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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

WRU and unis combine on degree

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New degree launched: Students will gain hands on coaching skills

THE WELSH R​UGBY UNION (WRU), University of South Wales (USW), Cardiff Blues, and the Dragons have launched a new Foundation Degree in Rugby Coaching and Development which will combine study with practical experience to enhance students’ employability.

The two-year blended learning course will ensure the students gain hands-on coaching skills as part of the Dragons or Cardiff Blues community rugby teams while working towards a valuable qualification at USW.

The course is ideal for individuals who wish to work in the ever-expanding rugby industry, either as a coach, or as a member of staff working within communities developing and delivering sports initiatives.

On completion of the Foundation Degree course, students can progress on to a third year of studies to achieve a BSc (Hons) degree in Rugby Coaching and Performance.

The course allows students to study all sub-disciplines of coaching and gain valuable industry-recognised qualifications and will teach students aspects of children and youth coaching, rugby coaching, rugby development, social inclusion and sports management skills.

Paul Rainer, Head of Sports Science and Sports Coaching at the University of South Wales said “This is an excellent initiative and the collaboration between the University, WRU and the regions will provide the next generation of community coaches in Wales to support the development of the game at grass-roots level.”

“The course provides flexibility in how the student will study and provides an opportunity for the student to develop their vocational skills within the Dragons or Blues community programmes whilst working towards their Welsh Rugby Union Level 1 and 2 coaching certificates and working towards a degree qualification.”

WRU Head of Rugby Participation Ryan Jones said, “We are determined to continue to invest in coaches to safeguard the future of our game. This partnership is a great example of that, with key partners working together for the good of the students and the game.”

WRU Community Coach Development Manager Gerry Roberts added: “The rugby industry is a growing one and it is important that this course aligns the academic study of coaching with vital skills that can only be gained on the ground, working within the regional community teams on all aspects of community rugby.”

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Education

University nominated for LGBT+ Award

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Delighted to fly the flag: Ruth Fowler, Equality Officer, Aberystwyth University

ABERYSTWYTH U​NIVERSITY has been nominated for a public sector equality award at the 2018 PinkNews Awards.

The nominations were announced at a special PinkNews event held in the Senedd in Cardiff Bay on ​June 7.

Aberystwyth is the only Welsh university and one of three institutions from Wales on the longlist of 21 public sector organisations throughout the UK.

The award aims to recognise the contributions of public sector organisations in championing the inclusion and rights of LGBT+ employees and those in the wider community.

A panel of judges will decide the winner, which will be announced at the PinkNews Awards in London on October 17, 2018.

Ruth Fowler, Equality Officer in the Department of Human Resources at Aberystwyth University, said: “We are delighted that Aberystwyth University is flying the flag for the Welsh higher education sector in these important awards. Equality and diversity are embedded across the University. We have a range of policies and positive action plans in place to ensure Aberystwyth is an inclusive and forward-thinking place to work and to study for all, including an LGBT network for staff as well as a series of high-profile LGBT events.”

The annual PinkNews Awards has become one of the UK’s most significant LGBT+ events, championing the efforts of politicians, campaigners, charities, businesses, public sector organisations, broadcasters and journalists in the fight for equality for all.

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Education

WG backtracks on uniform grant

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Kirsty Williams: 'Climbdown' claim on pupil grants

PARENTS in Wales will soon be able to access a new £1.7m fund to help cover the cost of school uniforms, school sports kit and for wider activities such as scouts and guides and sports outside of school.

The new fund, announced by Education Secretary Kirsty Williams, will also cover equipment for activities within the curriculum, such as design and technology.

In addition, parents will also be able to access funding for equipment for out of school hours trips, including outdoor learning.

The new fund, which will be in place ahead of the new academic year in September, will become another element of the Pupil Development Grant (PDG) and will be known as PDG – Access.

As well as making funding available for new uniforms and activities both in and outside the classroom, PDG – Access will be available to a wider range of pupils than the previous School Uniform Grant and attract a higher per pupil funding level of £125.

For the first time, learners in both Reception and Year 7, who are eligible for free school meals will fall within scope of the funding. Unlike the previous school uniform grant, all looked after children in these year groups will also be covered.

As with the previous scheme, the funding will be distributed via local authorities. The Welsh Government has worked with local authorities to develop the grant and will continue to do so to make sure that the funding is being used effectively and that good practice is being shared amongst schools.

Announcing PDG-Access today, 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.

“The Pupil Development Grant has already been described as “invaluable” by schools. PDG – Access will allow us to go that step further in supporting our disadvantaged learners to reach their full potential and narrowing the attainment gap between those learners and their peers.”

In addition to the grant, further consideration is also being given to current non-statutory school uniforms guidance and how it can be strengthened.

Commenting, Shadow Education Secretary, Darren Millar, said: “This announcement amounts to an embarrassing climb-down from the Minister, and comes after a huge backlash from all corners.

“Make no mistake, the Education Secretary has been forced into doing the right thing.

“We warned that scrapping the grant would hit the poorest pupils the hardest and thankfully the Welsh Government has seen sense.

“Labour’s bonfire of education grants is causing huge concern amongst parents and teachers alike, and this u-turn is a sad indictment of the Welsh Government’s mismanagement of its resources.”

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