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Education

Fund to cut class sizes introduced

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Investment: Targeted at infant classes

A NEW £36m fund to reduce infant class sizes and raise standards has been announced by Education Secretary Kirsty Williams.

Directed at the front line and starting with the largest class sizes, it will target classes where teaching and learning needs to improve and where there are high levels of deprivation.

The money, consisting of both revenue and capital funding, will be invested over the next four years, up until 2021.

The latest figures show that 7.6% (8,196) of infant pupils in Wales were in classes of over 30.

Kirsty Williams said: “Our national mission is to raise standards and extend opportunities for all our young people.

“Time and time again parents and teachers tell me that they are concerned about class sizes. We have listened to these concerns, looked at the international evidence, and are today announcing a new £36m fund to address infant class sizes.

“There is a positive connection between smaller classes and attainment, particularly for pupils from poorer backgrounds. This is most significant for younger children, which is why we are targeting this investment at infant class sizes.

“This announcement, linked to our other reforms, will create the space for teachers to teach and for pupils to learn.”

Jess Turner, UNISON Cymru organiser for schools, said: “Classroom-based support staff really welcome this news. Smaller classes reduce workload and give support workers more time with pupils and this more personalised support helps to tackle inequalities. UNISON would like Welsh Government to go much further and also apply additional funding to junior and secondary schools too. The evidence around class size shows they need to be reduced very significantly to make a real difference to student attainment.

“It’s essential teaching assistants are properly deployed in the classroom and never used as cheap stop-gap replacements for teachers.”

“While we welcome this statement, it’s important to put it in context. When one considers that the money will be paid out over a five year period, it is not a vast amount; it is, however, most certainly a small step in the right direction,” said Ywain Myfyr, Policy Officer with UCAC.

“We hope that in helping to reduce class sizes this money will go some way towards reducing teachers’ workload and improving standards of attainment, especially for pupils living in areas of social deprivation,” he added.

“The introduction of the Foundation Stage was a visionary step but it was not properly funded from the outset. It is essential that we ensure that no child in the Foundation Phase in Wales is educated in a class which exceeds the legal limit in terms of size. It is now important that this money is shared carefully to ensure fairness.”

“We now call on the Welsh Government to go one step further and make classes of under 25 statutory for all age groups and to plan for a general reduction in class sizes for the benefit of pupils and the education workforce in general in Wales. We believe that this would match the principles expressed in this morning’s statement.”

NUT Cymru Secretary David Evans said: “This announcement is very welcome news. Kirsty Williams and the Welsh Government should be congratulated for responding to the concerns of parents and the teaching profession who see unmanageable class sizes as one of the most concerning issues they face. For too long, this problem has been ignored. Putting it on the agenda has been a major campaign for the NUT and we are grateful there has been a positive reaction from the Cabinet Secretary for Education.

“Naturally, we will have to monitor exactly how this money is utilised. What we do not want to see is local authorities using it to fill holes in their budgets. The Welsh Government are absolutely right to demand that any and all business cases show explicitly how they will contribute to reducing class sizes. It will be crucial that local authorities are not only clear about how they are going to use this funding, but also that they are accountable at the point of implementation.

“If this funding is put to good use it could have a profound impact on an issue that is at the very top of the agenda for teachers, which is why it absolutely must find its way to the front line.”

The Welsh Conservatives’ education spokesperson gave a less enthusiastic reception to the Education Secretary’s announcement.

Questioning how the policy can feasibly be implemented in the face of Wales’ teacher recruitment crisis, Darren Millar AM said: “The scant evidence base for this policy is well documented with a Welsh Government adviser having publicly spoken out against the idea of its implementation back in June.

“Conversely, there is growing evidence of Wales’ worsening teacher recruitment crisis, and so it remains unclear how this policy can be made to work; smaller class sizes mean more classrooms, which in turn demands more teachers – of which our country is in woefully short supply.

“Today’s announcement is little more than a multimillion pound sop to the remaining Welsh Liberal Democrat and will not be the silver bullet to solving the education crisis facing Welsh schools.”

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Education

Teacher’s gruelling challenge to help visually impaired child

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TEACHER Sion Jenkins is running 100 laps around a famous Pembrokeshire landmark to raise money to help a visually impaired child in his class.

He is aiming to raise £2,000 on crowd funder platform Go Fund Me by doing laps of Carew Castle and Mill in just 24 hours, about one hundred miles in total.

Sion said: “I decided that I wanted to raise money to help purchase a trike/adapted bike to help a visually impaired child in my class.

“Due to his sight, he isn’t able to ride a bike – and is desperate to gain some independence/confidence and ride a bike like every other child.

“On the back of a challenge set by school, to complete the ‘100 challenge’ as a tribute to Captain Sir Tom Moore, I decided to tie the two together and have a go at completing this gruelling challenge.

“100 laps of Carew Castle and Mill will total just under 100 miles – in less than 24 hours.”

If you would like to contribute to this epic challenge this is the link:

https://uk.gofundme.com/f/carew-mill-100-laps-in-24-hours?

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Education

Schools partnership promotes the benefits of outdoor learning

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OUTDOOR learning across the county has received a welcome boost over the past 12 months as a result of additional funding secured by the Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools (PODS) project, which has covered the cost of a Co-ordinator working directly with schools.

Thanks to financial backing from the People’s Postcode Local Trust and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Trust, the PODS Co-ordinator has been able to help with the delivery of high quality, curriculum-linked learning experiences in school grounds and local outdoor spaces.

Part of the Co-ordinator’s role is also to bring together local and national organisations, including Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s Discovery team, teachers and head teachers. Pooling their diverse knowledge and expertise, the partnership seeks to share good practice and promote the benefits of taking lessons outdoors.

Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools Co-ordinator Bryony Rees said: “Last summer, the Welsh Government recognised the importance of outdoor learning in the post-lockdown return to school. We have been working hard to support this by giving children and teachers increased opportunities to take their learning outdoors.

“We have already engaged with a number of schools across Pembrokeshire and produced some live webinars. Supporting resources for these can be found on HWB. This has made it possible to reach out to even more schools with practical information, inspiration and advice on delivering outdoor learning programmes.

“Several schools have taken the opportunity to develop their school grounds to support outdoor learning and more recently, Neyland Community School has introduced outdoor lessons every Friday.”

During the most recent lockdown, work has continued online and the PODS website has been developed to provide teachers with some learning resources. Outdoor learning ideas and inspiration for teachers and parents are also shared on the PODS Facebook page (Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools) and on Twitter @PembsOutdoorSch.

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Education

Education announcement welcomed by Pembrokeshire County Council

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THE LOCAL AUTHORITY has said that it welcomes the Welsh Government’s announcement today (Friday, 29th January) that schools will be the first to reopen when Wales’ current lockdown restrictions are lifted.

First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced that the ‘alert level four’ restrictions will remain in Wales for three more weeks but following that period, there would be a ‘phased and flexible back-to-school approach if coronavirus cases continue to fall’.

He said primary school children would be the first to return, if the public health situation continues to improve, and that students studying vocational qualifications would also be among those prioritised for the phased return to colleges.

Mr Drakeford said: “We’ve seen a really welcome fall in cases of the virus all over Wales, but they are still too high and the NHS continues to be under intense pressure.

“We need to keep the lockdown restrictions in place for a little while longer to help us bring rates of the virus down further. If we can do this, we will create the headroom we need to get children back to school after half term – starting with the youngest at primary schools.

“We will work with teachers, colleges, local authorities to plan for the safe return of children to school over the next couple of weeks and keep parents updated.”

Pembrokeshire’s Director of Education, Steven Richards-Downes, will be meeting virtually with Welsh Government ministers today together with other Education Directors.

Mr Richards-Downes said: “We welcome the Welsh Government’s statement that schools will be the first to reopen, whenever that may be.

“We will continue to work directly with unions, headteachers, governing bodies and other Council services to ensure that schools are Covid-safe when they are re-opened.

“Distance learning will continue for now and parents should contact their schools directly if they have any queries regarding this.”

He added: “Any parent experiencing difficulties with digital exclusion should contact their school directly.

Free school meals payments will continue to be paid to families who have applied for them, as planned. The next payments will be made on Thursday, 4th February.

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