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Education

Free school meals opportunity for WG

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No reason to make Wales' poorest children pay: Bevan Foundation Director calls for investment

THE WELSH G​OVERNMENT​ has a unique opportunity to make sure that children from low-income families don’t go hungry, writes Victoria Winckler, Director of the Bevan Foundation.

Each year, around one in six of Wales’ school pupils claims a free school meal because their parents receive a benefit such as Employment and Support Allowance, Job Seekers’ Allowance or Income Support. At around £2.50 a go – £12.50 a week per child – this is quite a big help.

And the benefits of a nutritious midday meal are not just financial: a decent meal contributes to better concentration in the afternoon and ensures low income children have better diets too.

UNIVERSAL CREDIT CHANGES

The introduction of Universal Credit means that new rules about who can get a free school meal are needed. Universal Credit is set to be in place for new claimants in all parts of Wales by the end of 2018. The process of switching existing claimants to UC will take place gradually from 2019.

Universal Credit is paid to families where someone is working as well as families which are out-of-work. This means that the old rules for getting a free school meal can no longer be used.

In anticipation of this, the National Assembly for Wales passed the Free School Lunches and Milk (Universal Credit) (Wales) Order in 2013.

Put simply, this piece of secondary legislation enabled the children of all recipients of UC to receive a free school meal, irrespective of circumstances, while the benefit was being rolled out.

In practice, the numbers of children who benefited from the new rule were likely to be very small as the roll-out of UC doesn’t apply to claimants with children.

As Universal Credit is set to be rolled-out to all types of households, including those with children, the UK Government is cutting back on eligibility.

The plan is that children in families receiving UC which have an income from work of more than £7,400 will not be eligible for a free school meal.

The move has prompted a row in the House of Commons about the UK Government allegedly ‘taking away’ free meals from a million children, with equally furious counter claims.

It’s worth checking Channel 4’s Full Fact for the details, however.

CHANNEL 4 FULL FACT ANALYSIS

There’s some respectable maths behind Labour’s claim that a million children will lose out on free school meals after the government introduces a means test.

But they haven’t mentioned two key points:

  • No one who is currently eligible for free school meals under Universal Credit will lose their entitlement.
  • In fact, under Universal Credit, 50,000 more children will receive school meals by 2022 than would have done under the previous benefits system.

This is not a case of the government taking free school meals from a million children who are currently receiving them: it’s about comparing two future, hypothetical scenarios. Both of them are more generous than the old benefits system.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN IN WALES?

Universal Credit, as everyone knows, is not devolved. But free school meals are. It is for the Welsh Government to decide who can receive a free meal.

Provision is already less generous in England, where all infant pupils get a free meal regardless of their families’ income. The question is whether the Welsh Government will follow the same route as the UK Government for children in families receiving Universal Credit.

WHAT ABOUT THE COST?

Because the UK government has limited the eligibility for free meals in England there’s no Barnett consequential to help cover the cost of increasing eligibility in Wales.

But that is no reason to make Wales’ poorest children pay.

Aneurin Bevan famously said in 1949 ‘the language of priorities is the religion of Socialism‘. And on this he was right.

At the same time as Wales’ least well-off children have to pay £12.50 a week for a dinner, there’s free bus travel on the Traws Cymru service for anyone, a subsidised canteen for Assembly Members and government officials, and free swimming for over-60s.

If you had to choose who got the freebie, who would you select?

Any change to the rules will be via an order to be considered by the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee.

If the Welsh Government is serious about the well-being of future generations, there is not better case for investing in the health and education of Wales’ children than this.

Education

Globalisation with a difference at Lampeter

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Tabula Peutingeriana: A copy of a Roman original world map

AN INTERNATIONAL multidisciplinary conference that aims to explore approaches to the theme of ‘globalisation’ across the ancient world will be held at UWTSD’s Lampeter conference next month.

Entitled “Re-Thinking Globalisation in the Ancient World” up to 30 academic experts from Asia, Europe, South and North America will visit Ceredigion to present papers and take part in discussions at the three-day event. Keynote speakers at the conference include Professor Mark Horton from the University of Bristol and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Germany and Professor Michael Sommer from Universität Oldenburg.

Conference organiser and Senior Lecturer in Roman History and Archaeology at UWTSD Associate Professor Ralph Häussler said: “We’re very much looking forward to hosting this conference and welcoming so many distinguished experts in the field to Lampeter – it truly is a ‘global’ conference. The purpose of the conference is to provide new insights into cross-cultural interactions and responses in inter-connected and entangled regions of the ancient world.

Methodological issues relating to the theme of ‘globalisation’ will be analysed in different contexts, notably the application of this concept in different regions and different periods of the ancient world. In the 21st century ‘Globalisation’ is a buzzword for our interconnected and fast-moving modern times. But globalisation is not new. Already 2,000 – 3,000 years ago, we can identify comparable developments, like an ever increasing inter-dependency between distant regions of the ancient world. Nowadays, the concept of ‘globalisation’ and of a cosmopolitan society has come under increasing scrutiny for contemporary society. Therefore the study of globalisation with regards to the ancient world will enable us to place this modern debate within a wider historical framework. Everybody is welcome to come along and take part in what promises to be a fascinating discussion.”

The Conference will start at 8:30am on the 8th May and come to a close at midday on the 10th May 2018. More information can be found here: https://bit.ly/2qF2NTB.

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Education

Creative coding challenge for schools

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Animating challenge: Schools invited to combine poetry and computing

ABERYSTWYTH U​NIVERSITY’S Computer Science Department is calling on primary school pupils across Wales to take part in a unique coding competition combining poetry, Welsh mythology and creative computing.

The challenge to children aged 7-11 years old includes animating a poem by Eurig Salisbury, a lecturer at Aberystwyth University’s Department of Welsh & Celtic Studes as well as an award-winning writer and former Children’s Welsh Poet Laureate.

Alternatively, contestants can also choose to animate a Welsh myth or legend – from the Mabinogion, for example.

There will be prizes for the winning teams as well as a visit to the winning entry’s school by a team of computer scientists from Aberystwyth University who will hold a day of educational coding activities.

The aim of the competition is to encourage children to give coding a go and to learn new skills for the workplace of the future.

Organiser Dr Hannah Dee, Senior Lecturer at Aberystwyth University’s Computer Science Department, said: “Coding is a digital skill which will only increase in importance. People often think that coding is just spreadsheets or numbers. This contest aims to show that it’s much than that – you can code pictures, animations, and even poetry. Creative coding is something everyone can have a go at, particularly using Scratch, a kids’ programming language.

“We have four top prizes this year with winners awarded either a Pi-top Laptop or Kano Computer Kit or and we are grateful to both companies for their sponsorship and support.”

Fellow organiser and lecturer Martin Nelmes said: “As a Department, we visit schools the length and breadth of Wales with our coding activities and find that creative coding like this really fires students’ imagination. We held our first coding competition last year and the entries were inspirational. I can’t wait to see what pupils come up with this year.”

First prize in last year’s competition went to Johnstown School in Carmarthenshire, with second place going to Ysgol Gynradd Pentrefoelas in Betws y Coed in Gwynedd, and third to Brynnau School, Pontyclun, Rhondda Cynon Taff.

Eurig Salisbury, a lecturer in Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University’s Department of Welsh and Celtic Studies, said: “It was a privilege to be part of this coding competition last year and to see young children take up the challenge of creative computing to illustrate one of my poems. It’s a fun activity but it’s also educational with coding becoming an increasingly fundamental skill to those growing up in the early part of the 21st century.”

Further details about the competition and how to enter can be found on the website of the Department of Computer Science

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Education

Pupil Deprivation Grant boosted

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Allocation levels guaranteed for two more years: Kirsty Williams

SCHOOLS across Wales are to share in over £90m in 2018-19 to help their most disadvantaged learners, Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has announced.

The Cabinet Secretary has written to schools across Wales to confirm how much they will directly receive in 2018-19.

In addition to over £90m committed this year, £187m has been guaranteed for the remainder of the Assembly term, so that schools have the stability to plan ahead.

The Pupil Development Grant (PDG) helps schools tackle the effects of poverty and disadvantage on attainment and is targeted at learners who are eligible for Free School Meals or are Looked After Children.

Schools use the PDG in a number of different ways, including nurture groups for children who may be socially and emotionally vulnerable, out-of-hours school learning, on-site multi-agency support and better tracking of pupils as they progress through school.

This year, the PDG for the youngest learners (pupils aged 3-4 years old) has increased from £600 to £700 per pupil. This builds on last year’s doubling of financial support from £300 to £600 per learner in the early years.

Primary and secondary schools will continue to receive a rate of £1,150 per learner, and this rate also continues to apply to learners in education other than at school (EOTAS).

From this year, schools will also have greater flexibility to support learners who have been eligible for Free School Meals in the previous two years.

Advisers and coordinators from education consortia are also on-hand to provide extra support and guidance for schools on using the funding.

Kirsty Williams said: “Reducing the attainment gap between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers is at the heart of our national mission to raise standards. This is one of the most effective ways in which we can break the cycle of deprivation and poverty.

“Time and again, teachers have told me how much of a difference PDG funding has made in raising aspirations, building confidence, improving behaviour and attendance and in involving families with their children’s education.

“Teachers have also called for greater certainty around future PDG funding and that’s why I’m pleased to be able to guarantee allocation levels for the next two financial years and reaffirm our commitment to the grant for the lifetime of this Assembly.

“We have always said that the PDG is there to support all pupils who are eligible for Free School Meals, not just those that are struggling academically. That’s why I want schools to ensure they are supporting more able pupils as well.

“I would also encourage all schools to make full use of the PDG advisers and coordinators from the education consortia – they’re there to help when it comes to making the best use of the funding and ensuring that we raise attainment across the board.”

An independent evaluation of the PDG last year found that many schools consider the funding to be ‘invaluable’, with further evidence from Estyn and the Welsh Government’s raising attainment advocate, Sir Alasdair MacDonald, showing the majority of schools are making well thought out decisions on how to spend the funding.

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