SCHOOLS across Wales have been accused of ‘gaming’ the examination and qualification system at GCSE level and failing pupils in the process.
The issue has arisen following a report from Qualifications Wales, the regulator of non-degree qualifications and the qualification system in Wales, which has alerted the Welsh Government to the high risk that overall GCSE results will decline in Wales due to the widespread practice of entering children a year early into GCSE examinations in order to ‘bank’ results, with able pupils denied the chance to improve their grade at a later examination.
Almost two thirds of Year 10 pupils were entered for the English GCSE in the last exam cycle.
The same practice in England led to the UK Government intervening and making adjustments to school league tables, so that only the first attempt at examinations counted towards schools’ performance.
And Kirsty Williams, the Cabinet Secretary for Education in the Welsh Government, has said she may now intervene to prevent or curtail Welsh schools from putting Welsh pupils forward to sit GCSEs a year early.
In an interview on BBC Wales’ Sunday Politics, Kirsty Williams said: “What I’m concerned about is that children that, perhaps had the potential to get an A* and A or a B at the end of a two year course end up having to settle for a C because they do it early and they’re not re-entered again.
“I want children to fulfil their potential in school. I want early entry to be only for the children who will benefit from it.
“When I see such large numbers as are being reported as being entered, that’s something I am concerned about.”
Qualifications Wales said the problem is particularly acute this year due to a more rigorous curriculum and examination programme.
The body is scheduled to complete a review and report to the Welsh Government in September this year on the issue.
Welsh Government advice is that decisions about early entry into GCSE’s must be made ‘in the interests of the individual child’. In May, however, the Welsh Government’s Director of Education, Steven Davies, claimed in evidence to an Assembly Committee that schools have conducted early entry ‘to test the system’.
Mr Davies continued: ‘There are also those out there who are gaming.’
Mrs Williams’ stance on the subject has been welcomed by Adam Price AM.
Adam Price has been making representations regarding early exam entry to the Welsh Government since the start of the year having been contacted by a local maths tutor who had seen a dramatic rise in demand for private tutoring.
The Plaid Cymru AM also met with the Education Secretary in May to express concern that pupils may not be reaching their full potential.
Mr Price says he welcomes the willingness of the Education Secretary to intervene but said options for early entry should not be closed off to everyone.
Adam Price said: “I first made representations to the Education Secretary back in January having been contacted by a local maths tutor who had seen a dramatic rise in demand for private tutoring. His concern was that pupils were being entered for early examination but did not have time to actually finish the course before sitting the exams.
“Whilst it seems attractive for pupils to ‘bank’ a good grade early and take some pressure off a year later, many pupils will miss out on a better grade if they were to be given the opportunity to complete the course over the longer and traditional two year timescale.
“Early entry for exams is not a new phenomenon – this has always been a feature of GCSEs at the discretion of teachers and it should not be closed off entirely. But there does seem to be widespread change this year with almost two-thirds of all pupils in Wales being entered a year early.
“I welcome the Minister’s comments that she is prepared to intervene depending on the findings of her review, but the pressure on schools and teachers must be considered as part of this investigation.
“We all want what is best for our school pupils. The education system should support pupils who need the full two years of study, and allow teachers to make decisions on how pupils can best reach their individual potential.”
Translated teaching materials help Ceredigion children stay safe online
Children in Ysgol Gymraeg Aberystwyth have had lessons in online safety using newly translated teaching materials.
The deputy headteacher of Ysgol Gymraeg Aberystwyth, Gareth James used the materials to teach children through the medium of Welsh about being safe online. The materials were initially developed by Google and Parent Zone and was translated using Google funding. The Welsh Government endorsed the materials.
Online safety is taught throughout the year in schools across the county. Ceredigion schools have adopted the Welsh Government’s Digital Competence Framework, which includes teaching online safety. The newly translated materials will help schools teach online safety more effectively.
Councillor Catrin Miles is Ceredigion County Council’s Cabinet member responsible for Learning Services. She said: “The internet is now ever-present in children’s lives. As more and more information and learning opportunities are available on-line, it is essential that we equip our children to make the best use of what is on offer. To do this we have to make sure that they know how to use the internet safely, to be aware of the threats and how to deal with them.
“It’s important that the teaching materials are available in Welsh, and I was delighted to see them being used in Ysgol Gymraeg Aberystwyth.”
Councillor Ellen ap Gwynn is the Leader of Ceredigion County Council. She said: “We are committed to increasing and improving Welsh medium education in the county. We are fortunate to have a talented and largely bilingual workforce, but materials such as this are a great help to improve the quality of Welsh medium education in the county.”
Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams AM said: “It was great to attend Ysgol Gymraeg Aberystwyth to see a lesson from Google’s ‘Be Internet Legends’ Programme being delivered. Ensuring the safety of children and young people online is so important and these resources will support learners to consider things like their digital footprint.
“With the resources due to be launched bilingually on Hwb shortly that will mean that all pupils in Wales can benefit from the programme.”
Vicki Shotbolt is the founder and CEO of Parent Zone. She said: “It is essential that children learn to think carefully and critically about what they do and see online. Parent Zone has teamed with Google to teach younger children the essential tools they need to become safe and confident online explorers, helping them be resilient, kind and positive in this digital age.”
Rosie Luff, Public Policy Manager at Google UK said: “We are delighted to visit Ysgol Gymraeg Aberystwyth today to help teach children about how to Be Internet Legends. By getting acquainted with what we believe are the five core areas of online safety, we want to prepare children to have a safe and positive experience online.”
Ysgol Gymraeg Aberystwyth has played a part in designing the Welsh Government’s new curriculum as a Pioneer School for the last three years. The school is leading the way in beginning to embed the principles of the new curriculum, including online safety in particular.
What 3 words links with UWTSD
UWTSD recently welcomed Richard Lewis, Travel and Tourism Consultant at what3words to the University’s Institute of Management and Health.
Richard delivered a guest lecture to students from International Travel, Tourism, Events and Leisure Resort Management on the benefits of using the new system that has divided the world into 3m x 3m squares and given each a unique 3-word address. It means that every place around the world has been given a reliable and precise address.
Jacqui Jones, Programme Director said: “We were delighted to host Richard’s lecture and hope it is the start of an exciting relationship between What3words & our Tourism Programmes at UWTSD to explore this innovative new travel development.
“We strongly hope that this initiative will become a catalyst enabling our industry partners from the tourism & events sectors to benefit from the use of what3words. Our students are already using the app and will also use it as part of their educational tourism adventures to Qatar, Malaysia, Switzerland, Singapore & London in the New Year. They are also all looking forward to helping the Tourism & Events industry launch the Welsh version of what3words in 2020.”
Co-founded in London in 2013 by Chris Sheldrick, what3words is designed for travellers making their way around the entire globe. Currently available in over 30 languages, the revolutionary technology is available to more than half of the world’s countries in at least one of their official languages.
3-word addresses are also listed by tourism boards and incorporated into major travel guides like Lonely Planet, EatOut and Secret Luxury Hotels, as well as digital guides like Saudi Tourism and TripWolf. Mercedes-Benz has also created its own series of luxury local guides after launching what3words voice navigation in its vehicles.
The unique system, accessed by downloading the app, is also being used by a number of British Police Forces and other UK Emergency Services including South Wales Fire and Rescue and South Wales Police, to respond to incidents more effectively. Police Force call-handlers are able to send an SMS that contains a link to the what3words browser map site, where they can see their location and read the corresponding 3-word address. Help is then dispatched to that precise location.
what3words has a team of over 70 people, across offices in London UK, Johannesburg ZA and Ulaanbaatar Mongolia.
In early 2018, Daimler took a stake of around 10%, following a Series B raise of £17 million led by Aramex. Prior to this, investors include Intel Capital, Deutsche-Bahn and Horizons Ventures.
RSPCA looks for Compassionate Class
DO YOU have a class full of animal lovers who want to make a difference in the animal welfare world?
The RSPCA has launched its Compassionate Class competition for 2020 – which is an innovative programme that encourages children to develop compassion and empathy through the lens of animal welfare.
This year’s entrants will follow in the footsteps of the Year 3 class at Ysgol Gymraeg Coed y Gof who were recognised as 2019’s ‘Most Compassionate Class’ across England and Wales.
Last year around 700 schools took part with the Cardiff school impressing judges with their Welsh-language animation, which incorporated into a short production several key animal welfare messages.
Compassionate Class takes an interactive, discussion-based approach to develop emotional literacy and consider the welfare needs of animals. These PSHE Association-accredited resources are designed to provide an exciting learning experience as well as supporting schools in the delivery of spiritual, moral, social and cultural education (SMSC) for 7 – 11-year-olds.
Through a series of enquiry-led activities, children will consider what it means to be compassionate, understand the needs of different types of animals, and work collaboratively to develop empathy skills for their school lives and beyond.
The programme – which is now open and closes on March 23 – finishes with the chance to enter the Most Compassionate Class awards.
Dave Allen, Head of Prevention and Education at the RSPCA said: “We are very much looking forward to this year’s Compassionate Class which is about developing compassion and empathy through the lens of animal welfare and the programme encourages children to think about the needs of animals and help them to realise that animals have feelings and are sentient.
“The activities teach children about the five animal welfare needs, while the resources get them talking and debating about the importance of animals and creates an awareness of how we should respect them and each other. In turn, we hope this will help to create a kinder society in the future.
“We were just blown away with Ysgol Gymraeg Coed y Gof last year and we can’t wait to see what participating schools come up with this year.”
Ysgol Gymraeg Coed y Gof’s animated video featured the rules people need to follow to keep animals safe and healthy in a whole series of environments.
Year 3 teacher Nia Norman at Ysgol Gymraeg Coed y Gof, said: “We felt taking part in Compassionate Class would be a great opportunity for the children to build compassion towards animals and hopefully each other as a result. The children loved learning about animals, their habitats and their needs. They were all very passionate about protecting animals’ environments and what we as individuals can do to help preserve them.
“I’m super proud of the children, they worked so hard. We were thrilled to hear that we had won. We didn’t really enter the competition to win but to be able to complete the project with the children so that they would have an end product for which they would be really proud.
“The children were so excited when they found out we’d won. We hope that they will always remember that they are national winners although, of course, they’re winners for us every day!”
For more information, or to sign-up your school, visit www.rspca.org.uk/compassionateclass
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