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Education

Home-educated children to be registered

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'An invisible child': Seabridge case leads to registration

THE WELSH G​OVERNMENT is to create a statutory register for home-schooled children. The announcement by Cabinet Secretary Kirsty Williams follows a review of the safeguarding of home-schooled children in light of the Dylan Seabridge case.

Dylan Seabridge died in 2011 of what was diagnosed as scurvy during a post-mortem examination. To all intents and purposes, Dylan had been invisible to social and education services in Pembrokeshire until concerns about the wellbeing of him and his siblings were raised following an industrial tribunal hearing regarding his mother’s employment in a Ceredigion school.

Dylan’s parents denied Pembrokeshire Social Services the chance to assess the wellbeing of Dylan or his siblings and, due to the way the law is drafted, there was no way of compelling his parents to give access.

Dylan Seabridge had no direct contact with agencies such as doctors, nurses and teachers from the age of 13 months, a Child Practice Review later found. His death resulted in a wide-ranging review and, in 2016, its author Gladys Rhodes White said current legislation was in ‘stark contrast’ to the Welsh Government’s commitment to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child.

There are wide ranges of reasons why families choose to home school their children: distance or access to local school, religious or cultural beliefs, or philosophical or ideological views. Guidelines for home schooling vary depending on where you live in the world. Home-schooled children in Scotland have to be registered whilst there is only a requirement to de-register in other parts of the UK.

Responding to a question from Simon Thomas AM, Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams, said: “I am committed to ensuring all children in Wales receive a suitable education, are safeguarded, and have the opportunity to benefit from universal services.

“I have accepted, in principle, the recommendation by the Children’s Commissioner for Wales for a statutory register for home-educated children and will be working with the commissioner to take this forward.

“To help support local authorities identify home-educated children in their area I will be challenging current ways of working to ensure we maximise opportunities for further strengthening collaborative approaches to protect the rights of these children to receive an education and to be safe.”

An NSPCC Cymru / Wales spokesman said: “We have long supported a compulsory register for children who are educated at home and it’s encouraging to see the steps being taken by the Welsh Government to make this a reality.

“Every family has a right to educate their child as they choose and home learning alone is not a risk factor for abuse or neglect. But home educated children are at increased risk of becoming invisible to authorities and it is absolutely vital that councils are able to identify those children in their area and ensure they receive the education, safeguarding and support they need.

“We know that parents want a safe learning environment for their children. A register would help to ensure this is the case for every single home educated child in Wales.”

Former Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler, is to lead the task and finish group.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We have listened carefully to concerns about safeguarding children who are educated at home and have accepted, in principle, the recommendation of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales for a statutory register for home-educated children.

“We are currently exploring the options available and will continue to liaise closely with the Children’s Commissioner as we progress this work.”

Speaking before Christmas, Cllr John Davies, Chair of Pembrokeshire County Council’s Education Scrutiny Committee, said: “This is a serious issue. We have seen here in Pembrokeshire, first hand, where the system doesn’t always accommodate for the well-being of an individual that is home-educated.

“The trend is telling us there are now more people electing for home education, a 52% increase between 2013-16. Therefore there is more of a reason to reflect on the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny have quite rightly referred to the need, one that would not infringe on the rights of individuals, to have a one-a-year visible contact with a child. This is about sharing the responsibility that everyone has towards children and young people.”

Education

Swansea Uni to deliver advanced therapies

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A significant opportunity: University a centre for cell and gene therapies

SWANSEA U​NIVERSITY’S​ Medical School, through its partnership with Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board, is to be one of the centres to deliver advanced medical therapies to Wales, which is part of a major investment announced by Welsh Blood Services.

A recently formed health consortium, jointly led by the Welsh Blood Service (on behalf of NHS Wales) and the National Institute for Health Research Birmingham Biomedical Research Centre, has been awarded £7.3M of UK Government funding to ensure more patients benefit from a new generation of breakthrough therapies.

£1.5M will come directly to NHS Wales and £550K to Trakcel, a Welsh software company developing scheduling/tracking software for advanced therapies which is based upon technology developed at Swansea University.

The funding will support the Welsh Government’s commitment to developing an Advanced Therapies Strategy which will enable these therapies to be brought to Welsh patients and Advanced Therapy Medicinal Product (ATMP) companies to reach the clinical market, whilst building expertise, capability and capacity across NHS Wales to benefit patient outcomes.

Speaking of the award, Frank Atherton, Chief Medical Officer for Wales, said: “We welcome the announcement of the successful partnership between Birmingham, Nottingham and Wales NHS centres in bidding for Innovate UK monies. The project is aligned with our ambition to support the development, availability and adoption of new innovative therapies for patients in Wales. Cell- and gene-based advanced therapies offer exciting opportunities, not only for the way we treat people with previously incurable conditions, but also how we work together with industry and NHS Wales in bringing these treatments from bench to bedside.”

The NHS Wales role in the MW-ATTC consortium was led by the Welsh Blood Service, with support from Abertawe Bro Morgannwg and Cardiff & Vale University Health Boards along with the Life Sciences Hub Wales Special Interest Group on Cell and Gene Therapy, which brings together expertise from the Welsh NHS, Universities and industry in the Life Science sector.

As part of the contract award, one of the first advanced therapy treatment sites in Wales will be established within Abertawe Bro Morgannwg at the Joint Clinical Research Facility (JCRF) at Swansea University’s Medical School. The focus of the centre will be to develop the infrastructure, processes and skilled workforce required to enable patients to be cared for, from diagnosis through to post-treatment follow up.

Cath O’Brien, Director of the Welsh Blood Service and MW-ATTC Co-Director, said: “A significant opportunity exists to position Wales as a leader in clinical trial and routine delivery of cell and gene therapies to maximise Welsh patient benefit and opportunities for the national economy. The Welsh Government is committed to exploring these revolutionary developments in healthcare and we are excited to have worked alongside our consortium partners to secure funding through what was a highly competitive tendering process.”

One of the first products that will pass through the Welsh centres is that being developed by one of the consortium partners, Rexgenero and is intended to prevent the need for diabetes-related lower limb amputations for some no option patients. The incidence of diabetes is continuing to increase in Wales and already accounts for ~10% of the NHS Wales budget (£500M) with 200, 000 sufferers today rising to an estimated 500,000 by 2025. Currently around 2000 patients in Wales have non-healing lower limb ulcers that result in approximately 330 amputations per year.

The Midlands & Wales Advanced Therapy Treatment Centre (MW-ATTC) will identify barriers, challenges and solutions to facilitate future deployment and adoption of these transformative therapies within the UK healthcare system.

Advanced treatments, such as cell and gene therapies, show great promise for patients with chronic and terminal conditions that currently cannot be cured. Unlike conventional medicines, these new approaches often aim to selectively remove, repair, replace, regenerate and re-engineer a patient’s own genes, cells and tissues to restore normal function. The project will include potential treatments for arthritis, liver disease, several types of cancer, and diabetic ulcers.

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Education

£1.3m spent to cut class sizes

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Class sizes are a concern: Kirsty Williams

SCHOOLS across Wales are to benefit from 80 new teachers as a result of a £36 million fund to reduce infant class sizes, Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has announced.

£1.3m of the fund, which was announced in January 2017, has been used to recruit the teachers.

When the Welsh Government announced the £36m fund last year, it said that the fund would make “a real difference” to class sizes.

The new teachers will be appointed to schools which have large infant class sizes and also have high levels of deprivation, special education needs and/or where teaching and learning need to improve.

The new teachers will help to create smaller infant classes, so a school which currently has two infant classes of 29 or more pupils could instead have three smaller more manageable infant classes.

The Welsh Government hopes that the scheme will improve both the quantity and quality of the time that teachers spend with their pupils, while also helping to reduce teachers’ workload.

The £36m fund comprises of £16m of revenue which allows local authorities to recruit the extra teachers, and £20m of capital which allows local authorities to build the additional classrooms and learning space needed to further reduce class sizes.

All local authorities in Wales will benefit from extra teachers after submitting bids for the revenue element of the grant, which amounts to £1.3m in 2017/18. Bids for capital element of the grant will be approved shortly.

The Education Secretary yesterday visited pupils in the nursery class at Awel y Môr Primary School in Port Talbot who will, as of this September, benefit from an extra teacher when they move into Reception.

Awel y Môr is a prime candidate for the funding, having above national average levels of both free school meals and SEN.

Kirsty Williams said: “Time and again, teachers and parents tell me that class sizes are a concern. That’s why one of my first actions as Cabinet Secretary was to announce this £36m fund.

“International research and evidence tells us there is a positive connection between smaller class sizes and attainment, particularly for our youngest pupils from poorer backgrounds.

“Additional teachers at schools like Awel y Môr will be able to devote more time and individual attention to each of their pupils.

“That’s good news not only for the pupil and the teacher but the school’s ability to improve as a whole; smaller class sizes are crucial for both improved attainment in those early years of education and helping teachers to manage their workload.

“When seen in the context of broader reforms we’re making such as reducing unnecessary bureaucracy and strengthened initial teacher training and professional development, this will also make a real difference in giving teachers the time to teach and learners the space to learn.

“This is central to our mission to raise standards, reduce the attainment gap and deliver an education system which is a source of national pride and confidence.

Sam Greasley, Headteacher of Awel y Môr Primary School said: “This new fund will have a genuine impact on Pupil Standards. Securing smaller class sizes enables us as teachers to work more closely with individual children.

“We set high expectations for all pupils but acknowledge that pupils need differentiated levels of support, which is more achievable in smaller classes.”

Shadow Education Secretary, Darren Millar, said: “When so many schools are laying off staff and struggling to balance the books, you have to question whether this is the right approach.

“Smaller class sizes require extra classrooms, which in turn demands more teachers – and yet Welsh education is in the midst of a deepening teacher recruitment crisis.

“Despite the Cabinet Secretary’s soaring rhetoric, it’s becoming clear that this fund isn’t going to make any meaningful impression on class sizes.

“It would be better to distribute the money to local education authorities to enable them to ease the funding pressures in our schools, help close the pupil funding gap between England and Wales, and reduce unnecessary bureaucracy.”

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Education

Welsh Bacc review recommends improvements

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Findings 'a sound foundation' for evolving qualification: Philip Blaker, Qualifications Wales

THE QUALIFICATION at the heart of the Welsh Baccalaureate offers a valuable learning experience and gives students the skills they need for their future, according to a research report published ​this week​.

The report was produced for Qualifications Wales by Wavehill Social and Economic Research in partnership with University College London’s Institute of Education. The research looked at the design of the Skills Challenge Certificate and gathered views from teachers, lecturers and students to see how it’s working on the ground.

“This report found that the Skills Challenge Certificate is a valuable qualification that helps learners to develop crucial skills. The skills that employers consistently say young people need to succeed in the workplace,” said Philip Blaker, Chief Executive of Qualifications Wales.

“It is positive that many teachers say the Skills Challenge Certificate is rewarding to teach and that students say they enjoy gaining new skills and the chance to focus on what they’re interested in.”

While noting the importance and value of the Skills Challenge Certificate for young people in Wales, the report finds that:

  • Some aspects of its design and assessment are more complex than they need to be;
  • There is some duplicated content and assessment across its components;
  • There are inconsistent levels of understanding amongst teachers and students about it and how it links to the Welsh Bacc.
  • Teachers and students find it difficult to describe the Skills Challenge Certificate and the Welsh Bacc to others.

“Any critical review of this kind will always find areas for improvement, especially when looking at a qualification as innovative and as new as the Skills Challenge Certificate,” said Mr Blaker.

The report makes eight recommendations for addressing the issues it identifies. Some of the recommendations focus on the current delivery of the Skills Challenge Certificate, for instance by doing more to explain what it is, how it fits in the Welsh Bacc, and its benefits. Other recommendations suggest how, in the future, the design and assessment of the Skills Challenge Certificate could be simplified.

In considering any future changes, the report cautions against making any rapid changes and advocates involving others to consider whether and when any proposed changes should be introduced.

Responding to the recommendations, Mr Blaker said: “Qualifications Wales supports the findings from the research. We are setting up a working group to look in detail at how to put the recommendations into practice. We will also convene a panel of teachers, learners, employers and universities to test and refine any proposals for change. We’ll report on our progress by the end of the year.“

“The Skills Challenge Certificate is a new and exciting way of developing and assessing important life skills. We always expected that further refinements would be needed after a period of bedding-in. The findings from this review give us a sound foundation for gradually evolving the qualification so that it continues to go from strength to strength.” said, Mr Blaker.

Responding, Shadow Education Secretary, Darren Millar, said: “The Welsh Baccalaureate is certainly a valuable qualification, but we need to see action to reduce the pressure on teachers and students engaged in it.

“Clearly there needs to be some kind of streamlining, because the qualification is almost universally seen as too complex.

“We believe that the Welsh Baccalaureate should continue to be offered to all students in Wales but it should not be a compulsory subject.”

Rebecca Williams, UCAC’s Policy Officer said: “UCAC welcomes Qualifications Wales’s report, which acknowledges the conflict between the value of the Skills Challenge Certificate on the one hand, and the confusion and misunderstandings surrounding it on the other.

“The report’s recommendations resonate with what UCAC members have been reporting for some time, which is that elements of the design and assessment are unwieldy and unmanageable – both for learners and teachers. The emphasis on clearer communication and on better training opportunities for teachers – including in initial teacher training courses – is very much to be welcomed.

“UCAC urges all relevant partners to take action on the report’s recommendations in order to ensure that the Skills Challenge Certificate element of the Welsh Baccalaureate is made as appealing and beneficial to as many learners across Wales as possible.”

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