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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

Vital support for job seekers and employers in West Wales

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TO MATCH job seekers with employers and career agencies across West Wales, a virtual jobs fair is taking place on Wednesday 9 September.

The free online event will be hosted by Working Wales, which is delivered by Careers Wales, and is in partnership with Job Centre Plus teams across West Wales and the south west and mid Wales Regional Learning and Skills Partnership.

Now, more than ever, job seekers and employers are relying on online support to find jobs and fill vacancies.

The event will run through Working Wales’ Facebook channels and will be split into two regional events covering West Wales mid and south. 10am-11am is for job seekers and employers in Bridgend, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Powys and Neath Port Talbot. 2pm-3pm will focus on Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Swansea.

Attendees for the free event will have access to a wide variety of job vacancies from many sectors across West Wales as well as expert careers advice to support with job applications.

Working Wales is funded by the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund and was launched by the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, Ken Skates in May 2019.

Within the first year the service has directly assisted over 37,000 people across Wales. Careers Wales chief executive, Nikki Lawrence said “We are delighted to be working with our partners in the west to deliver a virtual jobs fair. Our careers advice and guidance is a vital part of supporting the economy during this pandemic, and these online events allow us to effectively and safely continue reaching and supporting our customers during these challenging times.”

To register your interest in these events, follow Working Wales on Facebook @WorkingWales. If you are an employer with vacancies to fill please also get in touch.

Available to anyone over the age of 16, Working Wales provides a one-to-one, tailored employability advice and guidance service, supporting people across Wales with job searching, CV writing, interview preparation, training and upskilling as well as with redundancy support.

For more information on Working Wales visit: www.workingwales.gov.wales or call 0800 028 4844

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Education

Oxbridge success for Pembrokeshire College students

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A-LEVEL students at Pembrokeshire College are celebrating after an impressive set of A-level results which has seen four students secure their places to study at either Oxford or Cambridge.

A breakdown of results shows 36% of students achieving A*-A grades and 88% achieving A*-C grades. With growing A-level numbers the College saw 278 results at A*-C grade out of a total of 315.

With the results for vocational courses now also out, over 260 A-level and Extended Diploma students are now hopeful of securing their places at university.

Students heading to the University of Oxford are Jessica Hillier (A*A*A*A) to read Biology at Jesus College, Lorna McEvoy (A*A*A) to read History at Trinity College and Lizzy Rowland (A*A*A) to read Law at Christ Church College. Meanwhile fellow student Alyssa Baker (A*A*A*) will be heading to the University of Cambridge to read Human, Social and Political Sciences at Sydney Sussex College.

Also heading to the University of Cambridge to read Modern Foreign Languages at Trinity College is Federation student Emma Nicholas. We would like to join Milford Haven High School in congratulating Emma on her results.

Other notable A-level successes include former Ysgol Bro Gwaun students Callum Harries who achieved four A* grades and Sam Rummery who achieved three A* grades. Congratulations also to former Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi students Tom Sheppard who achieved two A* grades and an A grade, and Caitlin Howe who achieved three A grades.

This year has also seen BTEC National Diploma students excelling once again with many students achieving Distinction grades and taking up places at universities across the UK to study a range of subjects including Cyber Security, Biological Sciences, Law, Pharmacology and Midwifery.

University destinations for Pembrokeshire College students span the length and breadth of the UK and include: Cardiff, Bristol, Exeter, Aberystwyth, Durham and Edinburgh.

After receiving this year’s A-level results, Principal Dr Barry Walters commented: “These results are testament to the hard work of our learners. With university places being offered prior to lockdown, based on each individual learner’s performance and achievements, we are mindful not to let the current situation detract from how hard these learners have worked throughout both their AS and A2 year to achieve the results that we see today.

“Grades were estimated based on work already submitted and it is important that the achievements of these learners are not underplayed. To have four students progressing to either Oxford or Cambridge is a huge achievement for the learners themselves, the teaching staff and the College as a whole.  We are also delighted to note an increase in the number of our students gaining places at other high profile Russell Group and Sutton Trust Institutions.

“To the significant number of learners, from both A-levels and vocational diplomas, now progressing to universities across the UK to study a vast array of programmes, we wish them all the best of luck and hope that they will keep in touch as they progress through their studies and into their future careers.”

For further information on the courses available at the College contact Admissions on 0800 9 776 778 or go to pembs.ac.uk/courses

 

Summary of Results:

Overall pass rate 100%

A*/A grade 36%

A*-C grade 88%

 

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Education

Young cleaners helped ensure schools safe

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YOUNG people are helping to ensure that all schools in Pembrokeshire meet the required Covid 19 hygiene safety standards as they re-open their doors to pupils.
Some 30 young people aged between 18 and 25 have been employed by Pembrokeshire County Council as additional cleaning staff to support schools with the extra work necessary to help keep pupils safe when they return to education.
Pembrokeshire Youth Service worked quickly with other PCC teams to mobilise the small army of cleaners as soon as the additional cleaning support was identified, says Chris Powles, Youth Team Manager.
“Young people have been disproportionately affected in the employment market during the pandemic, with the majority of summer employment they would have usually taken up in the tourism, leisure, and retail sectors being unavailable due to lockdown restrictions,” said Chris.
“By linking with secondary schools, Pembrokeshire College, the Youth Service Outreach and Cam Nesa teams, young people were contacted directly to be given the opportunity to apply for cleaning posts in primary, secondary and special schools across the county.
“The response was overwhelming. Young people have been keen not only to secure employment but to also play their part in supporting communities in dealing with the pandemic.”
One of the new employees, Courtney Cramb, said: “I love that this opportunity has been given to students especially during this time as many of us are unable to work but still have things like car insurance to pay for!
“I also think it will be a good experience and gives us the opportunity to help by giving back to the community whilst earning some money.”
The new staff are currently going through pre-employment checks and training to enable them to begin their casual contracts and start earning the incomes they thought that they had missed out on.
“This was a fast paced process with the requests for additional cleaning support from schools only coming in once they had been able to assess the need, whilst planning and risk assessing for their reopening on the 29th June,” said Cllr David Simpson, Council Leader.
“We are delighted to have given young people the opportunity to be part of the PCC workforce, and it shows the ability of Council departments to work together in responding quickly and effectively whilst trying to minimise the impact on those who are affected by the pandemic.”

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