EVEN before schools find out what the new normal will be, the pressure is already on the education system to deliver significantly more.
Some talk about a ‘lost generation’ needing to ’catch-up’ amid concerns those comments stigmatise children. However, the reality is that children have missed months of face-to-face teaching, and that has inescapable consequences.
DISADVANTAGED SLIP FURTHER BEHIND
Wales’s learners have been part of the pandemic’s ‘collateral damage.’
Although, for now, there are more questions than answers, solutions to repair that ‘damage’ will need to be carefully considered and delivered during the Welsh Parliament’s sixth term.
Even before the pandemic, Wales already faced an uphill struggle to secure good educational outcomes for all its learners.
The most disadvantaged learners have extra challenges which can prevent them from achieving their full potential.
Even though the previous Welsh Government invested £585 million since 2012 through the Pupil Development Grant (PDG), the attainment gap it was seeking to close, didn’t narrow.
It also typically widens as learners get older.
There’s a stark difference between children eligible for free school meals and their peers at Key Stage 4, the two years where learners usually take GCSEs and other examinations.
Children and young people themselves are well placed to give their verdict.
A 2021 Children’s Commissioner survey of 20,000 children found that 35% didn’t feel confident about their learning, compared to 25% in May 2020.
63% of 12–18-year-olds were worried about falling behind.
There are countless reports setting out adults’ views about how missing more than half a year of ‘face-to-face’ schooling has affected learners.
One of the major concerns is the variation between what schools have delivered to pupils.
There’s a long list of potential impacts:
· ‘Lost learning’ meaning pupils could underperform academically and have their long-term prospects affected.
· A loss of confidence in the examination and assessment system.
· Long-term reductions in school attendance, a factor known to be key to educational outcomes.
· Difficult transitions between school years and from primary to secondary.
· Challenges in re-engaging learners and addressing low motivation.
· An unhelpful ‘catch up’ narrative about lost learning placing unnecessary psychological pressure on children and young people; and
· A negative effect on learners’ ability and confidence to communicate in Welsh where they haven’t been able to do so at home.
As well as these obvious educational issues, there are wider predicted effects.
Current learners could earn less, with one estimate of up to £40,000 in a lifetime.
The harm to children’s physical health and a higher prevalence of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, are also serious concerns.
The pandemic’s wider economic impact is also likely to increase the number of children living in low-income families.
Again, it’s the most disadvantaged learners who are predicted to bear the brunt in the longer term.
For example, in March 2021, the Child Poverty Action Group found that 35% of low-income families responding to its UK wide survey were still without essential resources for learning, with laptops and devices most commonly missing.
The Fifth Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education (CYPE) Committee heard that there is “plenty of evidence” that” there are striking differences between families in terms of their ability to support young people in their learning: the resources they have around them, the enthusiasm, the engagement, the commitment”.
There must be work to rebuild relationships that have been under significant strain during the past 12 months.
Those between teaching unions and the decision-makers within the education system; between parents/carers and schools; and perhaps, most importantly, re-establishing the relationship between learners and their teachers.
Some of the immediate solutions which are already on the table or up for discussion are: more money, including the ‘Recruit, Recover and Raise Standards funding’; more teachers and learning assistants on the ground; changing term times; and setting up summer schools, holiday clubs and home tuition.
However, the longer-term problems are far harder to solve.
One estimate puts the cost of Wales’s journey back from COVID-19 at £1.4 bn to meet the challenges to the education system alone.
The opportunity exists for major reform and an examination of the whole approach to and aim of education.
Children and young people’s return to the classroom has been heralded as a big chance to put their well-being at the heart of education. As well as having a positive impact on well-being, put, mentally healthy children are much more likely to learn.
Following pressure from the Fifth Senedd’s CYPE Committee and its stakeholders, Wales has already made a significant shift towards establishing a ‘Whole School Approach to Mental Health’. The challenge during the Sixth Senedd will be to deliver it.
The potential sting in the tail is that, at the same time, the education system is getting children back to school, it also contends with major legislative reform.
This is in the form of wholesale changes to both the school curriculum and support for learners with Additional Learning Needs.
Some may argue that there’s been no better time to have such significant changes.
If the education system can successfully implement these three major reforms, arguably Wales will complete significant leg work and be on a firmer footing to meet the challenges presented by Covid-19.
At this stage there may be many more questions than answers for the education system.
The world into which learners will move has changed forever.
Not only has the pandemic interrupted their schooling, but the future journeys they were expected to make into the workplace or further and higher education could be unrecognisable.
The skills and aptitudes needed in the ‘new normal’ are only now beginning to be identified and are likely to be different from those needed before the pandemic began.
Review to be held on the post-16 education provision in Ceredigion
A REVIEW will be held in the near future to gather information and facts about the post-16 education provision in Ceredigion.
The review will coincide with the reforms made through the establishment of the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research (CTER), which is responsible for overseeing the post-16 sector in Wales, along with the recommendations made by Estyn Thematic Review on post-16 partnerships.
The last review on post-16 provision in Ceredigion took place in 2007-2008, therefore it was agreed during a Cabinet meeting held virtually on 11 January 2022 that it would be timely to undertake a further review.
Councillor Catrin Miles, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Schools, Lifelong Learning and Skills, Support and Intervention, said: “It is timely to conduct a review of post-16 provision to gather facts and views on what works and what can be developed.”
It was noted that there were 701 pupils in years 12 and 13 in all Ceredigion schools in January 2020. It was also added that less than 5 pupils were following 51 of the 199 A Level courses provided in Ceredigion schools during the academic year 2021-2022.
£18m to support children and young people with additional learning needs
NEW funding to support children and young people with Additional Learning Needs has been announced by Jeremy Miles, the Minister for Education and Welsh Language.
£18m will be made available to provide extra support for children and young people with ALN who’ve been affected by the pandemic and to help educational settings as learners move to the new ALN system from this month.
£10m of the funding will be used to support learners with ALN affected by the pandemic and to improve their wellbeing. During the pandemic, many disabled children and young people, including learners with ALN, continue to experience a negative impact on their mental health and difficulties accessing education.
The funding will add to existing support for ALN learners, such as intensive learning support and speech and language therapy. The funding can also be used to provide extra resources to target the impacts of the pandemic, such as mental health support and tailored support to help with attendance.
£8m will be allocated to schools, nurseries, local authorities and Pupil Referral Units to move learners from the old Special Educational Needs (SEN) system to the new ALN system, as the roll-out of the Additional Learning Needs Act continues.
The new ALN system, being rolled out over three years, will ensure children and young people with ALN are identified quickly and their needs are met. The Act makes provision for new individual development plans, designed to put the views of learners at the heart of the decision-making process, alongside those of their parents or carers.
Minister for Education and Welsh Language Jeremy Miles said:
“We are determined to deliver a fully inclusive education system in Wales – a system where additional needs are identified early and addressed quickly, and where all children and young people are supported to thrive in their education.
“Schools and nurseries are already doing a fantastic job of supporting their learners, but we know they need more resources to do this. That’s why I’m announcing this additional investment to support learners to overcome the effects of the pandemic and prevent the entrenchment of inequalities on their education, employment opportunities, their health and wellbeing.”
Over £100m of new funding will help make schools and colleges Covid-secure
SCHOOLS and colleges will receive £103 million in Welsh Government funding, as learners return for the January term.
£50m will be provided via local authorities through the Sustainable Communities for Learning programme. The funding will help schools carry out capital repair and improvement work, with a focus on health and safety measures, such as improving ventilation. The funding will also be used to support decarbonisation.
£45m of revenue funding will also help support school budgets, assisting schools as they continue to deal with the ongoing impacts of the pandemic and to prepare for the requirements of the new curriculum.
An additional £8m will be provided to further education colleges, to ensure learning can continue safely and ensure the most disadvantaged learners are not further impacted by the pandemic.
Jeremy Miles, the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, said:
“I know schools and colleges have faced a very difficult time and everyone across the workforce has worked incredibly hard to meet the challenges of the pandemic. This funding will further support our schools and colleges to keep settings as Covid-secure as possible.
“While we want to support the sector in recovering from the pandemic, we also have to make sure we continue to plan for the future, and help all education settings across Wales fulfil our collective goals of making Wales a net-zero nation.
“The funding announced today will help us to ensure sustainability across the sector – be that the environmental sustainability achieved through decarbonisation, or sustainability in provision.”
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