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Education

Committee concerned at grant outcomes

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Grant not supporting pupils in need: Committee finds

FUNDING to help pupils from deprived backgrounds improve educational attainment should be better targeted and regularly assessed for value for money, according to a National Assembly Committee.

The Children, Young People and Education Committee has been looking at the impact of the Welsh Government’s Pupil Development Grant (PDG) which provides extra money per pupil eligible for a free school meal (eFSM).

The grant costs £94 million per year and while the Committee concluded the Welsh Government is right to use PDG, it was concerned by evidence from schools watchdog Estyn that only two thirds of Welsh schools were using the money effectively.

During evidence committee members were told that PDG is not used enough to support more able and talented eFSM pupils. This is despite the fact that the PDG should be used to improve the educational outcomes of every eFSM pupil, including helping them achieve the highest grades.

The Committee also heard that targeted funding such as the PDG is masking pressures on schools’ budgets and is no longer considered an extra resource, but is part of core funding. The Committee has recommended that the Welsh Government keep the sufficiency of school budgets under review and also intends to undertake its own work in this area.

The Committee’s inquiry looked at the impact of the PDG on attainment and the implications of changes to the way schools’ performance is measured. The attainment gap between eFSM and other pupils narrowed following the introduction of PDG, but the Committee’s inquiry highlighted that the gap was already narrowing before then.

PDG has also been extended to include pupils who were eligible for free schools meals in the past two years, but may not be anymore. But the Committee found that no extra funding had been provided to meet the new demand. Similarly, the PDG which is provided for Looked After Children can also be used on adopted children but no additional money is given for this. This means either education authorities are not targeting the money on adopted children, or are diluting PDG funding, effectively taking resources away from other Looked After Children. The Committee has called for a more strategic approach to the PDG for Looked After Children and adopted children.

“The link between deprivation and attainment is well established,” said Lynne Neagle AM, Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee.

“Breaking this link has been a priority for the Welsh Government for many years.

“The Committee supports the use of the Pupil Development Grant to help narrow the gap between disadvantaged and deprived pupils and their peers but we believe much more needs to done to ensure this funding helps more able pupils from deprived backgrounds get the highest grades.”

The Committee also examined the now discontinued Schools Challenge Cymru programme which provided extra funding and support for 39 underperforming schools in Wales.

The Welsh Government brought in Professor Mel Ainscow, who had developed a similar, successful scheme in Manchester, to head up the programme. But Welsh Government decided to end the programme after three years and before the results of a government-commissioned performance evaluation were known.

Critics of the decision said Schools Challenge Cymru ended too soon and that similar models used in other parts of the UK had been given more time to raise standards. The Welsh Government has said that the regional consortia, established in 2012, are now well placed to take over support for Wales’ most underperforming schools as part of their functions for overall school improvement.

Lynne Neagle AM said: “The Welsh Government established Schools Challenge Cymru in recognition that some of our schools need targeted and tailored challenge and support to improve and ensure pupils are given the best opportunity to do well.

“Results among the schools in Wales were mixed, but the Committee is concerned that those that made good progress risk losing momentum now that the programme has ended. The Welsh Government and the regional consortia must make sure this doesn’t happen.

“It is also unclear to what extent the Welsh Government is learning lessons from the Schools Challenge Cymru programme.”

Education

Well done Gemma, you are an inspiration to us all

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A SINGLE mum of seven who left school with no qualifications is celebrating after gaining a degree from Swansea University.

Gemma Turnbull, aged 34, admits she didn’t attend school regularly as a child but now her determination to carve out a bright future for her and her family has seen her complete a BA in Humanities after studying part-time for six years through the University’s Department of Adult Continuing Education (DACE).

After leaving state education without a single GCSE, Gemma, from Pembrokeshire, fell pregnant at 16 and went on to have four children of her own, including Ruby, 11, who was born with a heart condition and 15-year-old Joe who has autism.

In 2011, wanting to secure a better life, Gemma began to explore further learning opportunities but she had to overcome further setbacks along the way.

Shortly after starting a two-year Foundation Certificate, Gemma found out that her sister’s three children were about to be moved into care.

She became the legal guardian to Leonie, Shaun and Jack, meaning she was responsible for seven children at the age of just 26.

“Life was quite bleak to be honest,” said Gemma, who is the first in her family to engage in higher education.

“At first, I worried about how I would cope being a student but I didn’t want the family to be split up.

“I wanted better for them and for them to be proud of me. I didn’t want the children to be like me, growing up with no education or no job.

“I was 26, with seven children to look after, and it was hard. I remember being asleep in the bathroom at one point at 4am after trying to do an essay all night and I was knackered – but now I’ve done it.”

Her nephew, nine-year-old Shaun, has Foetal Alcohol Syndrome which affects his behaviour, while Gemma herself was also diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia during her studies. It was during this period that her marriage broke down.

“All I ever wanted was to have the mum and dad all sat down as a family, with the children, like you see on TV,” she said.

“I know that isn’t reality sometimes but that’s what I wanted, so it was hard admitting that I’d end up being divorced like my parents. Nobody wants that.

“They haven’t got that male role model in their lives, but hopefully I can give them that and help them to have positive lives.

“I wouldn’t change anything. Life is what you make of it – you can either sink or swim. The best thing I ever did was have the children all with me under one roof. In fact, I actually cope better with seven than I did with four!”

With her graduation secured, Gemma has already set her sights on what she wants to achieve next.

“I plan to gain my Maths and English GCSE, but I’m going to get a private tutor for those. Then I hope to go on and do a PGCE before hopefully becoming a primary school teacher,” said Gemma, who is also a parent governor at Ysgol Harri Tudur in Pembroke.

“You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it and you want it badly enough. The whole experience has been really positive, especially the staff at Swansea University and their attitude towards helping me.

“If I had had teachers like that when I was at school I know I would have done a lot better – they have been amazing.

“The whole journey has made me a better mum – everything I do is for the children – and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever done.”

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Education

Fishguard school last in Wales without broadband

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CHILDREN in a school in Fishguard are excited about next term before the summer holidays have even begun.

Ysgol Llanychllwydog is the last school in Wales without broadband.

The pupils sometimes have to wait half an hour for pages to load. Sometimes videos won’t play. Now the school is looking forward to an ultra-fast future, and for the head teacher the changes cannot come quickly enough.

Currently when the internet goes down Amanda Lawrence has to drive 10 minutes to her other school to send an email to report it.

“It’s frustrating. There are lots of schools that are able to use schemes where you can plan electronically, but it’s difficult for staff here to do that,” she said.

As part of a scheme to target hard-to-reach places, fibre optic cable is being laid along a 15-mile route from Haverfordwest.

Matt Lovegrove, who works for Openreach, admitted it had been ‘a massive challenge’.

He said: “We’ve had to plough 1.5 miles of new trench to put new duct in, we’ve had to put new poles and had to span the cable between 50 poles as well, so a real variety of challenges.

“The product is limitless in terms of speed. It’s gigabit capable, that means they can download music, interactive learning et cetera, and it will be instant for them.”

The wider community will also benefit from the upgrade, he said. “We are looking to work with local government and residents to expand that fibre footprint to as much of the village as possible.”

“They’ll be able to access the high speed broadband and again get all the benefits from that.”

The last school in Wales without broadband

Broadband is a Welsh Government priority. It’s invested £13.8m in school broadband.

But Llanarchllwydog has been a tough nut. It’s taken the efforts of Welsh and UK governments to bring broadband.

“Because of the challenging topography, that we are familiar with, it has taken rather a long time to make sure that every school is equipped with the broadband speeds that they need,” said Welsh education minister Kirsty Williams.

“This means that schools will have the external infrastructure that they need to deliver our exciting new curriculum and I hope to be making an announcement shortly on further investment on kit and equipment inside schools.”

The work is being done through the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) £200m Rural Gigabit Connectivity programme.

DCMS minister Margot James MP agrees cooperation between the two governments has helped deliver the project.

“That’s not the end of it for Wales,” Ms James said.

“The other aspects of the rural gigabit connectivity programme is that we are using that £200 million to bring full fibre to local public buildings like hospitals and schools so that they get the gigabit connectivity first.”

The cable has now reached the telegraph post outside the school. The final work will happen over summer.

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Education

A practical lesson for primary school pupils on the problem of plastic pollution

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A PEMBROKESHIRE primary school came up with a novel way to educate its young pupils about the problems of plastic pollution.

Goodwick CP School took its year 2 and 3 pupils to Fishguard Leisure Centre where the swimming pool was filled with plastic waste. The lesson was the idea of class teacher Miss Davies,
whose is teaching the effect of plastic on the environment and particularly the sea.

The children worked together to clean the pool of single use plastic, collecting more than ten bags of rubbish.

The school posted on Facebook: “Miss Davies’ class had a bit of a shock when they arrived at the swimming pool for a swimming lesson today!

“The pool was unfortunately full of plastic.

“It gave the children an insight into what it must be like for marine life living amongst plastic pollution.

“They then worked together to clean the pool.

“Thank you to Richards Bros for getting the children there and back, and to the staff of the leisure centre for allowing us to do this.”

Photos of the lesson were shared nearly 3,000 times from the school’s Facebook page.

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