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Education

Meet ‘The Two Steves’

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BACK in the county again last week were Steven Barlow and Steven Skidmore, otherwise known as ‘The Two Steves’, bringing their unique brand of writingtwosteves skills teaching to our local primary school children. The Herald had an exclusive opportunity to watch one of their lively sessions at the Pembrokeshire Archives offices.

In the session were three small groups of local primary school pupils, including Haverfordwest school, Fenton CPS. The object of the workshop is to get Key Stage 2 boys, predominately, writing and, more importantly, to give them an enjoyment of the writing process.

Each group attends either a morning or an afternoon session for the whole week. On day 1 they are introduced to each other and use memory and co-ordination games to break the ice, during which they will be given talks, and entertainment, by the Steves. On day two they partake in a visualisation game and have to decide what they would take on a desert island, as they develop their thinking and imagination skills. They are also asked to think about elements of a story; character, theme, settings, creating tension, foreboding and conflict, as they build towards writing their own story. By day 3 they are planning a story and coming up with ideas, and an ending, which they do first as, the Steves explained, prevents them from getting stuck or lost as they have already decided where their story is going. On day 4 they are writing and editing from a finished story they have written at home or in school, and on day 5 they have produced the finished work and are sharing each others stories.

At the end of the whole process they will have something concrete, that is published and of which they can get a copy.

The sessions are lively and very interactive with lots of discussion and shared ideas. They are given clear advice on story structure and there is much humour in the process, as both Steves are certainly fun. They are also given clear objectives, for example, the 4 opening sentences in stories that are either a question, some dialogue, a piece of information or a metaphor or simile. They learn the importance of beginnings, middles and endings and those vital components of a successful story; the who, what, where, when, why and how. The delivery is very kinaesthetic and accessible to all in the session and there is much opportunity for discussion and talk, which is not always a feature of the classroom.

We spoke with Fenton teacher, Mr Williams, who said of the workshops: “We can use these strategies in the classroom, and when we do, the children’s enthusiasm shoots right up. The planning process is excellent as the story is broken into segments from the end backwards. It is a great way to enthuse the boys and build self esteem.”

Steve Barlow explained a little bit about what they were doing: “For teachers it helps to be a good performer. In a recent Estyn finding it had been proven that the use of the right people and outside agencies leads to improvement. The best people for this tend to be ex-teachers. We work with all ages, from Kindergarten to staff, but our main focus is on key stage 2, as well as key stage 3. It is particularly rewarding working with primary schools as they can make time for this which is hard for secondary schools where the timetable is God”.

Steve Skidmore added to this point, saying: “It is more compartmentalised in secondary school. We work with boys and girls, indeed, the girls insist sometimes! Although there is a focus on boys, as in some schools it is very disparate between boys and girls achievements. There are simply not enough male role models in primary schools. Literacy is female dominated; mum is the one who tends to read at home, secondary school literacy teachers tend to be women, most primary school teachers are women and even most librarians are female, so literacy can be seen as a feminine thing by boys.”

They both stated that they felt ‘blokes tended to duck out of their responsibility’ with literacy and reading, and they criticised this as they said boys need a male role model and encouragement.

Steve Skidmore made the point that he and the other Steve can come along as a couple of blokes and have fun, which is, he said, also the sort of stuff they themselves tend to write.

The Herald asked what is going wrong in schools given that, despite having just as much creativity as girls, boys are still not performing so well in writing. Steve Barlow explained: “We have it the wrong way round in schools, because of the way education has been structured over the last few years. In these developing years there is a big emphasis on the mechanics rather than motivating kids to feel empowered to tell the stories they want to tell. We think that’s a retrograde step.”

Said Steve Skidmore: “If they are hung up on the whole mechanics of writing, spelling, punctuation and grammar, and that’s what they get judged on, then they will fail. A lot of the boys don’t develop on the mechanics like the girls, yet they are being judged on the same level. A lot of time boys need to get out that excess energy. Some children are more needy than others and teachers don’t always have that time in a class of 30. We talk about self esteem on the first day a lot. A lot of boys would rather get kicked out of a lesson than admit they can’t do something.”

As Steve Barlow stated, many boys tend to react negatively to failure as opposed to many girls who see it as a spur to try harder the next time.

Steve Barlow went on to question the curriculum schools use in literacy: “Part of the problem is that the curriculum contains too many different types of writing and so it’s all fragmented; writing for a purpose, writing an argument, writing a report, as well as writing stories. The point is it’s all writing and if you are failing in one you are failing in all of them. The priority ought to be to get them empowered, believing they can do it, using themselves as a resource and knowing they can develop and structure a story so that it succeeds. Once they’ve got that they can learn the other stuff in 5 minutes.”

Steve Skidmore added to this stating: “The other thing is about celebration, we don’t celebrate the writing they do in school. We, from our sessions, publish it, read it out, have time for a clap which they don’t have time for in school. We need to give them a reason for it.”

He went on to talk about the issue of changing Governments and their approach to education: “Are we saying there is a political elite that need people not to question things? I thought that with Gove; he had no idea what teaching was about. They (politicians) have come through a particular schooling system (private) and people like Gove are trying to impose the same values on children from very different backgrounds. For instance, Gove saying they should be doing Dryden at 14; how is this a life skill for some of these children?”

Steve Barlow added to this criticism saying: “Decisions are taken by elected education secretaries and it’s all to do with vanity projects rather than to do with actual need. The basic problem is those people making decisions are not listening to those at the grass roots. Politicians like to make big bold statements like ‘we will have every child literate by 2020’ for example.”

Steve Skidmore, laughed in disdain at this suggestion, saying: “You have children who are special needs. All children literate? No they won’t be; there are physical problems here. You are dealing with human beings who have different needs. Governments/ Estyn look at data – data doesn’t tell you everything. For example, we had a child whose mum and father had recently died – that impacts on the child, does data tell you this? Take Fenton school, who might be lower graded, but they have a special needs unit that gets aggregated onto the whole school so they get judged on that. It’s a really good school, with good teachers who look after the kids, and a great head that will argue the toss with Estyn, re. data, but a lot of heads don’t have that confidence. It would be lovely if politicians had the same sort of nonsense from people higher above them. There’s just no accountancy. Academies are not improving education – it’s about money and leadership. Data is not a way to judge human beings.”

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Education

Pembrokeshire school smashes the national grade average

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PUPILS at Castle School were thrilled to collect their exam results this week and discover that between them they had amassed an impressive set of passes.  In contrast to the national average which showed a drop of 1%, students improved on their already impressive average of 90%, collectively gaining 94% passes at grades A* – C.  

Many of the students in year 10 were encouraged to sit some exams early in those subjects they had been prepared for and were similarly rewarded, with their results reflecting the school’s overall average.  

The school’s head, Su Cowell, told us ‘these results are even more remarkable when you compare us with the national average of 61% and take into consideration that we are a non-selective school.  The pupils are to be congratulated on their impressive results. They worked extremely hard and all their revision and efforts have been rewarded. Credit must also go to our staff, of course, who worked tirelessly to ensure that every pupil has the best chance of not only passing but also securing the best grade they are capable of. ‘

Whilst all the pupils are to be congratulated, particular mention should go to Lucy Mansfield who has now amassed an incredible total of 14 GCSEs, with 11 A*s, 2 As and an even more impressive 100% in her Additional Maths exam which included A level material.  Teachers were also delighted that two-thirds of their scientists gained either A or A* in all three subjects, as did the class taking Latin. The school’s director, Harriet Harrison, added, ‘I am delighted to see that despite being non-selective we strive to fulfil each child’s potential and about half of our students take nine or more subjects at GCSE with some of them studying 11, 12, even 14, and still manage to get such impressive results.  In addition several of our students enrolled on an accelerated programme in maths, having already earned the top grade last year. It was fantastic to see that they all gained Distinction in the tougher Additional Maths GCSE with one of them getting full marks, which is incredible.’

As the school reaches its 10th anniversary next year, it has many plans to celebrate and hopes that one of those reasons will include another record-breaking set of results.

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Education

WG invests £7.2m in STEM education

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Astronaut Tim Peake: Promoting STEM study

PRINCE’S TRUST Ambassador Tim Peake landed in Cardiff on Tuesday (Jul 17) to help the Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning, Eluned Morgan, announce £7.2m of funding to encourage young people, especially girls, to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects at school.

The astronaut, joined the Minister at an event organised by The Prince’s Trust Cymru at Tramshed Tech where they met young people involved in the youth charity’s STEM-related programmes, There, the Minister announced an investment of £7.2m, including £5.2m of European Union funding, for two similar projects. Gwynedd Council’s £1.9m STEM Gogledd and Swansea University’s £5.3m Technocamps 2 have been awarded £1.4m and £3.8m of EU funding, respectively.

Both projects will help to ensure young people, particularly girls and young women, continue STEM studies at GCSE and beyond with the aim of pursuing STEM-related careers.

Over the next four years, STEM Gogledd will work with 600 young people, 60% of whom will be female, to enrich and promote STEM subjects through a range of activities that complement the mainstream curriculum within schools across Gwynedd, Anglesey and Conwy.

Technocamps 2 will work with 3,600 young people across West Wales, North Wales and the South Wales Valleys, two-thirds of whom will be female. It will target secondary schools which do not currently offer computer science as an option at GCSE, or where the subject is only recently available. The project will enable pupils in these schools to take part in workshops to build on their existing knowledge and enthusiasm for IT and computing.

Announcing the funding, the Minister said: “It is a pleasure to be standing alongside Tim Peake today to announce such an important investment which will help to build the skills of our young people to help drive a the Welsh economy.

“Wales must become a STEM nation if we are to build a modern, dynamic, open economy that benefits everyone in Wales. Both the pace and nature of technological change is increasing dramatically and, to have the skilled workforce to capitalise on it, it is vital we have more young people who choose to study STEM subjects to a sufficiently high standard. While this is quite a challenge to address for both boys and girls, the challenge for girls is much greater.

“This is why I am grateful to organisations like The Prince’s Trust for their pioneering programmes and to role models, like Tim, who are influential in promoting the study of STEM subjects. Tim’s Principia mission inspired a generation and showed just how far, literally, science can take you.

“We cannot just rely on people like Tim, though. We must all play our part in stimulating interest in these crucial subjects as a way of securing the next generation of STEM professionals in Wales. This is why I am so pleased to announce this £7.2m investment, £5.2m of it from the EU, for STEM Gogledd and Technocamps. This is a great example of EU funds helping to enthuse and excite young people, particularly girls, about the opportunities available to them.”

Philip Jones, Director of The Prince’s Trust Cymru said: “We are delighted that Tim Peake was able to join us and Welsh Government in promoting the importance of STEM to Welsh Education today. At The Prince’s Trust Cymru, we believe every young person should have the chance to succeed, and we believe Welsh Government’s latest commitment to STEM activities will help transform more young lives in Wales.”

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Education

Williams marks end of school year

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Proud of reforms: Kirsty Williams

AT THE end of school year, Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has set out what has been achieved through Wales’ national mission for education and what these changes mean for pupils, teachers and parents.

Last September, the Education Secretary announced a national mission to raise standards, reduce the attainment gap, and deliver an education system that is a source of national pride and public confidence.

At a conference held in Cardiff today, the Education Secretary explained how major changes to what pupils are taught, how they are taught and how their teachers are trained and developed are helping to transform schools as we know them.

One of the most significant and wide-reaching of these changes is the new curriculum to be rolled out from 2022. Over 200 pioneer schools across Wales are involved in developing six different Areas of Learning and Experience. This work includes embedding digital competence into all areas of teaching and learning and supporting teachers to develop the new curriculum.

A new independent report published today found that these schools strongly support the changes being made and are enthusiastic about their part in developing Wales’ new curriculum.

Teachers’ professional learning and development has been similarly instrumental to the national mission for education, with this school year seeing:

New professional standards for Teaching and Leadership developed with the profession, for the profession;

The establishment of a new National Academy for Educational Leadership to support all leaders in education at all stages of their careers;

New accredited Initial Teacher Education programmes to be delivered in the academic year 2019/20;

Plans for a new part-time PGCE and Employment Based Route into teaching from 2019/20.

Teachers and pupils will also soon begin to see the benefits of a £36 million fund to reduce infant class sizes, with the appointment of over 80 new teachers across Wales and a capital fund to build new classrooms.

Reducing unnecessary bureaucracy for teachers continues to remain a priority, with this year seeing a £1.2 million investment in the appointment of school business managers – helping headteachers to manage their workload and focus on raising standards and school improvement.

Kirsty Williams said: “When I announced our national mission for education last September I said that we would never be able to achieve our ambitions if we just stayed still.

“That’s why the past year has been all about momentum – a drive for self-improvement that reaches right across our education system.

“We still have much work to do but I’m proud of the reforms that we have introduced in a relatively short space of time. I am also genuinely impressed by how everyone in the education system has responded.

“When I visit schools and talk to teachers and pupils, I am always struck about what they’re achieving and how they are improving – whether that’s in developing the new curriculum or discovering new ways of teaching and learning.

“In return, we are introducing the most comprehensive changes to teacher training and development in years, ensuring that our teaching profession are fully prepared and equipped when they start to teach our new curriculum.

“Our schools are changing, education in Wales is changing and I’m confident that our national mission is well on course to deliver the wholesale reforms that we need.”

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