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Continuing controversy over College scheme

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Artist’s impression: The new sixth form centre

PROPOSALS for a new £6.6m A-Level Centre were unveiled at Pembrokeshire College, Haverfordwest, on Monday (Jan 18).

A press release from the College describes the plan as a ‘cutting edge centre which will allow the college’s A-Level students and students from Ysgol Bro Gwaun and Ysgol Dewi Sant to attend the college for sixth form education from September 2017, subject to ministerial approval’.

The plans for the centre promise “exceptional sixth form facilities” including new science laboratories, vibrant classrooms, flexible delivery space, high quality sports facilities and state-of-the-art learning technology.

Pembrokeshire College’s principle, Sharron Lusher said: “By investing in an A-level Centre, we are investing in the futures of the young people of Pembrokeshire and showing our commitment to providing the best educational opportunities possible, both now and in the future,”

‘EXCITING TIMES’ 

The development is planned to be a two-storey new building on the campus, which will be linked to the existing college. The vocational areas are also being remodelled, and with the location of the centre A-level learners will be able to have access to vocational qualifications.

Last year the college reported the A-level enrolments increasing to 150, over double the previous year, with the proposed merger with Fishguard and St Davids sixth forms an additional 100 students are expected for 2017 with the figure increasing the following year to 170.

This will see Pembrokeshire College become the largest provider of A-level qualifications in the county. It will be run by an A-level committee, which will consist of school, college and local authority representation.

“This is an extremely exciting time for both Pembrokeshire and Pembrokeshire College,” said Mrs Lusher.

“The A-level Centre will provide a dynamic environment that will allow us to prepare our young people for the workplace or higher education. With almost 200 learners progressing to university last year, the centre will become a valuable resource in helping even more learners to progress to some of the UK’s top universities.”

COLLEGE DOESN’T HAVE THE CASH 

The College anticipates the £6.6m will be funded partly through Welsh Government 21st Century School funding and partly by itself. In practice this potentially means that the local authority will be stumping up half the development costs, as the College does not have the money to complete the project unaided.

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Considering alternatives: School governor Paul Lucas

The Herald has been told by a member of College staff that the College’s intention to begin works in June 2016, and that internal works will begin at that time.

The plans include a sports centre and new science labs.

There will be a new reception area, increasing the Hair & Beauty department and drama facilities.

Our source told us that existing members of staff expect classrooms to be ‘tarted up’. Quite how the College intends to address what are understood to be significant concerns by potential students about the level of tutor support has not been specified.

In addition, owing to the lack of expert teachers at the College to teach the full-range of A Level subjects, there are also concerns at the concentration on too narrow a curriculum, unless the College and Council are somehow able to co-ordinate all teaching provision across every Pembrokeshire secondary school and compel teachers to teach A Level classes at the College.

At no stage has the authority specified how it intends to resolve timetabling, staffing, and pay issues, despite now being more than five years into the 21st Century Schools programme.

NO END IN SIGHT FOR HAVERFORDWEST 

The Herald has been told by a separate source at Pembrokeshire College that the organisation’s underlying strategy is to create a centre to entice pupils away from schools whose governing bodies, parents, and stakeholders resist the blandishments of the College and the pressure from the Council. Meanwhile The Herald has established that a combined sixth form of Tasker-Milward and Sir Thomas Picton schools would more than meet the minimum requirement for student numbers for a viable sixth form.

Were the College to make its own application for 21st Century Funding, it would be compelled to carry its own consultations with affected parties instead of having the local authority fight those battles on its behalf.

Planning consent has not yet been sought for the development, which also has to be approved by the Welsh Government before works can begin and public money allocated it. The Herald understands there is a significant risk that the grand scheme will not be approved by the Welsh Government as long as the issue of Haverfordwest Schools’ futures remains undetermined.

Such a prospect places added pressure on Pembrokeshire County Council to force through its own wishes for the reorganisation of sixth form education regardless of opposition or potential legal challenge.

The Herald has been told that legal action is more probable than not, as the Council seems prepared to ‘play chicken’ to get its own way. Council Chief Ian Westley is particularly keen to avoid a potentially prolonged legal dispute regarding post-16 education in the town, particularly given the potential for embarrassment to the authority thanks to its blundering, duplicitous, and heavy-handed approach to the consultation process – a hangover from a previous executive regime.

SCHOOL GOVERNOR RESPONDS 

Paul Lucas, Chair of the Joint Governing Body of Tasker-Milward and Sir Thomas Picton Schools said: “In Haverfordwest the Tasker Milward Governors are still looking for a single new 11 to 19 secondary school with equally good facilities to embrace a wide academic curriculum including a full range of sporting and community amenities.

The vast majority of parents and pupils have already made their views clear to the governors in that a sixth form within a school is an inherent and influential part of that school. If the sixth form is removed from the school this will, in our view, cause irreparable damage to what is left of that school, and this aspect is particularly important in our Pembrokeshire community.

“The school staff have supported this view in the past and from the information provided to me to date I have no reason to believe that this has changed in any way.”

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Simon Hart MP says that First Minister is ‘reckless’ to say that the UK is ‘as it is, over’

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THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WALES, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MP Simon Hart, said that the First Minister for Wales, Mark Drakeford is wrong to suggest that the United Kingdom has had its day in its current form.

The First Minister’s exact words were “the UK as it is; is over”.

Mr Drakeford’s has said a new union should be created to reflect a “voluntary association of four nations”.

In his conference speech, the Welsh Labour leader called for “home rule for Wales in a successful United Kingdom”.

In a strong rebuke of Mark Drakeford’s comments Simon Hart MP said on the BBC’s politics Wales programme on Sunday (Mar 7) that his suggestion was “reckless” and “an overt act of flirtation with Plaid Cymru.”

Mr Hart added: “I think he realises if he wants to remain first minister he has to do a deal with Plaid, it’s the only option on the table. He hasn’t denied that, I’ve heard.

“In order to do that he has to start making noises about the union that has to appeal to his Plaid Cymru colleagues. I think it’s quite a reckless thing.”

Mr Hart explained that the UK “benefits” Wales and that the UK-wide procurement of Covid-19 vaccines proves this. He added: “It demonstrates just one example that the UK is a positive influence but it doesn’t mean that some of the other arguments are not valid”.

Plaid Cymru wants to hold a referendum on Welsh independence if it wins May’s Senedd election, but the power to do so lies at Westminster.

There has been a growing interest in more independence for Wales in the last few years, with a huge surge in membership of the non-political Yes Cymru group since the start of the pandemic.

Plaid leader Adam Price, speaking on the same programme, said: “We sincerely believe that independence is ultimately the only sustainable way whereby Wales can achieve its incredible potential as a nation that isn’t being delivered at the moment and whereby we can achieve social and economic justice for everyone that lives in Wales.”

Giving evidence to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee on Thursday, which The Herald was invited attended via a Zoom, Mr Drakeford explained said his idea of home-rule meant “the powers we have, and the devolution settlement we develop, would be guaranteed and would not be interfered with in the way we have seen so vividly in recent months”.

Mr Drakeford said: “I do think the effect of the pandemic and last 12 months has been to polarise opinion in Wales about how Wales should be governed.

“There are some people who take a lesson that we would be better off handing Wales back to Whitehall, there are some Conservative candidates standing in the Senedd elections who apparently take that view.

“It has undoubtedly strengthened interest in those people who believe Wales should be taken out of the United Kingdom altogether.”

The company which runs The Pembrokeshire Herald, Herald News UK, has recently launched a national news website for Wales which is sympathetic to Welsh independence.

This is something which could not have happened without a shift in feeling by many in Wales that as a nation it should have more autonomy.

Speaking on ITN’s News at Ten on Thursday (Mar 4), Herald.Wales South and West Wales Editor, Tom Sinclair said: “From our test marketing we can see that there certainly is a huge appetite for news that is about Wales, made in Wales, and owned by a company which is actually Welsh.”

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Education

Delight as foundation phase learners return to class

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PEMBROKESHIRE Headteachers have reported very positive returns to school for Foundation Phase Learners.

All Foundation Phase Learners returned to schools on Monday, March 1st and attendance has been reported at almost 90% since.

The Council’s Director for Education, Steven Richards-Downes, said: “A wide range of council services have worked together to ensure that Foundation Phase pupils have been able to return
safely to school.

“I am particularly grateful to all school staff and families for ensure that learning is now available for our youngest learners face to face.”

Headteachers remarked how schools have filled with smiles and laughter following the safe and phased return of Foundation Phase learners.

Cora O’Brien, Headteacher at Waldo Williams School in Haverfordwest emphasised how quickly learners have settled back in to a routine.

“It has been an absolute joy to hear their laughter in the playground and to observe their love of learning face to face once again. I thank everybody in the Waldo Williams School
community for working so hard to ensure that the transition went smoothly.”

Vicky Hart-Griffiths, Headteacher of Ysgol Hafan y Mor in Tenby, said: “It has been wonderful to welcome all our Foundation Phase learners back to school. They are thriving, being amongst
friends and back to a school routine.  

“All the pupils have spoken about how happy they are to have returned and it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome them back and we can’t wait until we have all our pupils back in school.

“The school feels alive again and there’s a positive buzz and laughter once again echoing throughout the school.”

Gareth Lewis, Headteacher at Broad Haven CP School said children had returned “with real enthusiasm, and have been very keen to meet up with their friends.”

Mr Lewis added: “Our parents have been very supportive and positive about the return, and those with older children are very much looking forward to a wider return to schooling.”

Mr Richards-Downes said plans were now turning to more learners returning to schools in the near future.

“We are looking to the next phases of the re-opening of schools on the 15th of March as long as the government guidelines allow.”

Further details will be released in due course.

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Pembrokeshire County Council: This week’s Leader’s coronavirus update

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL Leader, Councillor David Simpson, has provided a further coronavirus update for Friday, 5th March as follows:

‘Welcome everyone to my weekly update.

“It is with rather a heavy heart that I tell you that it’s almost 12 months since my first statement on the coronavirus pandemic.

“On 9th March 2020, I addressed our Cabinet meeting with the following words:

“Further to the news yesterday that two people in Pembrokeshire had tested as positive for the Covid 19 virus, I am sure you will join me in wishing them both a speedy and full recovery.

“I can reassure you that our services will continue as usual, and all our employees can continue to attend to their work, appointments, schools and services as they normally would.

“We should all help protect ourselves and our communities by following Public Health Wales advice, particularly around washing hands and using a tissue for symptoms associated with cold and flu and then safely disposing of it.

“I am grateful to the co-operation and hard work of all of our staff and we will provide further updates and information when we have them.

“In the meantime I can confirm that detailed planning arrangements, both internally, with partner agencies and through the Dyfed Powys Local Resilience Forum, are well underway to ensure that the Council and Pembrokeshire are as well placed as possible for whatever challenges we may face. Thank you.”

“I am sure you will join me while I take a moment now to remember all those people in Pembrokeshire and further afield, who, very sadly, passed away since I made that announcement.

“I continue to be incredibly grateful, as I’m sure you are, to everyone who is helping to beat this pandemic, working so very hard now for over a year.

“We are fortunate now to be in a position where the vaccine programme is protecting older members of our community and starting to roll out among one of the biggest groups – the over 65s and those with underlying health conditions.

“This time next week (12th March) the Welsh Government will have notified us of their plans for the next three weeks.

“In the meantime, we remain in Alert Level 4 and the stay at home message continues to be more important than ever as we reach the threshold of better times.

“I wish you all a good weekend and thank you once again to the vast majority of wonderful Pembrokeshire residents who are doing the right thing and waiting patiently at home for restrictions to lift.

“We do really appreciate your efforts and determination to help bring this pandemic to an end.”

 

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