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Education

Campaign calls for clarity on asbestos in all schools

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A CAMPAIGN group is calling on the Welsh Government to accept responsibility for asblogo_welsh_assemblyestos in schools after a petition on the subject was discussed by the National Assembly for Wales Petitions Committee this week.

During the Petitions Committee meeting it was agreed that asbestos in schools was a matter of significance and worthy of further scrutiny, but the Welsh Government has not yet accepted responsibility for developing policy on the topic.

The Right to Know: Asbestos in Schools Wales campaign is led by Cenric Clement-Evans, a senior solicitor at NewLaw who specialises in diseases caused by exposure to asbestos. The campaign welcomes the call for further scrutiny but urges the Welsh Government to stop dragging its heels over this vital issue.

Mr Clement-Evans explained: “What the petition brought to light was that no-one accepts overall responsibility for asbestos policy in Wales. The UK Government states the responsibility is that of Welsh Government, whereas the Welsh Government states that it lies with the HSE. The HSE has made clear that it exists to advise and regulate but does not hold responsibility, and this matter of responsibility has still not been cleared up.”

The petition, which is now closed, asked the Welsh Government to put measures in place to ensure that parents and guardians of children across Wales can easily access information about the presence and management of asbestos in all school buildings.

Mr Clement-Evans continues: “All we are asking is that the Minister for Education and Skills accepts responsibility and makes the appropriate information accessible to parents and guardians. Asbestos is a hidden killer. Surely the people of Wales have a right to know about its presence in schools across our nation.”

Rex Phillips, NASUWT National Official for Wales, said: “The NASUWT welcomes the decisions taken by the Petitions Committee to write to the Education Minister in England to establish when the review of the policy on asbestos in schools in England is to be published, and to either set up an evidence session to identify the extent of the problem in schools in Wales or to call for the matter to be discussed at a plenary session.

“On the latter decision, the NASUWT suggests that the most appropriate way forward for the protection of pupils and the school workforce in Wales would be to do both.”

David Evans, Wales Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “I’m pleased that the Petitions Committee agreed that this topic is worthy of further scrutiny, but it’s long overdue. This is a matter that has the potential to affect the health and wellbeing of pupils and teachers all across Wales and therefore it’s vital that a solution is found.”

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Education

College lecturer shortlisted for two WorldSkills UK EDI Hero Awards

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ESTABLISHED in 2020, the WorldSkills UK Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Heroes Awards honour the individuals and organisations that promote and embed innovative practices, projects, and initiatives, making a positive impact on learners, workplaces, and the wider skills system.

With seven categories including: Rising Star, Role Model, Inclusive Skills Development, Skills Competition Diversity Champion, Network of the Year, Skills Competitions Advocate, and Initiative of the Year, Ben Blackledge, CEO for WorldSkills UK commented: “These awards are an amazing opportunity to highlight and celebrate the difference being made by organisations and individuals across the skills sector.

“We are passionate about championing the need for inclusive opportunities that give all young people the chance to succeed in work and life, and that is why we are thrilled to come together in person in a few weeks to celebrate and hear first-hand who the winners are.”

Pembrokeshire College Employability Co-ordinator for the Life Skills Academy, David Jones, has been shortlisted in both the Role Model and Skills Competition Diversity Champion categories for the work he does on a daily basis to encourage and inspire his learners to remove barriers and achieve their full potential.

David will now join the other finalists at an awards ceremony on 7 March at the House of Commons, where the winners will be announced. Charlotte Nichols MP will be presenting the awards and commented: “Congratulations to this year’s WorldSkills UK EDI Heroes Awards finalists!

“I am absolutely delighted to support the awards, and I’m thrilled that the award ceremony will be hosted in-person for the first time at the Houses of Parliament.

“This provides a unique opportunity to celebrate the outstanding finalists and anticipate the announcement of this year’s well-deserving winners.”

The annual EDI Heroes Awards event is dedicated to celebrating the achievements of those going above and beyond to create more inclusive practices. All awards are open to students, apprentices, employers, and employees, recognising individuals and organisations who are making a difference to the future of the industry. 

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Education

Estyn decision to scrap headline gradings has ‘lifted a burden’ on schools

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Estyn’s decision to remove gradings such as “excellent”, “adequate” or “needs improvement” from inspection reports has lifted a burden on schools, a committee heard.

Owen Evans, Estyn’s chief inspector, told the Senedd’s education committee that feedback from schools since scrapping the headline gradings has been overwhelmingly positive.

Giving evidence on Estyn’s 2022-23 report, Mr. Evans said the new approach has led to a far more professional dialogue with schools about what’s working and what’s not.

“I think that’s been incredibly refreshing,” he said. “There are several layers of pressure that come with an Estyn inspection of a school….

“The removal of summative judgements and the fact that you’re going to be labelled with that one word, has lifted a burden on the sectors that we look at.”

‘Outlier’

However, Mr Evans stressed that removing gradings must be seen as a trial.

He said: “We are a bit of an outlier. We are still the only inspectorate in the British Isles that has removed summative judgements and a lot of eyes are on us about how this is working.”

Mr Evans, who has been in post for two years, added that Estyn is likely to carry out a review to ensure the reforms have led to further improvements.

He said it was important to introduce parental reports given the removal of gradings, suggesting that reports for learners themselves could also be on the horizon.

Asked about Estyn’s funding, which has increased from £11.5m in 2021-22 to £16m currently, Mr Evans told the committee the uplift was due to the pandemic.

‘Backlog’

He told the committee the interruption created a huge backlog and Estyn needed to increase capacity to finish its six-year cycle of inspections by the end of the current academic year.

Mr Evans said 90%-plus of the uplift has gone on additional inspections and inspectors.

Arguing the additional funding should become a part of the inspectorate’s baseline budget, he told MSs that Estyn will start visiting schools twice every six years from September.

He explained that the main inspection has been slightly curtailed, so Estyn can afford to have an interim inspection after three years rather than a “big bang” every six.

“It’s imperative the budget stays at that or slightly higher,” he said. “But we realise there’s a lot of pressure on the system – we have to demonstrate the value of what we’re doing.”

‘Self-evaluation’

Laura Anne Jones, for the Conservatives, raised concerns about an emphasis on self-evaluation, saying: “I don’t think anyone’s going to mark themselves badly.”

Laura Anne Jones MS speaking in the Senedd
South Wales East MS Laura Anne Jones MS is the Conservative shadow education minister

Mr Evans shared the shadow education minister’s concerns as he warned that self-evaluation is not yet strong enough within schools for Estyn to rely on it.

The chief inspector, who was previously S4C’s chief executive and a senior Welsh Government civil servant, warned that the pandemic continues to cast a shadow.

Mr Evans said variability between schools has widened, raising attendance as an example.

“Some are coping and some are not,” he told MSs: “I think the social contract between schools and parents has, to a degree, broken down.”

‘Stubborn’

Claire Morgan, a strategic director at Estyn, said average attendance is 87.5%, meaning pupils are missing 12 days of education in an academic year “which is far too much”.

She called for more to be done to tackle “stubborn” attendance issues, saying successful schools have a strong community focus.

Mr Evans said exclusions are rising while the number of children and young people going into pupil referral units has doubled since the pandemic.  

He said pupil referral units are no longer helping learners return to mainstream education.

He said: “The wave of anecdote I hear – from everyone from headteachers to teachers and caretakers to support staff – is behaviour, particularly out of the classroom, has worsened.”

‘Relentless’

On Wales’ poor performance in the latest Pisa results, Mr Evans said he was disappointed but not shocked as he called for a “relentless” focus on standards.

He said the results reinforce Estyn’s previous annual reports, which have long raised concerns about numeracy, science and literacy.

Mr Evans suggested a focus on the new curriculum has taken away from subject specialism.

Asked about the impact of poverty on attainment, he said the pupil development grant can make a difference but he suggested the funding is being used to plug budget gaps.

The chief inspector also raised concerns about “great deficiencies” in recruiting teachers in terms of the Welsh language and secondary school subjects such as maths.

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Education

Castle School closure certain now rescue plan has failed

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PARENTS have been informed that the highly regarded Castle School, a beacon of independent education since its establishment in 2009 in Cresselly, is on the verge of closing down, with no rescue plan in sight.

The institution, which began with a mere 22 secondary-aged pupils, saw significant growth over the years, relocating to Narberth in 2015 and later to Haverfordwest. The school, known for its broad curriculum catering to pupils from the age of three to 18, prides itself on an ‘exceptionally high academic performance’, boasting an average of 95 per cent A*-C grades at GCSE.

Despite its academic success, the school announced earlier this month that it would be shutting its doors to the majority of its pupils come July, though it will remain operational for current GCSE and A Level students until their examinations are completed the following year.

Harriet Harrison, the headteacher and proprietor, expressed that the decision to close was made with a ‘heavy heart’ and after considerable deliberation. The news has left many parents in a scramble to secure alternative educational arrangements for their children.

A glimmer of hope appeared when Dr Mark Boulcott, a local dentist and retired army officer with a daughter at the school, presented a rescue plan. “I am doing what I can as quickly as I can. I am doing my very best to stop the closure of a great school,” Dr Boulcott stated, signalling his commitment to prevent the closure.

The school was envisioned to transition into a charitable organisation, with Dr Boulcott collaborating with Mrs Harrison until the end of this academic year before assuming full leadership in July. Unfortunately, this plan has been rendered unviable, with Dr Boulcott disclosing that from a business standpoint, the school’s recovery from the Covid crisis was insurmountable under the current conditions, making the prospect of taking over ‘untenable’.

In an earnest letter to the parents, which was obtained by The Pembrokeshire Herald, Dr Boulcott lamented that the challenges of establishing the school elsewhere were too great, necessitating a considerable investment and an estimated two years to navigate bureaucratic hurdles.

“It is with regret that without immediate extensive capital investment, something we do not have, school purchase resurrection or reorganisation is impossible,” Dr Boulcott concluded in his correspondence with the parents, effectively extinguishing the last embers of hope for the school’s survival.

As the community grapples with the impending loss of Castle School, the situation underscores the continuing pressures faced by independent educational institutions in the post-pandemic landscape.

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