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Education

No opt-out for learning about religion, relationships and sexuality

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PARENTS will not be able to prevent their children from learning about religion, relationships and sexuality in the new curriculum.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams made the announcement this week, emphasising the need for ‘careful and sensitive implementation’ of the decision.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams told The Herald: “Our responsibility as a government is to ensure that young people, through public education, have access to learning that supports them to discuss and understand their rights and the rights of others.

“It is essential that all young people are provided with access to information that keeps them safe from harm.

“Today’s decision ensures that all pupils will learn about issues such as online safety and healthy relationships.

The announcement was made following an eight-week Welsh Government consultation on ensuring access to the full curriculum, including the teaching of Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) and Religious Education (RE).

Kirsty Williams added: “I recognise this is a sensitive matter and the consultation responses reflected a wide range of views.

“There is clearly a need for us to work with communities and all interested parties in developing the learning and teaching for RSE and RE – this work will be vital to enable everyone to have trust in how the change is implemented.”

The Minister outlined plans for implementation which include the creation of clear guidance, resources and professional learning for schools and the creation of a Faith/BAME Community Involvement Group to hold its first meeting this February.

The group will engage in the development of RSE guidance, develop a shared understanding of the new curriculum and address the concerns raised by faith and community groups during the consultation.

The Minister continued: “It is vital that we continue to work with communities across Wales to ensure parents have the right to develop, care for and guide their children into adulthood while allowing our schools to provide a broad and balanced education.  

We will build on the community engagement which accompanied the consultation with a long term investment in listening to our communities and finding ways to address the issues which concern them.

The Minister also confirmed plans to establish a new RSE Working Group that will oversee the refinement of the new RSE statutory guidance to form part of the new curriculum guidance.

The Minister added: “I want to take the opportunity in 2021 to test the approach for RSE prior to it being made statutory in the new curriculum.  

This will provide valuable intelligence to inform the refinement of our approach and will also enable learners, parents and carers and communities to see it working in practice and to feedback their views.”

Further details on this approach will be announced over the coming weeks.  The consultation also showed support for renaming the subject ‘Religious Education’.

The most popular choice from respondents was ‘Religion, Values and Ethics’ and, as a result, the Minister confirmed the subject name would change when the new curriculum comes into effect. The Terrence Higgins Trust said that the news was something they very much welcomed, and said that they have been campaigning for this for a number of years. The Trust said that Wales has very much lead the way on this one as the UK Government has resisted calls to remove the parental opt-out for lessons when RSE lessons become compulsory in England from September. Debbie Laycock, Head of Policy at the trust said: “By guaranteeing access to Relationships & Sexuality Education lessons for all pupils, Wales is leading the way. We’ve campaigned for compulsory RSE lessons for nearly four decades and until now far too many young people have learned about sex through whispers in the playground. 
“This decision by the Welsh Government will go some way to fixing this. It’s absolutely vital lessons are LGBT+ inclusive and have a strong focus on HIV and sexual health so all young people have the knowledge they need to form healthy and fulfilling relationships. We are now looking to the Welsh Government to continue leading the way by providing all schools with the resources and training they need to deliver these new lessons to the highest standard across the board.” 

Education

Doubts cast over Milford Haven secondary school refurbishment

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FRESH doubts have been cast over the refurbishment of Milford Haven Secondary School.

At a meeting of the Schools and Learning Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Thursday, January 21, it was announced that it could be delayed until 2024.

The school had been earmarked for refurbishment but after costs were escalated due to the building’s poor state, it has been suggested that a new-build would be needed.

Cllr Viv Stoddart said she was ‘very disappointed’ by the new information and said that Milford Haven was coming out ‘second-best’.

Cllr Bob Kilmister said: “We are doing the prep work for Milford Haven in terms of where we go.

“The 21st Century Schools budget goes up to 2024 and there is a £15m gap at the moment. So if nothing happened we would need to fund £15m. That is unaffordable.

“I have been in contact with the Welsh Government to ask if they can expand our budget of £106m upwards. The extra budget gap would be £5m and that would be affordable.

“They have said they cant do that at the moment as we are not far enough down the program.

“We are looking at the options for Milford Haven. It was down as a refurbishment but that is just not an option that is viable. It would be very poor use of money.

“This administration’s intention is to try and complete the whole of the programme.”

Cabinet member for Education, Cllr Guy Woodham added: “There was an increased figure in the refurbishment of the building. That was still less than a new build but it did close gap.

“It was almost a no-brainer to go with the new build over the refurbishment.

“Both the secondary and primary schools in Milford Haven are in Band B which runs until 2025 but we are trying very hard to ensure we deliver all projects. I remain optimistic that we should be able to deliver all Band B projects.”

Cllr Stoddart responded saying she was ‘very pessimistic’ about it adding: “It has been at least two years since we had a meeting in Milford Haven School, we’ve had the problem with the
learning resource centre. I find this information very disappointing.”

Cllr Woodham added that Haverfordwest had been the main project in Band B and that the next one on the list was Milford Haven.

Cllr Ken Rowlands said that the people in Milford should have the same sort of facilities that are on offer elsewhere in the county and that they shouldn’t be ‘short-changed’.

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Education

PembrokeshireCollege receives Carers Scheme award

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PEMBROKESHIRE COLLEGE has recently been recognised for its work to support staff and students with caring responsibilities securing a Bronze Award in the Investors in Carers Scheme.

 

Delivered by Hywel Dda University Health Board, and supported by its local authority and third sector partners in Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire, the Investors in Carers scheme is designed to help health, social care, and other institutions to focus on  their carer awareness and to improve the help and support that they can offer to carers.

 

Pennie Muir, Lead at Investors for Carers, presented Pembrokeshire College Safeguarding and Wellbeing Officer, Judith Evans, with the award and commented on the College’s achievement saying: “Pembrokeshire College have been recognised for their commitment to supporting unpaid carers and their families within both their student and their staff communities.

“Originally designed to help health facilities such as GP practices, areas within hospitals and other organisations to focus on and improve their carer awareness and enhance the help and support they give unpaid carers of all ages, the Scheme has been expanded to education settings including secondary schools and colleges. Pembrokeshire College joins the other two Colleges in the west Wales region to have achieved this level.”

There are approximately 30,000 carers under the age of 25 in Wales with a carer being defined as someone who provides care to an adult or disabled child.

Pembrokeshire College are committed to actively seeking to identify and support young carers and to provide the best resources and support possible to ensure that they can continue to study alongside their caring responsibilities.

Judith expressed it was a proud moment and a positive step forward to supporting these young carers: We are delighted to have achieved the Investors in Carers Bronze Award. We have worked hard to develop the services we provide for our learners and staff with caring responsibilities and feel that the changes we have made to support them are already making a difference and have ideas for further developments in the future. The Investors in Carers team have been so helpful, providing us with ideas, resources and information. We look forward to continuing to work with them in the future.”

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Education

Schools to stay closed in Wales as coronavirus situation worsens

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THE WELSH GOVERNMENT, in consultation with the WLGA and Colegau Cymru, has just agreed that all schools and colleges will move to online learning until January 18.

The Welsh Government says it will use the next two weeks to continue to work with local authorities, schools and colleges to best plan for the rest of term.

In a statement education minister Kirsty Williams said: “This is the best way to ensure that parents, staff and learners can be confident in the return to face to face learning, based on the latest evidence and information.

“Schools and colleges will remain open for children of critical workers and vulnerable learners, as well as for learners who need to complete essential exams or assessments.

“We had already ensured that schools had full flexibility in the first two weeks of term to decide when to reopen based on local circumstances.

Reacting to the announcement, Suzy Davies MS – the Shadow Minister for Education – said: “With many children having been due to begin a ‘staggered’ return to school from Wednesday onwards, this news has come late for them and for their parents.”

The closure will affect all primary and secondary schools, and additional learning needs (ALN) bases will remain open “if possible”.

However, schools and colleges will remain open for children of critical workers and vulnerable learners, as well as for learners who need to complete essential exams or assessments

Welsh Conservative Mrs Davies continued: “Because of the planned staggered return, we were told that teachers were preparing online, blended learning. I hope, and I’m sure all parents and pupils feel the same, that these systems can be adapted for this full closure.

“What parents, pupils, and teachers across Wales need is reassurance from the Minister as to what conditions must be met for schools to re-open, because while a prudent measure, to read that the next two weeks will be used to plan for ‘… rest of term’ offers little reassurance.

“This announcement, however, reinforces our calls for teachers to be prioritised to receive the new vaccine, because this virus has damaged our young learners’ education enough.”

Laura Doel, Director of NAHT Cymru, the Welsh school leaders’ union said: “The decision to close schools to gain control of Coronavirus has been inevitable for some time. The announcement this evening will bring some much-needed clarity to the situation.

“Besides parents and carers there is no one more committed to the education and welfare of children at school than school leaders and their teams. NAHT Cymru members want children back in school as soon as possible and the restricted attendance from tomorrow should be used to organise an orderly and sustainable return.

“The Welsh Government has repeatedly said it wants to prioritise education, in that case it must also prioritise safety in schools and the communities schools serve.

“Work should be undertaken with school leaders and Public Health Wales to establish and agree new Covid-related safety measures in schools during the temporary restriction for implementation in good time prior to lifting restrictions.

“There needs to focus on vaccinating staff so that further disruption to teaching and learning can be ruled out.

“Welsh Government must also urgently review its approach to special schools given the statement that states special schools should remain open if possible. This once again demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the complexities faced in special schools in keeping covid restrictions in place.

“It is uncertain whether the next two weeks will be enough time to ensure a fully risk-assessed plan is put in place to facilitate the safe return with a properly organised and resourced testing regime and priority vaccinations for staff, but I know that NAHT Cymru members stand ready to work with the government for the good of all children. For its part the government should be prepared to work directly with leaders from every phase and sector of education.”

 

FULL WRITTEN STATEMENT
Kirsty Williams MS, Minister for Education

The situation in Wales and across the UK remains very serious. Today, the four UK Chief Medical Officers have agreed that the UK is now at the highest level of risk, Joint Biosecurity Council level 5.

In the light of that decision the Welsh Government, in consultation with the WLGA and Colegau Cymru, has agreed that all schools, colleges and independent schools should move to online learning until January 18th.

As a government we will use the next two weeks to continue to work with local authorities, schools and colleges to plan for the rest of term.

This is the best way to ensure that parents, staff and learners can be confident in the return to face to face learning, based on the latest evidence and information.

Schools and colleges will remain open for children of critical workers and vulnerable learners, as well as for learners who need to complete essential exams or assessments. On this basis Special Schools and PRU’s should remain open if possible.

We had initially given schools flexibility in the first two weeks of term to decide when to reopen based on local circumstances.

But it is now clear that a national approach of online learning for the first fortnight of term is the best way forward.

We know that schools and colleges have been safe and secure environments throughout the pandemic.

However, we also know that education settings being open can contribute to wider social mixing outside the school and college environment.

We are confident that schools and colleges have online learning provision in place for this immediate period,

Universities in Wales have already agreed a staggered start to term. Students should not return to universities for face to face learning until they are notified that they can do so.

Wales remains in the highest level of restrictions. Everyone must stay at home.

I will continue to update members.

This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Senedd returns I would be happy to do so.

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