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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

Teens have positive attitude to vaccinations

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Vaccinations: Welsh teens and parents understand importance

OVER 90 per cent of Welsh teens and parents surveyed trust vaccines and believe that they work.
A new report examines the findings from the Attitudes to Adolescent Vaccination 2019 survey undertaken by BMG Research on behalf of Public Health Wales. The purpose of this survey was to gain a better understanding of the awareness that teenagers aged 13 to 15 and their parents have about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases, as well as exploring attitudes to adolescent immunisation.
Over 300 interviews were conducted—split between parents and teenagers. The results confirmed the important role of health professionals in providing immunisation advice. Over 90 per cent of both parents and young people trust immunisation advice provided by health professionals and the NHS. Social media was the least trusted source of immunisation information.
Some of the report’s key findings were:
· 95 per cent of parents and 90 per cent of teenagers believe vaccines work.
· 93 per cent of teenagers state it is important to get vaccinated.
· 91 per cent of parents and 90 per cent of teenagers trust vaccines.
· 90 per cent of parents and 87 per cent of teenagers believe that vaccines are safe.
· 77 per cent of parents and 69 per cent of teenagers believe that all vaccinations represent a lower risk than the associated disease.
In addition, 97 per cent of parents and 91 per cent of teenagers say they never disagreed on receiving any vaccine, and only 7 per cent of parents and teenagers recall coming across anything that would make them concerned about having a vaccination. Over eight in 10 teenagers who were offered a vaccine were happy with the process and felt they had enough information to understand why the vaccination was offered.
Anne McGowan, Nurse Consultant in the Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme in Public Health Wales, said: “The report is very positive news, finding high levels of confidence around vaccination. It shows that the vast majority of Welsh parents and teenagers really understand the importance of vaccines in stopping the spread of preventable diseases.”
Some of the report’s recommendations include continuing to communicate the benefits of the vaccines and informing teenagers about the processes involved. For teenagers, schools were found to be a key information channel with over 50 percent of teenagers recalling being taught something about vaccinations in school.
Teenager girls were more likely to recall coming across information about vaccinations, and it was recommended that more work may be needed to better engage with teenage boys. The report data also supports the continued use of high quality and accessible print materials.
Ultimately the representative survey provides a greater understanding of the awareness that teenagers and their parents have about vaccines and shows that that the vast majority of parents and teenagers have confidence in the important role of vaccination in preventing serious diseases.

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Education

Primary age children in ‘literary poverty’

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Reading together: Developing a vital skill which enriches children

NEW research reveals that more than a quarter of a million UK primary school children are experiencing literary poverty.
Literary poverty is defined by BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity, as a child who is read to or with for pleasure, for less than 15 minutes a week outside of school.
The study shows that 345,000 (14%) school children aged seven to nine are currently falling into this category, with a further 17% on the border, being read to or with for less than half an hour a week.
Worryingly, six per cent of children aged 7-9 falls into the worse category of literary poverty, with their parents or guardians never reading to or with them at all.
Just a third (37%) of young children in the UK are reading with or being read to by a parent or carer for over an hour a week in total. BookTrust encourages families to read together for just 10 minutes a day as this helps develop their language, curiosity, imagination and listening skills, as well as benefitting their academic development, including writing skills.
It appears that the traditional bedtime story is also suffering. One in seven parents admits that they never read to their child before bed, with a further 11% say they only do so once a week on average.
The research shows that the importance of regular reading is not lost on parents, with nine in ten believing that reading for pleasure is important for their child. However, children aged 7 – 11 today are on average reading for pleasure for 28 minutes less a week than their parents did at the same age. In fact, half of the children aged 7 – 11 in the UK (50%) read for less than an hour a week.
In response to the worrying findings, former Waterstones Children’s Laureate Anne Fine has launched BookTrust’s annual fundraising Pyjamarama campaign to call on families to rediscover the joy of reading:
“With far fewer screen distractions, my friends and I spent half our lives deep in books. Now, half our primary school children spend less than an hour a week reading for pleasure. But reading’s a vital skill. It’s the bedrock of education in all subjects and enriches our children from both an emotional and a cultural perspective. For the parent, sharing a story with a small child is a sanity-saving, calming comfort, and reading to an older child soon becomes addictive. I’d encourage everyone to put aside the screens a little more to engage children with reading. It truly does work wonders.”
Pyjamarama invites Primary Schools and Nurseries to sign up and allow children to wear their pyjamas all day on Friday, June 5, and celebrate the bedtime story in return for a £1 donation. All funds raised will go towards helping help BookTrust ensure that every child experiences the life-changing benefits of access to books and reading.
Gemma Malley, Director at BookTrust comments, “We are seeing a real cliff-edge in terms of children reading for enjoyment and whilst parents want their children to read more, there’s a real danger that families are sleepwalking into literary poverty. We know that reading for enjoyment is closely linked to academic development as well as building confidence and resilience, and children who are read to are much more likely to read for enjoyment. We hope that through Pyjamarama we can encourage families across the country to reconnect with reading and to snuggle up with a fantastic book together.”

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Education

PhD conference hears from Welsh researchers

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Eiry Williams: Researching worm control in ewes and lambs

WELSH agricultural researchers, Non Williams and Eiry Williams, showcased their work to academics and industry representatives at the Agricultural and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) 2020 Livestock PhD Conference in Nottingham last week.
Both researchers have been part of a scheme which brings the industry and universities together to undertake work which benefits key sectors of the economy. The two PhD’s are funded through the Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarship (KESS 2) scheme supported by European Social Funds through the Welsh Government and in these cases, Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) is working in partnership with Bangor University and Aberystwyth University on projects which will directly benefit livestock farming.
In the final year of her research at Bangor University, Non presented her work during the first day of the conference. Titled ‘Optimised management of upland pasture for economic and environmental benefits’, Non has been looking at how upland cattle systems can increase production efficiencies, the farms financial return and helping to identify opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which will help meet the agricultural sector’s emission reduction target.
“Field trials were set up at Bangor University’s farm which is a typical upland system with the aim to determine the effect of improved and unimproved upland grazed pasture on cattle performance, improved grazed pasture on cattle urine and dung composition and consequently, greenhouse gas emissions from soil following excretion” explained Non.
On the second day of the conference, Eiry Williams presented her poster on sustainable control of gastrointestinal nematodes in sheep. Eiry’s PhD is titled ‘Design and development of a targeted selective treatment (TST) strategy for nematodes during the periparturient period in ewes’.
Eiry explains that “the aim of the project is to help better advise farmers on the most suitable worm control management of adult ewes and their lambs. This work is an important factor in preventing further development of anthelmintic resistance.” Eiry is currently in her second year at Aberystwyth University.
The aim of Eiry’s PhD is to design molecular and computational modelling techniques to develop a novel targeted selective treatment strategy for controlling nematode infections in ewes during the peri-parturient period.
Non has also been presenting results of her experiments on home turf at Coleg Meirion-Dywfor, Glynllifon and Coleg Sir Gar, Gelli Aur at two events organised by HCC as part of the Red Meat Development Programme which is supported by the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

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