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Education

Meet ‘The Two Steves’

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BACK in the county again last week were Steven Barlow and Steven Skidmore, otherwise known as ‘The Two Steves’, bringing their unique brand of writingtwosteves skills teaching to our local primary school children. The Herald had an exclusive opportunity to watch one of their lively sessions at the Pembrokeshire Archives offices.

In the session were three small groups of local primary school pupils, including Haverfordwest school, Fenton CPS. The object of the workshop is to get Key Stage 2 boys, predominately, writing and, more importantly, to give them an enjoyment of the writing process.

Each group attends either a morning or an afternoon session for the whole week. On day 1 they are introduced to each other and use memory and co-ordination games to break the ice, during which they will be given talks, and entertainment, by the Steves. On day two they partake in a visualisation game and have to decide what they would take on a desert island, as they develop their thinking and imagination skills. They are also asked to think about elements of a story; character, theme, settings, creating tension, foreboding and conflict, as they build towards writing their own story. By day 3 they are planning a story and coming up with ideas, and an ending, which they do first as, the Steves explained, prevents them from getting stuck or lost as they have already decided where their story is going. On day 4 they are writing and editing from a finished story they have written at home or in school, and on day 5 they have produced the finished work and are sharing each others stories.

At the end of the whole process they will have something concrete, that is published and of which they can get a copy.

The sessions are lively and very interactive with lots of discussion and shared ideas. They are given clear advice on story structure and there is much humour in the process, as both Steves are certainly fun. They are also given clear objectives, for example, the 4 opening sentences in stories that are either a question, some dialogue, a piece of information or a metaphor or simile. They learn the importance of beginnings, middles and endings and those vital components of a successful story; the who, what, where, when, why and how. The delivery is very kinaesthetic and accessible to all in the session and there is much opportunity for discussion and talk, which is not always a feature of the classroom.

We spoke with Fenton teacher, Mr Williams, who said of the workshops: “We can use these strategies in the classroom, and when we do, the children’s enthusiasm shoots right up. The planning process is excellent as the story is broken into segments from the end backwards. It is a great way to enthuse the boys and build self esteem.”

Steve Barlow explained a little bit about what they were doing: “For teachers it helps to be a good performer. In a recent Estyn finding it had been proven that the use of the right people and outside agencies leads to improvement. The best people for this tend to be ex-teachers. We work with all ages, from Kindergarten to staff, but our main focus is on key stage 2, as well as key stage 3. It is particularly rewarding working with primary schools as they can make time for this which is hard for secondary schools where the timetable is God”.

Steve Skidmore added to this point, saying: “It is more compartmentalised in secondary school. We work with boys and girls, indeed, the girls insist sometimes! Although there is a focus on boys, as in some schools it is very disparate between boys and girls achievements. There are simply not enough male role models in primary schools. Literacy is female dominated; mum is the one who tends to read at home, secondary school literacy teachers tend to be women, most primary school teachers are women and even most librarians are female, so literacy can be seen as a feminine thing by boys.”

They both stated that they felt ‘blokes tended to duck out of their responsibility’ with literacy and reading, and they criticised this as they said boys need a male role model and encouragement.

Steve Skidmore made the point that he and the other Steve can come along as a couple of blokes and have fun, which is, he said, also the sort of stuff they themselves tend to write.

The Herald asked what is going wrong in schools given that, despite having just as much creativity as girls, boys are still not performing so well in writing. Steve Barlow explained: “We have it the wrong way round in schools, because of the way education has been structured over the last few years. In these developing years there is a big emphasis on the mechanics rather than motivating kids to feel empowered to tell the stories they want to tell. We think that’s a retrograde step.”

Said Steve Skidmore: “If they are hung up on the whole mechanics of writing, spelling, punctuation and grammar, and that’s what they get judged on, then they will fail. A lot of the boys don’t develop on the mechanics like the girls, yet they are being judged on the same level. A lot of time boys need to get out that excess energy. Some children are more needy than others and teachers don’t always have that time in a class of 30. We talk about self esteem on the first day a lot. A lot of boys would rather get kicked out of a lesson than admit they can’t do something.”

As Steve Barlow stated, many boys tend to react negatively to failure as opposed to many girls who see it as a spur to try harder the next time.

Steve Barlow went on to question the curriculum schools use in literacy: “Part of the problem is that the curriculum contains too many different types of writing and so it’s all fragmented; writing for a purpose, writing an argument, writing a report, as well as writing stories. The point is it’s all writing and if you are failing in one you are failing in all of them. The priority ought to be to get them empowered, believing they can do it, using themselves as a resource and knowing they can develop and structure a story so that it succeeds. Once they’ve got that they can learn the other stuff in 5 minutes.”

Steve Skidmore added to this stating: “The other thing is about celebration, we don’t celebrate the writing they do in school. We, from our sessions, publish it, read it out, have time for a clap which they don’t have time for in school. We need to give them a reason for it.”

He went on to talk about the issue of changing Governments and their approach to education: “Are we saying there is a political elite that need people not to question things? I thought that with Gove; he had no idea what teaching was about. They (politicians) have come through a particular schooling system (private) and people like Gove are trying to impose the same values on children from very different backgrounds. For instance, Gove saying they should be doing Dryden at 14; how is this a life skill for some of these children?”

Steve Barlow added to this criticism saying: “Decisions are taken by elected education secretaries and it’s all to do with vanity projects rather than to do with actual need. The basic problem is those people making decisions are not listening to those at the grass roots. Politicians like to make big bold statements like ‘we will have every child literate by 2020’ for example.”

Steve Skidmore, laughed in disdain at this suggestion, saying: “You have children who are special needs. All children literate? No they won’t be; there are physical problems here. You are dealing with human beings who have different needs. Governments/ Estyn look at data – data doesn’t tell you everything. For example, we had a child whose mum and father had recently died – that impacts on the child, does data tell you this? Take Fenton school, who might be lower graded, but they have a special needs unit that gets aggregated onto the whole school so they get judged on that. It’s a really good school, with good teachers who look after the kids, and a great head that will argue the toss with Estyn, re. data, but a lot of heads don’t have that confidence. It would be lovely if politicians had the same sort of nonsense from people higher above them. There’s just no accountancy. Academies are not improving education – it’s about money and leadership. Data is not a way to judge human beings.”

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Education

Major prize for UWTSD lecturer

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A UWTSD academic has been awarded the prestigious Henry Stopes Memorial Medal.
Based at the University’s Lampeter campus, Dr Martin Bates accepted the outstanding contribution award from the Geologists’ Association during an online ceremony on Friday 7 May. This prize is awarded just once every three years for exceptional work in the archaeological field and specifically ‘on the Prehistory of Man and his geological environment.’
During his career, Dr. Bates has been involved in several major discoveries within the UK archaeological field including the Dover Bronze Age Boat, the Clactonian Elephant butchery site in Ebbsfleet, the Harnham terminal Lower Palaeolithic site near Salisbury.
He discovered the Happisburgh human footprints in Norfolk (the oldest presently know in the world outside Africa).
It was noted during the presentation that the Henry Stopes Medal had been awarded to Dr Bates for his “significant contributions to understanding the geological environment of prehistoric human occupation of Britain and elsewhere over the last 40 years.”
It was also noted that in the spirit of the Geologists’ Association he was “generous with his time and expertise to colleagues, students and members of the public alike.”
Following the awards ceremony, Dr Martin Bates commented: “It is incredible to be recognised in this way and I’d like to thank the Geologists’ Association for this honour.  
“However, this award really reflects the support I have received through my career from a whole range of specialists who have provided me with the data I have used in my research. Without them I would not have been able to do what I have done”
“I think this all goes back to my very early days spent on the beaches of West Wales being dragged along on Saturday fieldtrips led by my father for students studying geology at Aberystwyth.  He has a lot to answer for!”

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Education

Students relying on free school meals fell further behind

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THE ATTAINMENT gap between disadvantaged primary school pupils and their classmates has grown in mathematics by one month since the onset of the pandemic, according to interim findings published this week by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

The findings are drawn from an ongoing EEF-funded study that aims to understand changes to the gap which might have occurred due to the periods of partial school closure resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

While disadvantaged pupils’ outcomes in mathematics seem to have been hit hardest by the first national lockdown, the attainment gap did not widen (or shrink) during the Autumn 2020 term.

Thar suggests that gaps caused by Covid are unlikely to close without intervention.

The research is based on assessment data collected by FFT Education from 132 primary schools prior to and after the first national lockdown.

The report did not measure the impact of school closures on overall learning progress (sometimes referred to as learning loss) but, instead, looked at the differences in progress between pupils eligible for free school meals and those that are not.

Data from reading and maths assessments (PIRA and PUMA tests) taken in Autumn 2019 was used as a baseline to track the trajectory of the attainment gap.

Pupils whose data was included in the sample were all in Years 1 to 5 (5-to-10-year-olds) during the academic year 2019-2020.

Reading and maths tests were administered to these same pupils on their return to the classroom in September 2020, and then again towards the end of the Autumn term 2020.

Disadvantaged pupils’ performance in the tests was compared to that of their classmates to examine changes to the attainment gap which might have resulted from the first period of partial school closures.

The analysis of these results indicates that pupils from socio-economically deprived backgrounds have fallen further behind in maths since the onset of the pandemic.

Contrary to previous estimates, this study found no discernible change to the disadvantage gap in reading.

The findings also highlight the difficulty of combatting educational inequality in classrooms.

Data collected from PIRA and PUMA assessments taken at the end of the Autumn term 2020 indicate the return of all pupils to school in September has not been sufficient in narrowing the gap.

Further analysis is currently underway.

A final data set will be collected in June 2021 to examine whether the disadvantage gap narrows, widens, or remains stable.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “Today’s research gives us more evidence of the enormous impact school closures have had on young people, especially those from low-income homes.

“The research indicates the need for long-term, sustained support for schools as they work to accelerate the progress of their disadvantaged pupils.

“To mitigate against the long-term impact of lost learning, large government funding is required. The cost of failing to act now will be a catastrophe for young people from low-income homes.”

Professor Becky Francis, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “The pandemic has brought the significance of social and educational inequality into sharp focus.

“Research studies like this one are providing clear evidence that substantial existing gaps have grown further due to the disruption to learning caused by the pandemic.

“In strategizing an approach to recovery, we are presented with the opportunity to go beyond restoring the learning lost during partial school closures, and work towards rebalancing the scales for disadvantaged pupils.”

Researchers from FFT Education said: “Our study makes a fresh contribution to the research on the effects of COVID.

“We find that attainment gaps between disadvantaged students and their peers have widened slightly in maths, but not reading.

“We also find that there were surprisingly weak associations between school responses to COVID – for example, phoning students during the lockdown – and attainment.”

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Education

Skills competition beats Covid restrictions

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THE ADVANCED Manufacturing Skills Academy at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) recently hosted the finals of Skills Competition Wales.

Entrants visited the Academy on April 21 and 22 to complete challenges as part of the CNC section of the competition, which focuses on cutting metal using a computer-controlled machine.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the entrants completed their challenges two at a time in a controlled environment using machines that are well spaced apart.

Some of the entrants are apprentices at the Academy, which opened its doors last year with the aim of building the skills needed to deliver technologies that keep Wales’ manufacturing industry globally competitive.

It provides students with technical training to degree level, all within one facility in the IQ building in SA1, Swansea.

Working in partnership with three leading manufacturers – Mazak (machine tool supplier) Renishaw (measuring/inspection equipment) and Sandvik Coromant (material cutting tools supplier) the Academy is fully equipped to cater for the needs of a multitude of industry sectors.

The apprentices at the Academy are all currently employed trainee mechanical engineers who have been given the opportunity to study at the Academy as part of their apprenticeship programme to further enhance their technical skills using modern, high-end industry-standard equipment.

“We are able to provide them with full exposure to the technology and allow them to have valuable machine time without the added pressure often found within a manufacturing environment,” says Lee Pratt, manager of the Academy at UWTSD.

“To say I’m proud of these young engineers is an understatement!

“Given the limited amount of time to prepare for the skills competition due to COVID restrictions, they have gone above and beyond and are a credit to their employers.

“A big thanks to Adam Youens and the team for organising such a great competition, Mark Aspinall from competition sponsors Quickgrind and our 3 judges Steve Franklin, Steve Cope and Andrew John. I’m sure next year will be even bigger and better. On to the next competition now!”

Lee said hosting Skills Competition Wales was an important step in highlighting the work of the Academy as well as creating opportunities for its apprentices.

“This competition was an exciting opportunity to raise the profile of the Academy within the industry sector and hopefully attract further business,” said Lee. “We entered the apprentices into the competition to not only give them a platform to display their talents nationwide but also enhance their training with us.

“We believe that by taking them out of their comfort zone and placing them in a competition environment will expose them to some of the demands and pressures found daily in a modern manufacturing environment.”

The competition was held over a two-day period, during which competitors had seven hours to produce a component from a 2D drawing and 3D CAD (computer-aided design) model with the use of CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) software and a CNC (computer numerical control) machining centre.

If the Academy’s apprentices are successful in the competition, they will be invited to attend the awards ceremony, which is usually held in Cardiff but is likely to be online this year due to Covid-19.

“We will then be putting them forward to compete in the World Skills Competition and hopefully gain squad selection,” said Lee. “They will then undertake a two-year training programme building up to the global competition due to take place in France 2023.”

The Advanced Manufacturing Skills Academy at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) hosted the finals of Skills Competition Wales

The competition comes at the end of a very positive first year for the Academy. It has run a highly successful pilot course with its first cohort of apprentices and has received some excellent feedback from industry, with employers reporting a significant rise in both ability and confidence amongst their apprentices.

“We are looking to further expand this training to upskill the existing workforce through a suite of bite size training modules in various disciplines,” said Lee.

This comes at a time when the impact of Covid-19 has heightened the need for these skills within the various industries served by the Academy.

Graduates equipped with high-level skills have a vital role to play in helping to stimulate economic growth during these uncertain times and beyond, and UWTSD has been working closely with Welsh Government, local authorities, and industry partners to deliver the skills and opportunities that will help rebuild the fabric of communities in Wales.

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