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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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Education

School to share digital experience under lockdown

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Greenhill School in Tenby is set to share their digital journey with other
educators in Wales next week in a national webinar.

Leading their part of the webinar will be Jonathan Evans, Greenhill’s DCF
(Digital Competence Framework) lead, who will be accompanied by Vicki
Price (the school’s Head of Computing) to talk about how staff, pupils and
parents have embraced digital engagement and training since the
lockdown started.

They were approached by Ryan Evans, Google Trainer with Aspire2Be, to
be part of the webinar with him and other Google experts.

Vicki said it was a fantastic opportunity to showcase what the school has
been doing.

“Jonathan has held a twice-weekly geek meet online with staff which has
been very successful,” she said.

“He has created a resources website for staff, pupils and parents to
support them. On top of this, staff meet daily on Microsoft Teams to
discuss the day ahead giving them valuable time to connect with each
other.

Vicki added: “The school has fully embraced many features of the Hwb
Platform, some more successfully than others, and we hope that by taking
part in this webinar we can show others the journey our staff, pupils and
parents have taken in these challenging times.”

The webinar will be held via Hwb on Tuesday, 12 th May at 12:30pm as part
of a demonstration of Creative Writing Using G Suite.
You can register here to view the webinar:

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Education

Ancient Connections – Pembrokeshire and Wexford stories to be retold by school children through animation

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Ancient Connections – a three-year arts, heritage and tourism project linking North
Pembrokeshire and North Wexford is delighted to celebrate the start of a cross-border
schools project which began in March 2020 and is expected to continue until Spring 2021.
The project will bring three schools together in the ambitious creation of a short animation
film telling the stories of connection between these two regions. The participating schools
are Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi in St Davids, Pembrokeshire, Scoil Naomh Maodhog Ferns and St
Edan’s School, both in Ferns, County Wexford. In March, the project kicked off with a group
of 19 pupils aged 12-13 plus staff traveling from St Davids to Ferns to meet and get to know
their peers in the Ferns schools. The group have been learning about their own heritage
stories, as well as the stories that link these two regions through working with Fishguard
based storyteller Deb Winter. In Ferns, the group performed these stories and in turn
listened to their Irish counterparts, who had been coached by storyteller Lorraine O’Dwyer.
Cilla Bramley, Head of Expressive Arts at Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi said:

I just wanted to send a HUGE thank you from all at Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi for the amazing visit
we had to Ireland. The pupils and I were so 'blown away' by the incredibly warm Irish
welcome and every aspect of our visit was perfect! The arrival at Scoil Maodhog was moving
and our pupils are now texting, snap chatting/what's apping etc. and looking forward to the
return visit. All the excursions were fabulous and informative and when I asked pupils what
their favourite aspect of the trip was, not one of them could decide as there were just too
many things to pick from.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the project will now continue through online and digital
means, until September 2020 when they will begin work with Cardiff based animation
studio Winding Snake to creatively retell these stories through different animation
techniques, culminating in a short film that will be screened in venues and online in 2021.
Amy Morris, Director of Winding Snake says:

"The team at Winding Snake are thrilled to be working with the schools involved as part
of this exciting and historic project.  We can't wait to get stuck in and start making! The
young people taking part will work with us to create animation, learn musical composition,
make foley and sound effects, participate in script writing and storytelling sessions, and will
work with professional actors to learn acting and performance skills. With lots and lots of
arts and craft thrown into the mix too, it's going to be a wonderful project." 
A short documentary film about the project will also be created by filmmaker Terence White
based in Wexford.

Community and academic research led by Angharad Wynne and Abarta Heritage has
unearthed some fascinating stories that link these two ancient Celtic lands. From the deep
friendship between St David and St Aidan, founder of Ferns Monastery, to strategic
marriages between powerful Irish Kings and the daughters of Norman knights in the
Mediaeval period, to human entanglement with mysterious and mythical sea creatures as
well as inclement weather causing shipwrecks on unforgiving coasts.

The Animating schools project forms one aspect of the wider Ancient Connections project,
with the aim of motivating both communities to rediscover their shared heritage; to be
mentors for one another; sharing knowledge, experience and skills to create a stronger
sense of identity and place that will continue to flourish in years to come. The stories that
emerge from the project will also be employed to create ways to attract visitors to North
Pembrokeshire and Wexford outside of school and summer holidays.

Ancient Connections is led by Pembrokeshire County Council, together with partners
Wexford County Council, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority and Visit Wexford
funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Ireland Wales co-
operation programme

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Education

Marine energy presents an ocean of opportunity

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Before lockdown, Pembrokeshire College, in collaboration with marine sector employers, recently hosted a STEM Careers in Marine Energy event for local students.

The event, organised in partnership with the Port of Milford Haven, the Coastal Communities Adapting Together project, Pembrokeshire Coastal Forum, Mainstay Marine, Bombora, ORE Catapult, Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Research (Swansea University) and the Bucanier Project, was designed to raise the profile of the marine energy sector.

With exciting and imminent developments in marine energy in south Pembrokeshire, the purpose of the event was to introduce possible new careers in marine energy (both locally and globally) to 70 STEM students, sowing the seeds of local development and regeneration.

A-level pupils from Ysgol Harri Tudur, along with A-level and engineering students from Pembrokeshire College, were invited to attend the event, which saw the Bridge Innovation Centre in Pembroke Dock transformed into a series of interactive workshop spaces.

David Jones the CEO of Pembrokeshire Coastal Forum, and Andy Edwards, Port of Milford Haven’s Vice-Chair, opened the event by setting the scene around present and future careers in marine energy. Interactive workshops were led by local marine energy developers; Bombora Wave Power, Mainstay Marine Solutions, Pembrokeshire Coastal Forum, and Swansea University.

The students joined in the innovation focused workshops which included building their own floating wind turbine platform, against the clock.

The new Guide to Careers in Marine Energy was also launched at the event. This has been developed collaboratively between the marine energy industry and the supply chain to showcase the industry and possible careers within it. English and Welsh versions will be made available to learning institutions locally and online as a learning resource, in time for the next academic year.

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