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Education

Report recommends scrapping school categorisation

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Professor Graham Donaldson: Review welcomed

A REPORT prepared for the Welsh Government has recommended a series of major reforms to the schools inspection programme overseen by Estyn, the body tasked with inspecting and improving Welsh schools’ performance.

Key elements of the report, prepared by Professor Graham Donaldson who has previously advised the Welsh Government on curriculum reform, include a pause in the inspection cycle to allow ongoing reforms to bed in and the scrapping of the controversial colour-coded categorisation of schools.

Professor Donaldson criticised the ‘high stakes’ approach of categorisation as having the potential to limit development and being contrary to the Welsh Government’s plans to create a culture of self-improvement by placing the emphasis on inspection instead of education outcomes.

In the report, Prof Donaldson writes: “Inspection has come to be an important element in this ‘high-stakes’ culture. There are concerns, supported by research evidence, that in such a culture inspection can inhibit improvement and innovation if schools try to ‘second guess’ what inspectors want to see.

“Graded inspection reports and follow-up categories reinforce the association of inspection with an externally driven approach to improvement and can distort some schools’ practices to the detriment of their pupils.”

The Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales has welcomed the report, saying that it recognises the vital role that Estyn plays in enhancing the learning of young people in Wales.

Chief Inspector, Meilyr Rowlands, said: “I am grateful to Professor Donaldson for his work on this review and am glad that the report recognises the strengths of the current inspection system. We now look forward to working with Welsh Government, schools, and other stakeholders to fully consider the report’s comprehensive proposals and how to take them forward. We will keep stakeholders informed as this work develops and be seeking their views through consultation to ensure they have their say.

Professor Graham Donaldson remarked: “Wales is working to develop a dynamic and successful education system with rising standards and schools committed to their own improvement. Evidence to my Review confirms that Estyn is central to that process. The unique professional experience and expertise of its HMI and peer inspectors are a key national resource. Inspectors should both evaluate how well the young people of Wales are being served by their schools and contribute directly to improving the quality of their learning. That means more emphasis on school self-evaluation and improvement, more informative inspection reports, a more diagnostic approach to schools causing concern and more direct engagement of inspectors with reform.

The National Education Union, Wales’s largest education union has welcomed the publication of Professor Donaldson’s review.

David Evans, Wales Secretary of the National Education Union Cymru, said: “The recommendations outlined by Graham Donaldson, if accepted and implemented, will represent a seismic shift in the school inspection arrangements in Wales which will be largely welcomed by the profession as it wrestles with the ambitious educational reforms that are already underway.

In particular, we note the very real concerns identified regarding the high stakes accountability measures that have increasingly caused significant pressures and unintended consequences since being imposed upon schools in 2011. Many of the concerns we voiced at that time are reflected in this review and should become a thing of the past if the necessary changes are implemented.

A key and very welcome recommendation is the proposal that there be a moratorium on the formal inspection reporting cycle as inspectors, schools and other key stakeholders learn about, develop and implement the new curriculum. This was an issue that we pressed for very strongly. The NEU has always wanted the new curriculum to succeed and it was of vital importance that practitioners were provided with every assistance and opportunity to secure that aim.”

Keith Bowen, Director, NEU Cymru, added: “Currently, inspection can be a stressful time for education professionals in schools. We welcome these announcements, and the potential positive impact the recommendations could have on our education system. We have long pushed for self-evaluation for the schools’ sector in Wales, and Professor Donaldson’s recommendations could help make this a reality. We look forward to working with Estyn and the Welsh Government to take these recommendations forward.”

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, said: “It is clear from the recommendation in the report that Professor Donaldson has listened to the teaching profession.

“The recommendation for a ‘suspension of the formal inspection reporting cycle for a period while inspectors engage with schools both to learn about and support the realisation of the new curriculum’ will be particularly welcome by teachers, school leaders and the wider education workforce, as many inspectors still appear to have very little knowledge about the new curriculum.

“This review will complement and resonate with the cultural change in terms of school accountability which is now being promoted actively by the Welsh Government.”

Rex Phillips, NASUWT National Official for Wales, said: “The report appears to steer Estyn back towards the role of ‘critical friend’ rather than ‘common enemy’ and that is to be welcomed.”

UCAC, the education union for Wales, has also welcomed the vision presented in Professor Donaldson’s report.

Rebecca Williams, UCAC’s Policy Officer said: “UCAC welcomes this report and the vision it outlines for the future inspection of schools in Wales.

“Far-reaching changes to the Welsh education system are on the way, and re-examining Estyn’s role is an important step in ensuring that all parts of the system are pulling in the same direction.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, Professor Donaldson’s recommendations are perfectly in tune with the direction and ethos of the wider reform programme. They strike a balance between continuing to provide assurance to the public about educational standards, and giving schools more responsibility for their own self-improvement.

“The emphasis on trust, joint-working, support and professional learning – as opposed to shock and awe, and public shaming – is particularly welcome. UCAC is confident that this approach will encourage a far more open, honest and mature system that will be more likely to lead to improvement for pupils.

“We urge Welsh Government and Estyn to look favourably on the recommendations in this report.”

Rob Williams, Director of Policy for the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru said: “The recommendations emerging from the review of the inspectorate are very welcome. It is clear that we now need inspection to properly reflect the new curriculum that schools are currently seeking to implement. The concern for school leaders and staff up until this point is that the two things were becoming increasingly out of step.

“The report and recommendations also recognise that now is the time to be bold and enable schools, Estyn, Local Authorities, Regional Consortia and Welsh Government to think differently, focusing all our collective efforts upon maximising the progress and achievement of children and young people across Wales. High stakes accountability linked purely to pupil outcomes has not served our pupils well, there now needs to be an expectation that schools work together, with support from regional consortia, to continually strive for school-level driven improvement.”

Education

Pembrokeshire school smashes the national grade average

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PUPILS at Castle School were thrilled to collect their exam results this week and discover that between them they had amassed an impressive set of passes.  In contrast to the national average which showed a drop of 1%, students improved on their already impressive average of 90%, collectively gaining 94% passes at grades A* – C.  

Many of the students in year 10 were encouraged to sit some exams early in those subjects they had been prepared for and were similarly rewarded, with their results reflecting the school’s overall average.  

The school’s head, Su Cowell, told us ‘these results are even more remarkable when you compare us with the national average of 61% and take into consideration that we are a non-selective school.  The pupils are to be congratulated on their impressive results. They worked extremely hard and all their revision and efforts have been rewarded. Credit must also go to our staff, of course, who worked tirelessly to ensure that every pupil has the best chance of not only passing but also securing the best grade they are capable of. ‘

Whilst all the pupils are to be congratulated, particular mention should go to Lucy Mansfield who has now amassed an incredible total of 14 GCSEs, with 11 A*s, 2 As and an even more impressive 100% in her Additional Maths exam which included A level material.  Teachers were also delighted that two-thirds of their scientists gained either A or A* in all three subjects, as did the class taking Latin. The school’s director, Harriet Harrison, added, ‘I am delighted to see that despite being non-selective we strive to fulfil each child’s potential and about half of our students take nine or more subjects at GCSE with some of them studying 11, 12, even 14, and still manage to get such impressive results.  In addition several of our students enrolled on an accelerated programme in maths, having already earned the top grade last year. It was fantastic to see that they all gained Distinction in the tougher Additional Maths GCSE with one of them getting full marks, which is incredible.’

As the school reaches its 10th anniversary next year, it has many plans to celebrate and hopes that one of those reasons will include another record-breaking set of results.

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Education

WG invests £7.2m in STEM education

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Astronaut Tim Peake: Promoting STEM study

PRINCE’S TRUST Ambassador Tim Peake landed in Cardiff on Tuesday (Jul 17) to help the Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning, Eluned Morgan, announce £7.2m of funding to encourage young people, especially girls, to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects at school.

The astronaut, joined the Minister at an event organised by The Prince’s Trust Cymru at Tramshed Tech where they met young people involved in the youth charity’s STEM-related programmes, There, the Minister announced an investment of £7.2m, including £5.2m of European Union funding, for two similar projects. Gwynedd Council’s £1.9m STEM Gogledd and Swansea University’s £5.3m Technocamps 2 have been awarded £1.4m and £3.8m of EU funding, respectively.

Both projects will help to ensure young people, particularly girls and young women, continue STEM studies at GCSE and beyond with the aim of pursuing STEM-related careers.

Over the next four years, STEM Gogledd will work with 600 young people, 60% of whom will be female, to enrich and promote STEM subjects through a range of activities that complement the mainstream curriculum within schools across Gwynedd, Anglesey and Conwy.

Technocamps 2 will work with 3,600 young people across West Wales, North Wales and the South Wales Valleys, two-thirds of whom will be female. It will target secondary schools which do not currently offer computer science as an option at GCSE, or where the subject is only recently available. The project will enable pupils in these schools to take part in workshops to build on their existing knowledge and enthusiasm for IT and computing.

Announcing the funding, the Minister said: “It is a pleasure to be standing alongside Tim Peake today to announce such an important investment which will help to build the skills of our young people to help drive a the Welsh economy.

“Wales must become a STEM nation if we are to build a modern, dynamic, open economy that benefits everyone in Wales. Both the pace and nature of technological change is increasing dramatically and, to have the skilled workforce to capitalise on it, it is vital we have more young people who choose to study STEM subjects to a sufficiently high standard. While this is quite a challenge to address for both boys and girls, the challenge for girls is much greater.

“This is why I am grateful to organisations like The Prince’s Trust for their pioneering programmes and to role models, like Tim, who are influential in promoting the study of STEM subjects. Tim’s Principia mission inspired a generation and showed just how far, literally, science can take you.

“We cannot just rely on people like Tim, though. We must all play our part in stimulating interest in these crucial subjects as a way of securing the next generation of STEM professionals in Wales. This is why I am so pleased to announce this £7.2m investment, £5.2m of it from the EU, for STEM Gogledd and Technocamps. This is a great example of EU funds helping to enthuse and excite young people, particularly girls, about the opportunities available to them.”

Philip Jones, Director of The Prince’s Trust Cymru said: “We are delighted that Tim Peake was able to join us and Welsh Government in promoting the importance of STEM to Welsh Education today. At The Prince’s Trust Cymru, we believe every young person should have the chance to succeed, and we believe Welsh Government’s latest commitment to STEM activities will help transform more young lives in Wales.”

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Education

Williams marks end of school year

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Proud of reforms: Kirsty Williams

AT THE end of school year, Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has set out what has been achieved through Wales’ national mission for education and what these changes mean for pupils, teachers and parents.

Last September, the Education Secretary announced a national mission to raise standards, reduce the attainment gap, and deliver an education system that is a source of national pride and public confidence.

At a conference held in Cardiff today, the Education Secretary explained how major changes to what pupils are taught, how they are taught and how their teachers are trained and developed are helping to transform schools as we know them.

One of the most significant and wide-reaching of these changes is the new curriculum to be rolled out from 2022. Over 200 pioneer schools across Wales are involved in developing six different Areas of Learning and Experience. This work includes embedding digital competence into all areas of teaching and learning and supporting teachers to develop the new curriculum.

A new independent report published today found that these schools strongly support the changes being made and are enthusiastic about their part in developing Wales’ new curriculum.

Teachers’ professional learning and development has been similarly instrumental to the national mission for education, with this school year seeing:

New professional standards for Teaching and Leadership developed with the profession, for the profession;

The establishment of a new National Academy for Educational Leadership to support all leaders in education at all stages of their careers;

New accredited Initial Teacher Education programmes to be delivered in the academic year 2019/20;

Plans for a new part-time PGCE and Employment Based Route into teaching from 2019/20.

Teachers and pupils will also soon begin to see the benefits of a £36 million fund to reduce infant class sizes, with the appointment of over 80 new teachers across Wales and a capital fund to build new classrooms.

Reducing unnecessary bureaucracy for teachers continues to remain a priority, with this year seeing a £1.2 million investment in the appointment of school business managers – helping headteachers to manage their workload and focus on raising standards and school improvement.

Kirsty Williams said: “When I announced our national mission for education last September I said that we would never be able to achieve our ambitions if we just stayed still.

“That’s why the past year has been all about momentum – a drive for self-improvement that reaches right across our education system.

“We still have much work to do but I’m proud of the reforms that we have introduced in a relatively short space of time. I am also genuinely impressed by how everyone in the education system has responded.

“When I visit schools and talk to teachers and pupils, I am always struck about what they’re achieving and how they are improving – whether that’s in developing the new curriculum or discovering new ways of teaching and learning.

“In return, we are introducing the most comprehensive changes to teacher training and development in years, ensuring that our teaching profession are fully prepared and equipped when they start to teach our new curriculum.

“Our schools are changing, education in Wales is changing and I’m confident that our national mission is well on course to deliver the wholesale reforms that we need.”

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