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Education

Wales leads way with Microsoft for schools

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WALES will be one of the first countries in the world to fund Microsoft classroom software applications for all maintained schools, thanks to new investment from the Welsh Government.

As classrooms continue to digitally evolve, this approach will ensure all schools across Wales have the same level of access to these essential software applications. This will help learners gain the skills they need to thrive in an increasingly digital world, an essential aim of the Welsh Government’s Digital Competence Framework.

Not only will this new £1.2 million investment improve equity of access to digital resources, but it is also a direct measure to support schools in reducing their costs and that of families. It follows recent announcements by the Minister for Education on support for school uniform costs and other kit, as the Government increases its share of funding for new school buildings and increases the number of children who benefit from free school meals.

The Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams, confirmed the software will be available via the Welsh Government’s Hwb digital learning platform, which is currently used by over 85% of schools in Wales.

The licensing deal contains a range of Microsoft products, including the full desktop version of Microsoft Office 365 ProPlus which includes a Welsh language interface and proofing tools, along with additional security features.

Also included is Minecraft Education Edition with Code Builder which provides a range of ways for learners to explore, create and experiment with coding. This supports the Welsh Government’s Cracking the Code plan to expand coding in every part of Wales.

All teachers and learners will be able to download and install the latest versions of all these software applications on up to 5 personal devices at no cost. Online versions of the software applications will continue to be available through Hwb for use anywhere, such as public computers in libraries.

Kirsty Williams said: “I’m proud to say we’re one of the first countries in the world to take this progressive approach to providing schools with this software. Through our curriculum reforms we want all learners to have relevant high-level digital, literacy and numeracy skills, and access to these applications is an important step towards achieving that.

“This will reduce the burden on schools to pay for their own licensing fees and also ensure all our schools have the same level of access to the digital tools they need to progress these skills in our learners. This is vital as we aim to reduce the attainment gap and increase standards in our schools.”

Cindy Rose, Chief Executive of Microsoft UK, said: “The introduction of Office 365 will be transformational for both teachers and pupils, empowering them to collaborate more effectively, saving time and generating better learning outcomes. Equally, Office 365 provides students with valuable skills to help them obtain employment following school,” said Cindy Rose, CEO, Microsoft UK.
“Additionally, the accessibility tools built into Office 365 will mean all students gain the confidence to contribute to learning discussions. Similarly, with Minecraft Education Edition, students will develop computational thinking skills in an immersive and classroom-friendly format that sparks creativity and innovation. This agreement ensures Wales retains its position as a world leader in digital education delivery.”

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Community

School careers fair was ‘best day in school so far’

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YEAR Four pupils at Prendergast CP School have held their own Careers Fair.

The children undertook the challenge of planning and fully organising the event inspired by this term’s class topic ‘Who Do You Want To Become? focusing on the world of work and looking forward to the future.

In preparation, pupils wrote emails to the head teacher, Mrs Davies, and deputy head teacher, Mr Voros, asking for permission to hold the careers fair.

Letters – drafted and written asking a variety of businesses, professionals, and public health service men and women to attend – met with an enthusiastic response.

Representatives from Princes Gate Water; Sport Pembrokeshire; RNLI Lifeguards; Torch Theatre; Horse Warehouse; Dyfed Powys Police; the Armed Forces; University of Wales Trinity St David; Haverfordwest AFC; Jewson; local charity the DPJ Foundation and a local beekeeper all attended.

Year Four teacher, Joshua Layzell, said: “The reaction from the pupils, teaching staff and stall holders involved was outstanding.

“The hard work that everyone has put in to make it happen has been worth it. And as far as I’m concerned if just one child left the fair with a focus, or an idea of what they now want to do in the future, then I will consider the whole experience a complete success.”

One of the attendees, PCSO Zoe Monk, said afterwards: “What an amazing event! I wish I’d had opportunities like this when I was in Year Four.”

Another, Jac Davies from Princes Gate Water, said “It was great to see such a variety of stalls – the children are very enthusiastic about asking questions and finding out about what we do.”

And one of the boys from Year 4 described it as “the best day we’ve had in school so far!”

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Education

Welsh history teaching more miss than hit

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A SENEDD Committee heard frustrations from teachers, history societies, pupils and academics that children do not know the story of their community or country.
The Senedd’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee heard children often commented they learnt more Welsh history in a Welsh language lesson than from their history teacher.
With a new curriculum on the horizon, the Committee also heard concerns there is a danger the new and less prescriptive curriculum’s development is happening without a good understanding of what is currently taught in schools.
Dr Elin Jones told the Committee “we don’t know the basis upon which we will be building for this new curriculum. We don’t know what teachers are making out of the current curriculum.”

A REVIEW NEEDED
Many who gave evidence to the Committee made clear that the picture is patchy across Wales and the extent to which Welsh history is taught varies from school to school. There is also a concern that there is not a clear understanding of the content and standard of current history teaching in our schools.
The Committee is calling on the Welsh Government to request that Estyn carry out a review of the teaching of Welsh history in schools. Only once there is robust evidence and an understanding of current teaching can assessments be made to inform the new Curriculum for Wales 2022.

LACK OF LEARNING RESOURCES
For Welsh history to be taught effectively in schools, teachers need training and resources. The Committee believes the Curriculum for Wales 2022 should be properly supported with teaching materials which reflect the ambition to teach the history of Wales from a local and national perspective. It recommends the Welsh Government ensures such resources are widely available.
From the experts who gave evidence, the Committee heard examples of Welsh history that should be taught, including the laws of Hywel Dda and the schools of Griffith Jones. Some believed the new curriculum should have a list of ‘must-haves’, i.e. topics all the pupils in the country need to be taught so they have a rounded knowledge of the events that have formed modern-day Wales.

A PUBLIC POLL
During summer 2018, the Committee ran a public poll, inviting members of the public to select from a list of potential topics for the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee to look at.
Nearly 2,500 people participated in the poll. 44% voted for “Teaching of Welsh history, culture and heritage in schools”.
Since then the Committee has been looking at how Welsh history is currently taught and what the Welsh Government’s new Curriculum for Wales 2022 means for future teaching of it.
Aled James, Assistant Head Teacher at Ysgol Gyfun Plasmawr in Cardiff, who teaches history commented on the findings: “I’m pleased to see the Committee has looked at this issue. It’s essential that all pupils in Wales have a similar experience of Welsh history and there’s consistency. I think the Committee’s call for a thematic review of the teaching of Welsh history is a good idea so that we get an overview of where we are regarding the teaching of our nation’s history. It is a chance for ESTYN to highlight the strengths and bring attention to the situation across History departments in Wales.”
“We know that some schools are doing some good work in this area and I hope we can share best practice to make sure that all students across Wales should leave with a basic level of Welsh history knowledge.”
“To equip students well for the next stage in their education there should be a focus on local history, taught in a national and international context. It should also cover the diverse population of Wales and look at the history of all races and religions that make up our country.
“Although the new curriculum in 2022 should free up schools to teach according to their needs, I think the new curriculum should have some suggested key events in Welsh history but not be too narrowly focused.
“I agree that teacher training would need to be addressed but I think if we look at schools first and identify any gaps in Welsh history teaching then training gaps could be addressed as more of this training is focussed in schools now.”

WELSH HISTORY TEACHING ESSENTIAL
Bethan Sayed, Chair of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee said: “Teaching Welsh history has to feature in our children’s education – for too long young people have gone through the education system without really learning about the story of their community or country.
“With a new curriculum on the horizon, our inquiry has shed light on the inconsistency across Wales and some of the reasons why Welsh history isn’t featuring as it should. We heard many reasons such as the lack of teaching materials and the need for teacher training.
“There is good practice in some schools and I believe there is a lot of public support for improving the way we teach Welsh history to our children. We’re calling for the Welsh Government to review the level of Welsh history teaching in our schools. Only when we fully understand the picture of Welsh history teaching can we put measures in place to ensure that teachers get the support and materials they need.
“We believe that teaching should also reflect the diverse population of Wales – histories of Wales’ racial and religious diversity should be included in teacher training and reflected in teaching materials.
“I’m grateful to those who took part in our public poll and asked us to look at the teaching of Welsh history and to those who gave evidence to the inquiry. Our report urges the Welsh Government to take seriously the need for our history and cultural heritage to be taught to the next generation.”

1066 AND ALL THAT
In the nineteenth century and for most of the twentieth, British History was treated as though it were the history of England. This approach was a reflection of the political project of the ‘creation, survival and modification of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’ between the Industrial Revolution and the Partition of Ireland.
History was taught as if it was a process of continuous progression. Everything moved towards UK’s creation because that was the irresistible motor of history. From serfdom to feudalism, to the over-mighty subject, to absolutism, to a republic, and then constitutional monarchy, followed by the glory of the empire. Along the journey were the waymarkers: The Domesday Book, Magna Carta, the Reformation, the Civil War, Restoration, Glorious Revolution, followed by the Victorian zenith and the empire upon which the sun never set.
English history enshrined romantic nationalistic exceptionalism. That view of history was enshrined by popular historical writers such as Sir Arthur Bryant, who churned out flowery prose in books with titles such as Set in a Silver Sea: A History of Britain and the British People, Vol 1 and the equally execrable Vol 2, Freedom’s Own Island.
History curricula helped promote the idea of the inevitability of political union and the triumph of England. It rendered other British histories less relevant and – crucially – inferior.
As recently as 2015, the WJEC history course taught in Welsh schools was only 10-15% Welsh history.
Llewellyn Fawr and Llewellyn ap Gruffudd were bit players in history teaching and reference to Owain Glyndwr came more often in Shakespeare’s history plays than in history classes. After that, a bit more about Henry VII being born in Pembroke Castle, the Bible in Welsh, the SPCK, non-conformism, and mining. And that was, more or less, it.
Peculiarly, Wales celebrates its national history by reference to the history of its conquerors and the remains of Welsh subjugation. Pembrokeshire was/is ‘the County of Castles’; Caernarvon Castle was important because of the investiture of the Prince of Wales; the monuments to oppression dot the landscape – and are celebrated.
The way the Welsh Government has the remnants of conquest at the centre of its tourism strategy underlines the difficulties faced by trying to look at the Welsh past from a Welsh viewpoint.

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Education

Support staff outnumber teachers

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NEW data published by the Education Workforce Council (EWC) has revealed that there are now more learning support staff than teachers registered to work in maintained schools in Wales.
Of the over 80,000 people eligible to work in schools, further education, work-based learning and youth work settings in Wales, over 37,325 are registered for school support roles compared to 35,545 for school teacher roles. This highlights the changing nature of Welsh classrooms and how our children are educated.
Statistics also show that the education workforce in Wales is mainly female, with over 80% of school staff and over 60% in other settings being women.
The age profile of the school and youth work workforce is balanced, with around three-quarters of staff under the age of 50. In contrast, further education and work-based learning workforce is older, with 45% of registered college lecturers aged 50 and over.
The ability of school teachers (33.3%) to speak Welsh exceeds census figures (19%). However, figures in further education colleges and work-based learning are below the census. This shows the challenges ahead if Wales is to meet its aspiration of one million Welsh speakers by 2050.
EWC Chief Executive, Hayden Llewellyn said:
“This is the first time such extensive intelligence has been available about the whole of the education workforce in Wales. The data raises interesting questions for policymakers and workforce planning as we move towards a new curriculum, a greater focus on the Welsh language and other major reforms”.
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