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.
821% increase in homeschooling for Ceredigion area
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Aberystwyth academic helping to improve British wrestling
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.”
New Japanese partnership to boost climate change research at Aberystwyth University
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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