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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

Local students shine at skills competition

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KATIE WAITE and Ben Thomas, from Pembrokeshire and Llanelli, have won a gold medal in the photography and coaching final of a national skills competition.

Backed by the Welsh Government through the European Social Fund, Skills Competition Wales is a series of events held in colleges across the country, designed to celebrate vocational skills and create highly skilled, talented employees for the Welsh workforce.

Katie, 18, who is studying foundation art, competed against 18 other students from across Wales in a photography challenge. The competitors were tasked with creating photography that focused on the theme discovering Wales.

Katie said: “I am over the moon to have won the photography competition.

“’Discovering Wales’ was the theme of the competition and we had to base our photography around the great outdoors, adventure and culture.

“I focused on the cultural aspect of the brief by looking at how the landscape of Wales reflects its culture.

“It was fascinating to see other people’s work at the competition and see how different people can interpret a brief and show their creativity in other aspects.

“I love photography as it can capture a moment in a unique way and shows another way of seeing things.”

Ben, 21, who is studying level two fitness instructing, competed against 17 other students from across Wales in a series of coaching challenges in within one hour. The competitors were tasked with coaching a one on one strength training session, warm up and circuit session.

Ben said: “Competing in the coach competition was a big success for me that has brought me closer to achieving my goal in making a real difference to people.

“Last year I was struggling with both my physical and mental health and turned to fitness. I got a personal trainer, Zak Hearne, who helped me lose three stone in three months which had a hugely positive impact on my mental health.

“Being able to make the same difference with other people is something I want to achieve in the future through personal training.

“For me, it’s all about pushing people to achieve great things and showing people that they can do anything if they put their mind to it and aim high.”

More than 40 competitions are taking place this year, across a wide range of different vocations from forensic science and fashion technology to 3D game and food preparation.

Those who are successful may then go on to be shortlisted for the UK Squad, competing against the world’s most talented young people at the WorldSkills international final in Shanghai, China in 2021.

Minister for Economy and Transport, Ken Skates said: “Skills Competition Wales is such an important event, allowing multi-talented young people the length and breadth of Wales to put their skills to the test, building on their excellence and experiences across various fields with the opportunity to then progress and compete at UK national and international level.

“It’s also an opportunity to show the breadth of talent we have here in Wales and to celebrate the Welsh companies who are nurturing and reaping the rewards of such highly skilled, talented employees. Ensuring Wales has the skills needed for economic success has long been a priority for me personally and for the Welsh Government more broadly and it’s fantastic to see skills acknowledged in this way.

“I would like to say well done to everyone who has competed this year and add my congratulations to Katie and Ben on their brilliant achievement. Best of luck to them in the next stage of the competition and I look forward to seeing them prosper in their future careers.”

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Education

Vocational qualifications importance emphasised

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THE IMPORTANCE of vocational qualifications to the Welsh economy was emphasised at the launch of this year’s VQ Awards in Wales at the Senedd in Cardiff.

Speakers called for vocational qualifications to have parity of esteem with academic qualifications and for the Welsh Government to continue prioritising investment in the sector.

Iestyn Davies, chief executive of ColegauCymru/CollegesWales, said Wales was one of the remaining parts of the world where there had been a reluctance to recognise the value of vocational qualifications.

Academic qualifications had hogged the limelight when young people were considering a career path. However, he believed a significant change was underway with politicians now accepting the key importance of vocational qualifications to the economy of Wales.

He called on the people assembled at the launch event to spread the word about the success of vocational qualifications and lifelong learning in Wales to ensure that the Welsh Government continued to prioritise investment in the sector.

Vikki Howells, AM for Cynon Valley, who sponsored the launch event, said during her 16-year teaching career she had wished that there was a greater vocational offer for her students.

There remained a challenge to make young people and their parents, who played a crucial role in directing their children, embrace everything that vocational qualifications had to offer.

She praised the Welsh Government for the work it had already done and continued to do to promote vocational qualifications.

The VQ Awards are jointly organised by the Welsh Government, the National Training Federation for Wales (NTfW), ColegauCymru/CollegesWales, Qualifications Wales and the Education Workforce Council. The Welsh Government’s funding has support from the European Social Fund.

The Education Workforce Council’s chair Angela Jardine said it was exciting to be a new partner in the high-profile awards which celebrated the success and high standards achieved in vocational education to create the Wales of the future.

By maintaining a Register of Education Practitioners, the council aimed to contribute to improving the standards of teaching and the quality of learning in Wales. The register would provide the professional evidence to achieve parity of esteem between vocational and academic qualifications, she added.

Sarah John, chair of the NTfW, said: “The VQ Awards provide a great opportunity for learners, employers and their trainers to celebrate and publicise the positive impact that vocational qualifications have on the lives of individuals and the productivity of businesses in Wales. Upskilling in the changing vocational skills needed by businesses to be competitive is critical as they continue to evolve.”

Cassy Taylor, Associate Director for Vocational Qualifications with Qualifications Wales, said: “Vocational qualifications are the gateway to a rewarding career and we are delighted to be sponsoring the VQ Awards again this year.

“The awards are a perfect way to showcase the talent of learners and the commitment of tutors and employers to develop the skills in our workforce that are the bedrock of the economy.”

Stacey Davies, Human Resources Manager at Gestamp Tallent Ltd, an automotive manufacturer from Llanelli, spoke about the company winning the VQ Employer of the Year Award last year.

“Winning this prestigious award was an immensely proud moment for the plant,” she said. “To be recognised for the early accomplishments of an ambitious but exciting learning and development strategy continues to be very encouraging for all the stakeholders.”

Vocational qualifications play a key role in the Gestamp Tallent Growth Programme, which aims to upskill the entire workforce by creating tailor-made, individual development plans, revamping an apprenticeship programme and introducing leadership and management solutions and a programme for high potential employees.

The VQ Awards are designed to recognise and celebrate star learners, trainers and employers in every part of Wales who have used technical, practical and vocational qualifications to achieve success.

Nominations are now sought in four categories: VQ Intermediate Learner of the Year, VQ Higher Learner of the Year, VQ Trainer of the Year and VQ Employer of the Year. It’s easy to enter the awards. Just download a nomination form at https://www.vqday.wales which has full details about the awards. The closing date is noon on March 8.

From the entries, a panel of judges will select the category finalists for a high-profile awards ceremony to be held at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff on May 15 to coincide with VQ Day.

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Education

Big leap in part-time students

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THERE has been a massive 35% increase in part-time undergraduates from Wales, thanks to the Welsh Government’s radical new student support package.

The statistics report on the new student support system for the first time, also showing a 58% increase in the number of postgraduates supported. Welsh post-grads were eligible for dedicated bursaries and support from Welsh universities this year, thanks to Welsh Government funding. Means-tested grants and loans will be introduced from September.

There is no Government-backed living costs grant funding for part-time undergraduates or post-graduate students elsewhere in the UK. Last year, the Education Minister set a goal of a 10% increase in the number of Welsh post-graduate students by the end of this Government’s term.

The Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, said: “This is fantastic news and a real vote of confidence in our student support package, the first of its kind in the UK or Europe.

“We have always said that high living costs are the main barrier for students when thinking about university. Our package of support was specifically designed to address these concerns, making it easier for people to study part-time, especially if they have work or family commitments.

“Our radical approach to supporting part-time study is essential to improving social mobility, employment outcomes, access to the professions and delivering on our commitment to lifelong learning.”

Louise Casella, Director of The Open University in Wales, said: “The OU in Wales saw a 49% increase in our October student recruitment last year. This represents hundreds of more people embarking on learning that will transform the lives of their families and communities. We’ve had a 67% increase in students from Wales’ most economically disadvantaged areas, a 57% increase in disabled students and a 30% increase in BME learners.

“I am pleased the Welsh Government is highlighting the impact the new funding system is having on part-time study in Wales. With maintenance grants now available for part-time distance learners as well, flexible study has never been more affordable. This is helping The OU in Wales make studying for a degree a reality for those who may not have considered it in the past.”

Julie Lydon, Chair of Universities Wales, said: “We are delighted to see this increase in the number of students choosing to study part-time in Wales, clearly demonstrating that the new student support and higher education funding package in Wales is working.

“In the coming decade, Wales will face many challenges from the changing workplace and advancements in technology. These changes will mean that Wales will need a more highly skilled workforce.
Flexible learning, such as part-time study, will play a key role in preparing the people, places and businesses of Wales for the future.

“This increase in part-time and postgraduate study shows that, with the new student support and higher education funding package in Wales, we are on the right path to providing people of all ages and backgrounds with opportunities to benefit from higher education.”

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