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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

Well done Gemma, you are an inspiration to us all

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A SINGLE mum of seven who left school with no qualifications is celebrating after gaining a degree from Swansea University.

Gemma Turnbull, aged 34, admits she didn’t attend school regularly as a child but now her determination to carve out a bright future for her and her family has seen her complete a BA in Humanities after studying part-time for six years through the University’s Department of Adult Continuing Education (DACE).

After leaving state education without a single GCSE, Gemma, from Pembrokeshire, fell pregnant at 16 and went on to have four children of her own, including Ruby, 11, who was born with a heart condition and 15-year-old Joe who has autism.

In 2011, wanting to secure a better life, Gemma began to explore further learning opportunities but she had to overcome further setbacks along the way.

Shortly after starting a two-year Foundation Certificate, Gemma found out that her sister’s three children were about to be moved into care.

She became the legal guardian to Leonie, Shaun and Jack, meaning she was responsible for seven children at the age of just 26.

“Life was quite bleak to be honest,” said Gemma, who is the first in her family to engage in higher education.

“At first, I worried about how I would cope being a student but I didn’t want the family to be split up.

“I wanted better for them and for them to be proud of me. I didn’t want the children to be like me, growing up with no education or no job.

“I was 26, with seven children to look after, and it was hard. I remember being asleep in the bathroom at one point at 4am after trying to do an essay all night and I was knackered – but now I’ve done it.”

Her nephew, nine-year-old Shaun, has Foetal Alcohol Syndrome which affects his behaviour, while Gemma herself was also diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia during her studies. It was during this period that her marriage broke down.

“All I ever wanted was to have the mum and dad all sat down as a family, with the children, like you see on TV,” she said.

“I know that isn’t reality sometimes but that’s what I wanted, so it was hard admitting that I’d end up being divorced like my parents. Nobody wants that.

“They haven’t got that male role model in their lives, but hopefully I can give them that and help them to have positive lives.

“I wouldn’t change anything. Life is what you make of it – you can either sink or swim. The best thing I ever did was have the children all with me under one roof. In fact, I actually cope better with seven than I did with four!”

With her graduation secured, Gemma has already set her sights on what she wants to achieve next.

“I plan to gain my Maths and English GCSE, but I’m going to get a private tutor for those. Then I hope to go on and do a PGCE before hopefully becoming a primary school teacher,” said Gemma, who is also a parent governor at Ysgol Harri Tudur in Pembroke.

“You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it and you want it badly enough. The whole experience has been really positive, especially the staff at Swansea University and their attitude towards helping me.

“If I had had teachers like that when I was at school I know I would have done a lot better – they have been amazing.

“The whole journey has made me a better mum – everything I do is for the children – and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever done.”

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Education

Fishguard school last in Wales without broadband

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CHILDREN in a school in Fishguard are excited about next term before the summer holidays have even begun.

Ysgol Llanychllwydog is the last school in Wales without broadband.

The pupils sometimes have to wait half an hour for pages to load. Sometimes videos won’t play. Now the school is looking forward to an ultra-fast future, and for the head teacher the changes cannot come quickly enough.

Currently when the internet goes down Amanda Lawrence has to drive 10 minutes to her other school to send an email to report it.

“It’s frustrating. There are lots of schools that are able to use schemes where you can plan electronically, but it’s difficult for staff here to do that,” she said.

As part of a scheme to target hard-to-reach places, fibre optic cable is being laid along a 15-mile route from Haverfordwest.

Matt Lovegrove, who works for Openreach, admitted it had been ‘a massive challenge’.

He said: “We’ve had to plough 1.5 miles of new trench to put new duct in, we’ve had to put new poles and had to span the cable between 50 poles as well, so a real variety of challenges.

“The product is limitless in terms of speed. It’s gigabit capable, that means they can download music, interactive learning et cetera, and it will be instant for them.”

The wider community will also benefit from the upgrade, he said. “We are looking to work with local government and residents to expand that fibre footprint to as much of the village as possible.”

“They’ll be able to access the high speed broadband and again get all the benefits from that.”

The last school in Wales without broadband

Broadband is a Welsh Government priority. It’s invested £13.8m in school broadband.

But Llanarchllwydog has been a tough nut. It’s taken the efforts of Welsh and UK governments to bring broadband.

“Because of the challenging topography, that we are familiar with, it has taken rather a long time to make sure that every school is equipped with the broadband speeds that they need,” said Welsh education minister Kirsty Williams.

“This means that schools will have the external infrastructure that they need to deliver our exciting new curriculum and I hope to be making an announcement shortly on further investment on kit and equipment inside schools.”

The work is being done through the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) £200m Rural Gigabit Connectivity programme.

DCMS minister Margot James MP agrees cooperation between the two governments has helped deliver the project.

“That’s not the end of it for Wales,” Ms James said.

“The other aspects of the rural gigabit connectivity programme is that we are using that £200 million to bring full fibre to local public buildings like hospitals and schools so that they get the gigabit connectivity first.”

The cable has now reached the telegraph post outside the school. The final work will happen over summer.

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Education

A practical lesson for primary school pupils on the problem of plastic pollution

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A PEMBROKESHIRE primary school came up with a novel way to educate its young pupils about the problems of plastic pollution.

Goodwick CP School took its year 2 and 3 pupils to Fishguard Leisure Centre where the swimming pool was filled with plastic waste. The lesson was the idea of class teacher Miss Davies,
whose is teaching the effect of plastic on the environment and particularly the sea.

The children worked together to clean the pool of single use plastic, collecting more than ten bags of rubbish.

The school posted on Facebook: “Miss Davies’ class had a bit of a shock when they arrived at the swimming pool for a swimming lesson today!

“The pool was unfortunately full of plastic.

“It gave the children an insight into what it must be like for marine life living amongst plastic pollution.

“They then worked together to clean the pool.

“Thank you to Richards Bros for getting the children there and back, and to the staff of the leisure centre for allowing us to do this.”

Photos of the lesson were shared nearly 3,000 times from the school’s Facebook page.

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