ve long said teacher training in Labour-run Wales needs urgent improvement.
“It’s clear significant failings persist and I am extremely unhappy to read of another poor Estyn report on the North and Mid Wales Centre.
“Changes are not happening quickly enough and it’s our pupils and hard-working staff who are taking the brunt of it.
“While Labour’s minister is taking some steps to address the clear problems, it’s simply not fast enough.
“16 years of Labour rule have left our education system in tatters. That requires fresh thinking and a new approach.”
Is targeted funding raising school standards?
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.
Student finance ‘discriminates against women and mature students’
A WEST Wales mature student has alleged that Student Finance Wales discriminates against mature female students who have changed their name through marriage or divorce.
Tricia (not her real name) contacted The Herald after she experienced protracted delays in receiving student finance to which she was entitled having been made ‘to jump through hoops’ to prove she was who she said she was.
She encountered difficulties after applying for a one year top up from a HND to a BA.
The situation was rendered all the more frustrating as, Student Finance Wales had all of Tricia’s proof of identity from the previous year, when she completed her HND, access to all of the information submitted in connection with that award, and repeatedly told her that there was no information required from her before telling her on a number of occasions, and only when she rang to query the continuing delay, that further information was needed.
Tricia applied for student finance on June 14 and supporting information for her financial status was provided immediately to Student Finance Wales. Tricia had the same customer reference number, same email, same telephone contact number that she had used for her previous application.
Tricia was particularly exasperated as she had been through precisely the same rigmarole in proving her identity in her initial application two years before.
She told us: “Despite the fact that I applied early for student finance, after that earlier bad experience, I kept on being pushed from pillar to post. Even though ALL of my information was already held by Student Finance and they were writing to me at my home address, which I had already provided and proved, it was not until mid-August that Student Finance Wales asked for proof that I actually lived in Wales.
“Having sent that proof, I rang up to check everything was okay and was told that Student Finance Wales had all the information they needed to process my application.”
She continued: “Having waited for a few weeks and with the start of term already near, I rang to find out what was happening. I was then told that before my application could proceed that they wanted information for an application for a childcare grant, which I have never sought and had not asked for. I had to write a letter telling them this – unbelievably six weeks after acknowledging they had received that letter, the information is still shown as required.
“Anyway, I confirmed again that they now had all the material they needed. And was told they did. A few weeks passed and I had heard nothing. I rang again. This time they wanted me to provide both my birth certificate and a form signed by a third party confirming that I was me!
“I raised an immediate complaint and was told I would be sent a copy of that for my own information.”
On October 26, Tricia rang to confirm that all information had been received and make sure that nothing else was needed.
Tricia’s experience then entered the realms of the surreal. A friend verified her identity. The same person had verified her partner’s identity for their application for student finance and been accepted.
The proof of identity was rejected and during the phone call a claim was made that a letter to that effect had been sent out on October 20, which was remarkable in itself as the identity form had only been posted on October 19. Not only was there no sign of that letter’s arrival, there was no sign of it in the record of correspondence.
Tricia then raised the question of her previous complaint, only to be told there was no record of it. She was then told by a manager at Student Finance Wales that she was not entitled to see the content of any complaint raised by the company on her behalf, although that manager told her that she would now raise a complaint for her and notify her it had been raised.
After waiting a few days, and with no sign of a complaint being made, Tricia emailed a full complaint to Student Finance Wales and copied her constituency and regional AMs in along with Cabinet Secretary for Education Kirsty Williams and the Assembly parties’ education spokespersons.
Response was swift. First to respond was Labour’s Joyce Watson who promised to raise the matter with the Cabinet Secretary. That was followed by responses from Paul Davies – who helped resolve Tricia’s previous complaint – Simon Thomas, and UKIP’s Neil Hamilton who provided a very full and sympathetic response to Tricia’s plight; then, the Welsh Government contacted Tricia and asked for her permission to deal with Student Finance Wales on her behalf.
Finally, a day or so later, Tricia was emailed by Student Finance Wales to say that they were now acting on her complaint.
Mysteriously, the letter telling her that her identity proof was unacceptable arrived postmarked October 31, the same day as her complaint.
Within seven days of contacting her local AMs, Tricia was told that her student finance had been approved and that payments would be made shortly. She does not think that is a coincidence.
Tricia is, however, still frustrated by the whole experience.
“The situation had become ridiculous. I was being discriminated against for being an older woman, who had been married before. They not only had all my information already, they told me they could see it on the computer system and yet still said they needed it again. It’s bureaucracy for the sake of it. And as for not allowing customers to see complaints raised on their behalf, I bet their complaints clear up rate is stellar.
“Again, it was only when I complained and copied in AMs that there was any movement at all. That is not right and just makes me wonder how many students who have not contacted their own AMs have been forced out of higher education by Student Finance Wales incompetence.”
She concluded: “When I initially raised issues about the process way back in August I was told that I should blame the Welsh Government! To make matters worse, it had been suggested to me that I could get my parents to confirm my name change. I could, I suppose, have got a shovel or Ouija board, but neither of those options was very appealing!”
Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education Llyr Gruffydd said: “Plaid Cymru believes education is a right not a privilege so we want to make sure there is fair play when it comes to Student Finance Wales regardless of age or gender.”
Mid and West AM Simon Thomas added: “A constituent has informed me of a formal complaint they have made regarding the way in which their application for student finance has been handled by Student Finance Wales. Their application for student finance has still not been processed – almost five months after the initial application was made.
“My constituent feels that Student Finance Wales indirectly discriminate on the grounds of age and gender.”
Simon Thomas has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Education requesting the following information.
- An outline of Student Finance Wales’ complaints procedure
- The number of complaints received by Student Finance Wales each year in the last five years
- A breakdown of the nature of the complaints received
- An outline of the evidence of income and identity Student Finance Wales asks for in order to process a student’s application for student finance
Tricia’s constituency AM, Paul Davies told The Herald: “The experiences that Tricia has had with Student Finance Wales are deeply disappointing and caused her unnecessary distress, at a time when she should be focusing on her studies. It’s clear that there are failings in the system, which continue to be unaddressed and the Welsh Government should now commit to seriously reviewing Student Finance Wales’ operations.
“Sadly, this is not the first worrying experience that Tricia has faced throughout her studies and it’s simply unacceptable. Lessons clearly haven’t been learnt from previous occasions and therefore it’s important that the Welsh Government urgently addresses these problems to ensure that other students are not faced with similar problems in the future.”
Welsh Government invests £310m in skills
THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has outlined a £310m package of financial support to drive up skills across Wales.
Ahead of the publication of the Welsh Government’s departmental spending plans, the Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams, announced £50m of capital funding for Further Education and Higher Education sectors to improve facilities and learning environments for students.
Over the next two years, £10m will be allocated for FE institutions to invest in industry-standard training equipment and a further £10m for essential maintenance to ensure safe learning environments.
An additional £30m (£10m in each of the next three years) will be allocated to support higher education estate rationalisation. This will expand the successful 21st century schools and education programme to include a ring-fenced fund for higher education estates; reducing surplus capacity and creating a more energy-efficient estate across Wales.
The Minister for Skills and Science, Julie James, also confirmed that £260m will be invested for apprenticeships over the next two years (£130m in each year) to support the Welsh Government’s commitment of creating 100,000 all-age apprenticeships over the life of this Assembly term.
Education Secretary Kirsty Williams said: “Our £50m capital investment for the FE and HE sector will enable them to provide state of the art facilities, improving learning environments for students and satisfying local employer needs. This investment is crucial both for our learners and for the wider economy.
Minister for Skills and Science, Julie James said: “We are committed to raising skills standards across the board in Wales and through our draft budget are putting investments in place to do just that.
“Apprenticeships are the start of an exciting and rewarding career, giving people an opportunity to gain on the job experience while gaining all the skills and qualifications they need.
“We are already delivering one of the most successful apprenticeship programmes in Europe – the £260m we’re investing over the next two years will build on this and enable us to deliver our commitment of creating 100,000 all-age apprenticeships over the life of this Assembly term.”
Responding, Darren Millar AM, Welsh Conservative Shadow Education Secretary, said: “This capital investment is a mere fraction of what colleges and universities have been calling for, but the announcement is at least a step in the right direction.
“The Welsh Government must now map out a long-term plan for sustainable higher and further education system which will equip Wales with the skills our nation needs to compete in a global world.”
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