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Education

Fund to cut class sizes introduced

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Investment: Targeted at infant classes

A NEW £36m fund to reduce infant class sizes and raise standards has been announced by Education Secretary Kirsty Williams.

Directed at the front line and starting with the largest class sizes, it will target classes where teaching and learning needs to improve and where there are high levels of deprivation.

The money, consisting of both revenue and capital funding, will be invested over the next four years, up until 2021.

The latest figures show that 7.6% (8,196) of infant pupils in Wales were in classes of over 30.

Kirsty Williams said: “Our national mission is to raise standards and extend opportunities for all our young people.

“Time and time again parents and teachers tell me that they are concerned about class sizes. We have listened to these concerns, looked at the international evidence, and are today announcing a new £36m fund to address infant class sizes.

“There is a positive connection between smaller classes and attainment, particularly for pupils from poorer backgrounds. This is most significant for younger children, which is why we are targeting this investment at infant class sizes.

“This announcement, linked to our other reforms, will create the space for teachers to teach and for pupils to learn.”

Jess Turner, UNISON Cymru organiser for schools, said: “Classroom-based support staff really welcome this news. Smaller classes reduce workload and give support workers more time with pupils and this more personalised support helps to tackle inequalities. UNISON would like Welsh Government to go much further and also apply additional funding to junior and secondary schools too. The evidence around class size shows they need to be reduced very significantly to make a real difference to student attainment.

“It’s essential teaching assistants are properly deployed in the classroom and never used as cheap stop-gap replacements for teachers.”

“While we welcome this statement, it’s important to put it in context. When one considers that the money will be paid out over a five year period, it is not a vast amount; it is, however, most certainly a small step in the right direction,” said Ywain Myfyr, Policy Officer with UCAC.

“We hope that in helping to reduce class sizes this money will go some way towards reducing teachers’ workload and improving standards of attainment, especially for pupils living in areas of social deprivation,” he added.

“The introduction of the Foundation Stage was a visionary step but it was not properly funded from the outset. It is essential that we ensure that no child in the Foundation Phase in Wales is educated in a class which exceeds the legal limit in terms of size. It is now important that this money is shared carefully to ensure fairness.”

“We now call on the Welsh Government to go one step further and make classes of under 25 statutory for all age groups and to plan for a general reduction in class sizes for the benefit of pupils and the education workforce in general in Wales. We believe that this would match the principles expressed in this morning’s statement.”

NUT Cymru Secretary David Evans said: “This announcement is very welcome news. Kirsty Williams and the Welsh Government should be congratulated for responding to the concerns of parents and the teaching profession who see unmanageable class sizes as one of the most concerning issues they face. For too long, this problem has been ignored. Putting it on the agenda has been a major campaign for the NUT and we are grateful there has been a positive reaction from the Cabinet Secretary for Education.

“Naturally, we will have to monitor exactly how this money is utilised. What we do not want to see is local authorities using it to fill holes in their budgets. The Welsh Government are absolutely right to demand that any and all business cases show explicitly how they will contribute to reducing class sizes. It will be crucial that local authorities are not only clear about how they are going to use this funding, but also that they are accountable at the point of implementation.

“If this funding is put to good use it could have a profound impact on an issue that is at the very top of the agenda for teachers, which is why it absolutely must find its way to the front line.”

The Welsh Conservatives’ education spokesperson gave a less enthusiastic reception to the Education Secretary’s announcement.

Questioning how the policy can feasibly be implemented in the face of Wales’ teacher recruitment crisis, Darren Millar AM said: “The scant evidence base for this policy is well documented with a Welsh Government adviser having publicly spoken out against the idea of its implementation back in June.

“Conversely, there is growing evidence of Wales’ worsening teacher recruitment crisis, and so it remains unclear how this policy can be made to work; smaller class sizes mean more classrooms, which in turn demands more teachers – of which our country is in woefully short supply.

“Today’s announcement is little more than a multimillion pound sop to the remaining Welsh Liberal Democrat and will not be the silver bullet to solving the education crisis facing Welsh schools.”

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Education

821% increase in homeschooling for Ceredigion area

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OVER the last decade homeschooling has risen by 821% in the Ceredigion area, according to figures supplied through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by homeschooling provider Wolsey Hall Oxford.

In 2013, figures revealed that 28 children were homeschooled in the Ceredigion area but by 2022 this had increased to 258.

In the last four years alone, the Ceredigion area has seen an overall rise in homeschooling of 52%. The number of Primary-aged children being taught at home rose from 65 to 109 (67%) and the number of Secondary-aged children has risen from 104 to 149 (43%).

These figures show that despite Covid-19 restrictions easing up, and schools re-opening, many parents have opted to continue homeschooling their children. They reflect a similar picture seen across the UK, as statistics show that there are now more than 71,515 homeschoolers – up from 59,559 in 2018 and 22,408 in 2013. Wolsey Hall Oxford has been collating this information from over 100 UK Councils through FOIs.

Wolsey Hall Oxford Principal, Lee Wilcock, comments: “What seems very apparent is that those parents who chose to try homeschooling for the first time during Covid-19 have realised how beneficial online learning can be. Homeschooling allows children to learn at their own pace and at a time which suits them. It is a much more child-centred approach to education than is available in a traditional classroom.”

Of course, the pandemic is not the only reason parents opt to homeschool their children. At Wolsey Hall we’ve found that some of the most common reasons for parents to choose homeschooling include:

Lack of progress or underachievement at mainstream schools
Frustration with teaching standards in mainstream schools
Concerns for their child’s safety/bullying
Behavioural issues that are not suitably dealt with in mainstream schooling
Medical reasons or learning difficulties that inhibit a child’s ability to learn in a conventional environment
Travelling and expat families
Gifted/higher learning potential students or those who are elite athletes/in the performing arts industry

It is also interesting to note that a well-being survey conducted by Wolsey Hall Oxford in September 2022 – and completed by 343 parents – concluded that 91.5% of parents believe that their child’s well-being has improved since they opted to homeschool.

One parent noted, “My son has thrived. He is a true (gregarious) introvert… He loves being around people socially, but it tires him out, so school left him feeling drained, with no energy for true social interactions. Being able to learn alone and quietly has left him with plenty of energy for social and extra-curricular activities – scouts/young leaders, tennis, drama club, youth group etc. He has become confident in his own abilities and also learnt when and how he can take the initiative to get help when needed.”

To find out more about these statistics or to interview any of our team members, please contact Danielle Hilton: danielle.hilton@wolseyhalloxford.org.uk

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Education

Aberystwyth academic helping to improve British wrestling

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A LECTURER in Film Theory and Practice from Aberystwyth University is contributing towards a ‘code of better practice’ for British wrestling.

Dr Thomas Alcott from the Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies has been invited by the All-Party Group on Wrestling at the UK Parliament to participate in a conference on the topic later this month.

The group – which includes MPs from across the political spectrum – recently led an inquiry and published the findings in April last year.

The cross party group reviewed regulation, funding, safeguarding and wellbeing in wrestling, and sought to find ways to better support and regulate the industry.

Dr Alcott’s doctoral research, which explored the relationship between audiences, stars and industry within the world of Professional Wrestling, was one of the resources used and quoted in the report.

Organised by the groups of MPs, Loughborough University and wrestling training school Playfight, the conference will be attended by academics, wrestlers, promoters and coaches.

It is intended to provide an opportunity for training and discussion, and lead to a safer and more inclusive environment.

Dr Alcott told The Ceredigion Herald: “For over a century, wrestling has been a popular form of culture and entertainment. However, a lack of clarity on whether it sits within the sector of sport or theatre has led to complexities about how the industry is governed and regulated.

“The inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Wrestling is the first official analysis and intervention in the wrestling industry for many decades. The conference that follows the publication of the group’s report will provide an opportunity to discuss a guide of better practice to improve the industry for the future, for the benefit of both performers and fans.”

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Education

New Japanese partnership to boost climate change research at Aberystwyth University

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ABERYSTWYTH University has signed up to a new partnership with a Japanese university in a boost to its climate change research.

The new memorandum of understanding with Ritsumeikan University includes exchanging research and joint investment in cutting-edge technology.

As part of the partnership, the two universities are collaborating on major projects studying climate change in Mexico and Japan.

In southern Mexico, a joint team will investigate records of past climate change in the region and its role in the collapse of the Classic Mayan civilisation.

Professor Sarah Davies, Head of Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University said:

“It’s a pleasure to confirm our commitments with this new memorandum which builds on a long-standing research relationship between our two institutions. These projects will make an important contribution to our understanding of climate change, and its role in the development of human civilisation.

“Together with our Japanese partners and the support of Aberystwyth University and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, we have made a significant investment in our X-ray Fluorescence core scanner. This is a resource of both UK and international importance, enabling very high-resolution geochemical analysis of sediment cores to reconstruct climate variability. These joint investments in instrumentation are an important boost to our future research work.”

Professor Takeshi Nakagawa from Ritsumeikan University commented:

“We are delighted to forge even closer ties with our partners at Aberystwyth University as we conduct ground-breaking research together. The joint research on climate change is a very exciting opportunity to unlock some of humanity’s secrets and better understand our world.”

As part of the partnership, Professor Takeshi Nakagawa and Dr Ikuko Kitaba from Ritsumeikan University are visiting Aberystwyth until 14th November.

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