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Education

New term structures prompt fears of ‘chaos’ in our schools

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Report and Comment by Herald Special Correspondent, John Vaughan

 

classroom_pupils_closeup_290There are fears amongst many within the education sector that Wales could be heading into chaos with a radical potential restructuring of term times. This comes as England adopts a policy from 2015 whereby head teachers will have the power to set their own school terms, potentially scaling down the long held traditional six week summer holiday to as little as four weeks.

The plans for England were announced on Monday July 1 of this year. The Department for Education set out the policy to ensure that, in future, term times are decided upon by head teachers and not local Councils. As it stands at present, Wales is not included in these plans and, though currently there is no legal duty on councils or governing bodies in Wales to work together on holiday times, there are plans to give the Assembly Government powers to set the same holiday times for all state schools in Wales. However, this is not policy yet and there is growing concern from some people within education that Wales could well follow in the same direction as England.

The National Union of Teachers have stated it will cause problems for families in different schools. A view shared by South Pembrokeshire And Carmarthen West AM and Shadow Minister for Education, Angela Burns who said, exclusively to the Herald,

“Imagine the chaos, a child at one school, another at one with different term times. It is hard enough with the disparity that England and Wales have. Even schools in the Vale of Glamorgan have different term times to Pembrokeshire. It’s the logistics!”

The Shadow Minister went on to express her concerns over the impact that this could have for potential childcare issues and parents planning for their work schedules. She stated,

“Why not let the County Council do it as they do now? I don’t understand the point of it and what are the benefits?”

Some have cited that one of the potential benefits of such a change could be cheaper package holidays for parents; others are more sceptical of this as an argument, as Christine Blower, head of the National Union of Teachers, pointed out when suggesting that holiday companies would just expand the period over which they charge premium rates, with the result that the general public would have fewer weeks of less expensive holidays.

Mrs Burns expressed her concern at the current Welsh Government proposal that the Welsh Minister for Education could have the sole power to set school term dates which could also mean an arbitrary decision could be taken on five or even six terms in a school year. She stated that she had been challenging these proposals. Mrs Burns also cast doubt upon the idea of cheaper holidays, given any change of term structure by saying that,

“The holiday companies would soon cotton on to it and nothing would change (with regard to cheaper holidays). I don’t see how that (argument) holds water”, a sentiment echoing that of Christine Blower.

A further argument put forward for this change is that it would allow for a better means of organising the curriculum. One head teacher in England argued that the changes would allow for ‘more equalised blocks of working which would be much better for curriculum planning and would be better in terms of levels of student and staff exhaustion’. Putting this point forward to Mrs Burns she responded by saying,

“Instinctively I don’t like the idea, but there is statistical evidence that the long summer break does give children too much time to forget what they are learning. The more successful European countries have shorter terms.There might be a discussion worth having about a four term year, it might serve small children, especially during the winter term”

This raised an important issue with regards to the lack of consistency with current term times and, when this was suggested to one local teacher, who asked not to be named, said,

“I can understand the argument that some of our terms are currently very long, with the present structuring, and, certainly, the autumn term leading up to Christmas can really take it out of all involved, pupils and teachers alike, but the summer holiday is almost an institution. It is a very long year and at the end of it we are all exhausted. I would suggest the first week of that summer break be a period for recovery and rest and then the last week is mostly used by teachers to prepare for the autumn term, whereby you simply hit the ground running almost immediately. I can see an argument for a five week summer break, but I would add that extra week on to the Christmas holiday, leaving the term length as it is. I can’t imagine the kind of chaos that would ensue if different schools had different term times – it makes you glad to be teaching in Wales if this is what is about to happen to our colleagues in England”

Seeking a response from the Head of Education in Pembrokeshire, Kate Evan-Hughes stated that,

“If such a policy were to be introduced in Wales, we, as a local education authority, would work with schools to minimise the impact and disruption for parents and students”

It certainly appears that whatever is decided upon in Wales, the policy is likely to cause at least some disruption and disorientation to parents, teachers and pupils when it is introduced into English schools.

However, a local Pembrokeshire school governor, who wished to be unnamed, did stress there may be some positives,

“From speaking to teachers I know it can take months for children to be re-focused after the summer holidays. I can see a four week holiday might be of benefit to help with this problem and pupils would re-focus much more quickly. Also, schools often struggle to keep children in school, holidays are cheaper (outside of current holiday times), but of course holiday companies would cotton on, but it could well cut down on unauthorised absences which is a real problem.”

It is an emotive issue and there are opinions for and against the change in England. No matter whether Wales adopts this policy or not, it seems from speaking with the various academic parties that, in Wales, there is at least a growing movement to question as to whether there should be a change to the structure of the school year and the amount of and length of terms. However, what are the impacts likely to be and who will it benefit? As Angela Burns states,

“This is a big decision that needs to be taken with all the consultation of teachers, unions, parents, governors, support services and businesses as it is a really radical move. If only one school did this it would be highly disruptive. It is a decision that needs proper analysis, research, evidence and consultation with everyone that it will affect. It is a huge change that needs investigating properly. It could be very unsuccessful”

Perhaps we, in Wales, should wait and see how successful it is in England before deciding upon a policy for Wales. After all, where education is concerned, risks simply cannot be taken with children’s academic futures. It is far too important for that and, surely, a measured and patient approach should be taken before any change is made, where quantifiable evidence has been studied and reflected upon before any final decision?

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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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