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Education

Report highlights fall in primary standards

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THE EDUCATION watchdog, Estyn, this week published a report stating that standards in Welsh primary education had declined in 2014. They further stated

Numeracy Problems: Estyn flag primary concerns.

Numeracy Problems: Estyn flag primary concerns.

that 2 out of every 3 schools required some level of follow up by the Inspectorate. They did however confirm that attendance rates had improved.

Estyn reported that the proportion of primary schools with good or excellent standards fell from 7 in 10 to just over 6 in 10. In many cases, this was, they said, due to weaknesses in pupils’ numeracy skills and pupils’ lack of confidence in using these skills in other subjects across the curriculum. Alarmingly, they identified maths as a problem subject across primary and secondary schools and that assessment by teachers was another problem area, in that there was a mismatch in the levels awarded by staff and the evidence of the work that they had seen. There was also concern that younger pupils were being prepared for testing in a more structured and ‘formal teaching style’ at some schools, which went against the ethos of the Foundation scheme.

Dr. Philip Dixon, Director of the teachers union, ATL Cymru, said: “Again and again the report points out that numeracy remains the weak point in many of our schools and colleges. We now need to bring the same focus to numeracy as we did to literacy, which has shown much greater improvement. Leadership, too, is identified in the report as something that needs attention. The Welsh Government will need to be careful that its new accountability mechanisms, such as categorisation, do not increase the tendency for leaders to think only of their own institution.”

Shadow Education Minister, Conservative AM Angela Burns told the Herald: “I was pleased to see that the annual report from Estyn shows that in some areas there has been some small improvements in school performance and students’ attainment. However whilst the improvement in secondary schools is welcome I am very concerned to see that standards in primary have dropped. This drop in performance must be addressed robustly otherwise we will see secondary schools struggling to maintain their improvements as cohorts move through. Other areas that continue to show weaknesses are numeracy performance, pupil referral units and attainment levels by our most disadvantaged students. There is also a growing problem, reflected by students I speak to, with applied science. If we want to keep abreast of global trends we need to ensure that our students are able to hold their own in a competitive world and sciences, maths and literacy are absolutely key.”

Plaid Cymru AM, Simon Thomas commented: “Standards in primary schools have declined this year and, in many cases, this was due to weaknesses in pupils’ numeracy skills. It is a concern that Estyn has found too many teachers lack the appropriate mathematical knowledge to exploit opportunities to develop pupils’ numeracy skills. Independent evaluations of the Welsh Government’s flagship education policies show that children in Wales are no better off because of a Labour Government. Significant changes will not happen on the slashed budgets that Labour is passing on to our local authorities and schools.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We welcome the current Chief Inspector’s final comprehensive report and thank Estyn for their hard work. We particularly welcome Estyn’s recognition of the new momentum for improvement that exists within the Welsh education system. We must now work together to build on that momentum and focus on key issues, such as leadership, which will ensure the improvements we want to see. Building an excellent education system is an ambition shared by everyone in the sector.”

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Education

Teacher’s gruelling challenge to help visually impaired child

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TEACHER Sion Jenkins is running 100 laps around a famous Pembrokeshire landmark to raise money to help a visually impaired child in his class.

He is aiming to raise £2,000 on crowd funder platform Go Fund Me by doing laps of Carew Castle and Mill in just 24 hours, about one hundred miles in total.

Sion said: “I decided that I wanted to raise money to help purchase a trike/adapted bike to help a visually impaired child in my class.

“Due to his sight, he isn’t able to ride a bike – and is desperate to gain some independence/confidence and ride a bike like every other child.

“On the back of a challenge set by school, to complete the ‘100 challenge’ as a tribute to Captain Sir Tom Moore, I decided to tie the two together and have a go at completing this gruelling challenge.

“100 laps of Carew Castle and Mill will total just under 100 miles – in less than 24 hours.”

If you would like to contribute to this epic challenge this is the link:

https://uk.gofundme.com/f/carew-mill-100-laps-in-24-hours?

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Education

Schools partnership promotes the benefits of outdoor learning

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OUTDOOR learning across the county has received a welcome boost over the past 12 months as a result of additional funding secured by the Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools (PODS) project, which has covered the cost of a Co-ordinator working directly with schools.

Thanks to financial backing from the People’s Postcode Local Trust and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Trust, the PODS Co-ordinator has been able to help with the delivery of high quality, curriculum-linked learning experiences in school grounds and local outdoor spaces.

Part of the Co-ordinator’s role is also to bring together local and national organisations, including Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s Discovery team, teachers and head teachers. Pooling their diverse knowledge and expertise, the partnership seeks to share good practice and promote the benefits of taking lessons outdoors.

Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools Co-ordinator Bryony Rees said: “Last summer, the Welsh Government recognised the importance of outdoor learning in the post-lockdown return to school. We have been working hard to support this by giving children and teachers increased opportunities to take their learning outdoors.

“We have already engaged with a number of schools across Pembrokeshire and produced some live webinars. Supporting resources for these can be found on HWB. This has made it possible to reach out to even more schools with practical information, inspiration and advice on delivering outdoor learning programmes.

“Several schools have taken the opportunity to develop their school grounds to support outdoor learning and more recently, Neyland Community School has introduced outdoor lessons every Friday.”

During the most recent lockdown, work has continued online and the PODS website has been developed to provide teachers with some learning resources. Outdoor learning ideas and inspiration for teachers and parents are also shared on the PODS Facebook page (Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools) and on Twitter @PembsOutdoorSch.

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Education

Education announcement welcomed by Pembrokeshire County Council

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THE LOCAL AUTHORITY has said that it welcomes the Welsh Government’s announcement today (Friday, 29th January) that schools will be the first to reopen when Wales’ current lockdown restrictions are lifted.

First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced that the ‘alert level four’ restrictions will remain in Wales for three more weeks but following that period, there would be a ‘phased and flexible back-to-school approach if coronavirus cases continue to fall’.

He said primary school children would be the first to return, if the public health situation continues to improve, and that students studying vocational qualifications would also be among those prioritised for the phased return to colleges.

Mr Drakeford said: “We’ve seen a really welcome fall in cases of the virus all over Wales, but they are still too high and the NHS continues to be under intense pressure.

“We need to keep the lockdown restrictions in place for a little while longer to help us bring rates of the virus down further. If we can do this, we will create the headroom we need to get children back to school after half term – starting with the youngest at primary schools.

“We will work with teachers, colleges, local authorities to plan for the safe return of children to school over the next couple of weeks and keep parents updated.”

Pembrokeshire’s Director of Education, Steven Richards-Downes, will be meeting virtually with Welsh Government ministers today together with other Education Directors.

Mr Richards-Downes said: “We welcome the Welsh Government’s statement that schools will be the first to reopen, whenever that may be.

“We will continue to work directly with unions, headteachers, governing bodies and other Council services to ensure that schools are Covid-safe when they are re-opened.

“Distance learning will continue for now and parents should contact their schools directly if they have any queries regarding this.”

He added: “Any parent experiencing difficulties with digital exclusion should contact their school directly.

Free school meals payments will continue to be paid to families who have applied for them, as planned. The next payments will be made on Thursday, 4th February.

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