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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.”

Education

School’s concern over ‘inappropriate use of images of staff and pupils’

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THE HEADTEACHER of a Pembrokeshire primary school has written to parents and guardians following concerns over certain social media activity.

Mrs Clare Hewitt, of Neyland Community Primary School, said that it filled her “with great sadness” to have to email parents and guardians of pupils at her school.

She added that the school had alerted the police regarding the matter.

Mrs Hewitt said that it came to light that there had been “inappropriate use of images of staff and pupils for TikTok pages and Messenger groups.”

The school said it is asking that all parents, where their child uses social media, to check social media accounts to ensure that they are being used appropriately and safely,

Parents or guardians with concerns have been asked to telephone the school on Monday or to contact Mrs Hewitt by email.

Parents and guardians of pupils were contacted by email on Saturday night (May 15).

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Education

Major prize for UWTSD lecturer

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A UWTSD academic has been awarded the prestigious Henry Stopes Memorial Medal.
Based at the University’s Lampeter campus, Dr Martin Bates accepted the outstanding contribution award from the Geologists’ Association during an online ceremony on Friday 7 May. This prize is awarded just once every three years for exceptional work in the archaeological field and specifically ‘on the Prehistory of Man and his geological environment.’
During his career, Dr. Bates has been involved in several major discoveries within the UK archaeological field including the Dover Bronze Age Boat, the Clactonian Elephant butchery site in Ebbsfleet, the Harnham terminal Lower Palaeolithic site near Salisbury.
He discovered the Happisburgh human footprints in Norfolk (the oldest presently know in the world outside Africa).
It was noted during the presentation that the Henry Stopes Medal had been awarded to Dr Bates for his “significant contributions to understanding the geological environment of prehistoric human occupation of Britain and elsewhere over the last 40 years.”
It was also noted that in the spirit of the Geologists’ Association he was “generous with his time and expertise to colleagues, students and members of the public alike.”
Following the awards ceremony, Dr Martin Bates commented: “It is incredible to be recognised in this way and I’d like to thank the Geologists’ Association for this honour.  
“However, this award really reflects the support I have received through my career from a whole range of specialists who have provided me with the data I have used in my research. Without them I would not have been able to do what I have done”
“I think this all goes back to my very early days spent on the beaches of West Wales being dragged along on Saturday fieldtrips led by my father for students studying geology at Aberystwyth.  He has a lot to answer for!”

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Education

Students relying on free school meals fell further behind

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THE ATTAINMENT gap between disadvantaged primary school pupils and their classmates has grown in mathematics by one month since the onset of the pandemic, according to interim findings published this week by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

The findings are drawn from an ongoing EEF-funded study that aims to understand changes to the gap which might have occurred due to the periods of partial school closure resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

While disadvantaged pupils’ outcomes in mathematics seem to have been hit hardest by the first national lockdown, the attainment gap did not widen (or shrink) during the Autumn 2020 term.

Thar suggests that gaps caused by Covid are unlikely to close without intervention.

The research is based on assessment data collected by FFT Education from 132 primary schools prior to and after the first national lockdown.

The report did not measure the impact of school closures on overall learning progress (sometimes referred to as learning loss) but, instead, looked at the differences in progress between pupils eligible for free school meals and those that are not.

Data from reading and maths assessments (PIRA and PUMA tests) taken in Autumn 2019 was used as a baseline to track the trajectory of the attainment gap.

Pupils whose data was included in the sample were all in Years 1 to 5 (5-to-10-year-olds) during the academic year 2019-2020.

Reading and maths tests were administered to these same pupils on their return to the classroom in September 2020, and then again towards the end of the Autumn term 2020.

Disadvantaged pupils’ performance in the tests was compared to that of their classmates to examine changes to the attainment gap which might have resulted from the first period of partial school closures.

The analysis of these results indicates that pupils from socio-economically deprived backgrounds have fallen further behind in maths since the onset of the pandemic.

Contrary to previous estimates, this study found no discernible change to the disadvantage gap in reading.

The findings also highlight the difficulty of combatting educational inequality in classrooms.

Data collected from PIRA and PUMA assessments taken at the end of the Autumn term 2020 indicate the return of all pupils to school in September has not been sufficient in narrowing the gap.

Further analysis is currently underway.

A final data set will be collected in June 2021 to examine whether the disadvantage gap narrows, widens, or remains stable.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “Today’s research gives us more evidence of the enormous impact school closures have had on young people, especially those from low-income homes.

“The research indicates the need for long-term, sustained support for schools as they work to accelerate the progress of their disadvantaged pupils.

“To mitigate against the long-term impact of lost learning, large government funding is required. The cost of failing to act now will be a catastrophe for young people from low-income homes.”

Professor Becky Francis, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “The pandemic has brought the significance of social and educational inequality into sharp focus.

“Research studies like this one are providing clear evidence that substantial existing gaps have grown further due to the disruption to learning caused by the pandemic.

“In strategizing an approach to recovery, we are presented with the opportunity to go beyond restoring the learning lost during partial school closures, and work towards rebalancing the scales for disadvantaged pupils.”

Researchers from FFT Education said: “Our study makes a fresh contribution to the research on the effects of COVID.

“We find that attainment gaps between disadvantaged students and their peers have widened slightly in maths, but not reading.

“We also find that there were surprisingly weak associations between school responses to COVID – for example, phoning students during the lockdown – and attainment.”

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