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Education

‘Testing fails pupils’

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STANDARDISED testing continues to leave pupils and schools distressed, according to a national survey of teachers in Wales. 

The research, conducted by NUT Cymru, shows that after four years, the literacy and numeracy tests are even more divisive than ever.

Some teachers have even expressed the view that they are considering leaving the profession rather than continue to subject pupils to the testing regime.

As a result of the survey’s findings, the NUT has again called for a review of the system, which it claims is undermining the impact of the Foundation Phase and hindering children’s emotional and educational progress.

The union says some teachers are questioning their long-term commitment to the profession, with one survey respondent stating: “I want to hang my head in shame for what I’m doing to the mental health of the children in my care. I’m ashamed of being a part of a system where all the encouragement of the past year is wiped away by a cross on a scale which says they aren’t good enough. I have seriously considered leaving teaching rather than be part of this testing regime again.”

In 2012, 33% of teachers said they received contact from parents in relation to the assessments and that these were almost exclusively negative. This year’s results showed that the figure was now 56% with the majority stating it remained negative or mixed at best.

NUT Cymru Secretary, David Evans, said: “Once again we see an alarming level of anger and frustration from teachers when asked about the impact of these tests on pupils and on their working conditions.

“The headline figures are extremely worrying but what is particularly worth highlighting is the fact there is a rising level of opposition to the testing. Far from being convinced by standardised testing, the profession is becoming increasingly disillusioned with the policy.

“Perhaps the most depressing evidence is the anecdotal feedback from teachers in regards to the impact those tests have on their pupils. Children are being left demoralised, in tears and with low self-esteem. This is not the outcome any teacher or parent wants to see and it is certainly one of the reasons cited by teachers for considering leaving the profession.

“There is a new Cabinet Secretary in place at the Welsh Government. These tests are not her policy. We have written to Kirsty Williams with the details of this survey and hope a fresh pair of eyes can lead to a new way of thinking, in particular for the very youngest children and in light of the Donaldson recommendations around a less intrusive approach to assessment.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We believe the best way to ensure children make regular progress is to make sure they never fall behind and that this can only be achieved through careful monitoring and assessment of their progress. The national reading and numeracy tests were introduced so that practitioners could gain a clearer picture of pupils’ reading and numeracy skills and use that information to support their progression.

“Our guidance is very clear that there should be no undue preparation for the tests and that all schools are expected to maintain a broad and balanced curriculum throughout the school year. While familiarising children with the format of the tests is good practice, drilling children is never acceptable because it will almost certainly generate feelings of negativity.

“We have taken a number of steps to minimise the impact of the tests on schools’ workloads. Through the Education Improvement Grant, we provide funding to schools which allows them to bring in invigilators, markers or clerical help. We also provide a supported marking service for the Numerical Reasoning tests which we know from feedback is highly valued by practitioners.

“Professor Donaldson’s report ‘Successful Futures’ makes clear that testing is an important element in the range of assessment techniques available to schools but that improvements can be made. Our move to online adaptive tests in 2018 will deliver this.”

While the union reports that 97.5% of respondents did not believe the tests were a positive experience for pupils (up 4% from the original 2013 survey and overall 86% of teachers felt the tests had added to their workloads), the proportion of teachers in Wales who provided responses was very low indeed.

There are around 25,000 teachers in Wales. Even taking into account that not all of those teachers are members of the NUT, a figure of 287 respondents is a very small sample upon which to base definitive conclusions.

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Education

Project in support of Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign continues to grow

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PUPILS at a London school have again this term been working on maths and English projects that highlight the need to retain an all-weather lifeboat in New Quay and, having impressed a leading educational guru, the project continues to grow.

Since the RNLI’s announcement in June 2017 that it plans to strip Ceredigion of its only all-weather lifeboat, public opposition has been growing. To date, over 31,000 people have signed a petition opposing the RNLI’s downgrade plan, and the Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign has gained the support of a number of prominent politicians and public figures, as well as pupils from an inner-city London school.

Pupils at Harris Academy St John’s Wood have again spent the summer term studying the facts and figures of future lifeboat coverage in Cardigan Bay. The project was initiated last year by maths teacher Alexandra Lay, who was looking for meaningful and engaging ways into the curriculum, and the lifeboat theme has now become a fixture on the school’s curriculum.

Alexandra, who studied at Aberystwyth University, and is a keen kayaker, explained: “When I first saw a map of the huge gap that the RNLI’s decision will leave in Cardigan Bay, I saw an opportunity to teach loci to my year 8s with a real purpose and real-life application.

“As the project developed, my young mathematicians were able to apply their understanding of bearings, loci and speed, as well as distance and time. Through studying all the facts and figures, my pupils began to feel a real sense of empathy for the New Quay community and wanted to do what they could to help save the all-weather lifeboat.”

The project was then taken up by the English department who planned a series of lessons around the history of the RNLI and the role of the all-weather lifeboat at New Quay. Pupils debated the subject in their lessons and wrote persuasive letters to the RNLI Chief Executive.

The project has now caught the attention of Alistair Smith, a prominent presenter, trainer and developer in learning, education and professional football, who works with schools and colleges across the UK and abroad.

Alexandra continued: “Alistair Smith visited the school and observed one of my lifeboat lessons. He was very impressed with what we’d achieved and offered his full support and guidance.

“Alistair’s feedback led to the Head of Teaching and Learning championing the lifeboat campaign as a cross-curricular project across the academy. Next year, the whole year 7 curriculum for the summer term will be based around the theme of saving New Quay’s lifeboat.”

The Harris Federation is a not-for-profit charity that includes 47 primary and secondary academies across London, with 32,000 pupils and 3,700 staff. The school now plans to bring a group of students New Quay for a boat trip as a prize for the best work.

Alexandra continued: “I have thoroughly enjoyed working on the project this year. The pupils are more committed than ever and this is reflected in the quality of their work. The letters and reports that they have produced show that downgrading New Quay lifeboat will unquestionably be detrimental to seafarers and members of New Quay’s local community. It is undeniable that downgrading the all-weather lifeboat at New Quay will put lives at risk.”

In response to the letters written by the students to the RNLI Chief Executive last year, an RNLI representative gave an assurance that: “The Chief Executive and Operations Director have seen the work your students produced, and have asked our Education team to respond in full.” Almost 12 months later, the students are still waiting for a response.

Alexandra concluded: “The lack of response is very disappointing given the seriousness of the issue about which my students, colleagues and I feel so concerned. It makes us wonder whether the RNLI have any evidence at all to back the decision they made.”

To find out more about the campaign to save Ceredigion’s only all-weather lifeboat, visit www.ceredigionlifeboatcampaign.org.uk or search for Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign on Facebook.

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Education

Ceredigion music teacher presented with Honorary Fellowship

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A PERIPATETIC music teacher who worked for Ceredigion Music Service for 35 years has been presented as an Honorary Fellow of Aberystwyth University.

Originally from Treherbert in the Rhondda Valley, Alan Phillips began his music career playing brass with the local Treherbert Band whilst at school.

After leaving school he became a bricklayer – a skill which took him all over the UK and to Europe. Then, at the age of 23 he embarked on a Music degree at Aberystwyth, graduating in 1981.

After gaining a Post Graduate Certificate in Education from Cardiff, a chance encounter with some of his Aberystwyth friends led him to apply for the vacant brass peripatetic post in Ceredigion, to which he was duly appointed.

Over a 35 year career working for Ceredigion Music Service, Alan started the Aberystwyth Town Youth Band, and took numerous groups of young musicians to competitions at home and abroad.

Alan was presented as Honorary Fellow during the first of the University’s 2019 graduation ceremonies on Tuesday 16 July by Dr Rhodri Llwyd Morgan, Director of Welsh Language and External Engagement.

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Education

Hwyl yr Haf – Your guide for the summer holidays in Ceredigion

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CERED’S 2019 Hwyl yr Haf programme was launched on July 5 at Gŵyl Aber. It is the essential guide for parents looking for Welsh and bilingual activities for their children in Ceredigion over the school summer holidays.

Cered has been creating Hwyl yr Haf programmes since 2017 to coordinate Welsh language activities during the school summer holidays in the Aberystwyth area, and to raise awareness of the wealth of Welsh language activities that are on the doorstep. This year’s programme will see Hwyl yr Haf include partners in south Ceredigion for the first time to ensure that Hwyl yr Haf actvities are accessible to children, young people and families across the county.

There are a number of new and exciting activities in Hwyl yr Haf 2019 including Ceredigion Museum’s planetarium and Gwersyll yr Urdd Llangrannog’s Activity Days. There are also art, music, drama and dance workshops; Gigs Cantre’r Gwaelod’s Sunday Afternoon Series; mountain biking sessions and much more.

Non Davies is Cered’s Manager. She said: “Over ten thousand people saw our Hwyl yr Haf programme in 2018 and many of the activities sold out. With new partners such as Cardigan Castle, Gwersyll yr Urdd Llangrannog and Llandysul Library on board for the first time, this year we hope that even more Ceredigion families can enjoy a wealth of Welsh language activities over the summer holidays.”

To find Hwyl yr Haf activities search for Cered on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or go to www.cered.cymru/hwyl-yr-haf-19.

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