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Education

Crabb slams Labour on education

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WELSH SECRETARY and local MP, Stephen Crabb, has hit out at the Welsh Government for, what he believes, is their role in

Stephen Crabb: The news is "deeply concerning"

Stephen Crabb: The news is “deeply concerning”

Wales continuing to be at the bottom of the UK’s academic table.

At a manufacturing centre in Pencoed he made a speech making a direct link between academic achievement and business success in Wales, saying: “Here in Wales, I don’t believe we have had enough focus on the vital role of education when it comes to our economic performance. As the global economy continues to change, levels of education and skills will become an even more important factor for inward investment decisions. Our vision of a rebalanced economy puts such a strong focus on education and skills. Wales needs this kind of focus as much as anywhere else. Our economic performance remains at the bottom of the UK league table. We should be asking some very hard questions indeed about Welsh educational trends over the last generation. We have not been setting our sights high enough when it comes to our vision for Welsh education. When it comes to the education of our young talent in Wales, we are simply not doing well enough”.

He went on to talk about problems with numeracy and literacy skills within Welsh education: “One of the most important vocational skills is being able to read well, or write well, or have confidence in basic maths. I know of firms where part of young people’s apprenticeships is to go back and get the minimum C qualification in Maths or English. Because these are vocational skills too. More than 40 percent of businesses in Wales say that their workers do not have the basic literacy skills they need.”

He also linked foreign language acquisition to literacy skills, as Wales has become increasingly focussed on the Welsh language to, what some argue, is the detriment of learning modern foreign languages. Mr Crabb said: “There was a view some years back that English would become the ‘lingua franca’ of global business and that the power of Microsoft and the internet would reduce the need for language skills. The opposite has turned out to be true. In the global economy language skills are more highly valued than ever before.

“A recent skills survey conducted by the CBI showed that 70 per cent of businesses valued foreign language skills to build better relationships with their clients, suppliers and customers. Wales has seen a drastic decline in foreign language study since the late 1990s – both at GCSE and A Levels. These qualifications are the gateway to foreign language degree level courses, the Erasmus Scheme and so many other life and career enhancing opportunities overseas for Welsh youngsters.”

Finally, the MP made a direct criticism of the performance of the Welsh Assembly Government, stating: “We need Welsh Ministers to embrace this agenda more positively. In Westminster there has been twenty years of robust debate and argument about school standards, school structures, school leadership, parental choice – every aspect of the education system. That, I believe, is the kind of honesty and the level of commitment to education that business leaders and parents want to see from Welsh Ministers too.

“Here in Wales it’s not just a question of reforms not happening, we haven’t even begun to have that debate. Welsh parents, pupils and teachers deserve better. Economic ambition has got to include a vision for excellence and aspiration in our schools and throughout our education system.”

In response to Mr Crabb’s comments Welsh Assembly Education Minister, Huw Lewis, accused the Welsh Secretary of an attempt to ‘frighten gullible voters’, and said: “Stephen Crabb is meant to be Wales’ voice round the cabinet table. With friends like that Wales doesn’t need enemies. It’s dishonourable, disreputable and the Welsh public can see right through this stuff. There is clearly no let up on the ‘War on Wales’ and the order has been passed to the Secretary of State to do his bit. I am hugely ambitious for the education system in Wales, and that is why I want to learn from the absolute best. Nicky Morgan’s poxy programme for reform announced in the Sunday Times today – more long division and times tables – is a desperately lame response to the challenges of the future economy. This is 2015, not 1815.”

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Education

Senedd shoots down outdoor education bill

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MEMBERS of the Senedd rejected calls to establish a legal requirement for residential outdoor education opportunities for children and young people in Wales’ schools.

The Senedd narrowly voted against the general principles of the residential outdoor education bill, which was introduced by the Conservatives’ Sam Rowlands.

Mr Rowlands said his bill would remove a postcode lottery in terms of access to residential outdoor education, so no child misses out due to their personal circumstances.

He explained that the bill would create an entitlement for all pupils in maintained schools to experience at least four nights of residential outdoor education free of charge.

The North Wales MS argued the bill would have a long-term net positive economic impact.

He warned: “Outdoor education residentials are valued by children, parents and teachers alike, yet, for those without the means to access them, they are, in fact, unattainable.

“I believe this is fundamentally wrong and this bill sets out to remove those financial barriers to participating in what can be life-changing experiences.”

Mr Rowlands, a former Conwy council leader, said the bill would support the long-term physical and mental health of young people.

Labour’s Buffy Williams outlined the education committee’s stage-one report on the bill, which raised concerns about some children and young people being excluded.

The newly elected committee chair pointed to the example of education other than at school, such as pupil referral units or those who are homeschooled.

Peredur Owen Griffiths, who chairs the finance committee, said the bill would require significant funding against a backdrop of Welsh Government budgetary pressures.

An impact assessment found the bill would cost between £74m and £96m over five years.

Sarah Murphy, the Labour MS for Bridgend, raised the legislation committee’s concerns about the lack of a definition of residential outdoor education in the bill.

Ms Murphy, who was elected chair in a knife-edge 28-29 vote on Tuesday, warned that the bill does not provide an appropriate mechanism for pupils to opt out.

Peter Fox said Monmouthshire council prioritised access to outdoor education while neighbouring councils withdrew support to make efficiency savings.

The former council leader said: “We rationalised our provision and maintained the offer, as we had seen the benefits of children for decades.”

Mr Fox told the chamber it is a sad indictment that the Senedd does not enable backbench legislation to progress, with no opposition bills agreed since 2016.

The Monmouth MS said: “Why don’t we allow these things to progress and see where they go? And if you can’t find a way through that, then things can be stopped in the future.

“Why always stop legislation before it has an opportunity to progress, to breathe and to really show what it has the potential to do?”

Heledd Fychan, Plaid Cymru’s shadow education secretary, backed the bill’s core aim of ensuring equal opportunity for every child.

However, she highlighted the huge pressures already on school staff who often volunteer to help with residential outdoor education.

“They don’t receive any additional payment for this work,” she said. “They do it because they see the benefit for the children and young people in their care when they are in our schools.”

Carolyn Thomas, the Labour MS for North Wales, raised existing school budget pressures, with the bill estimated to cost about £20m a year to cover teachers, lodging and transport.

She said: “At a time when schools are having to face extremely difficult decisions, including redundancies, placing additional pressure on the education budget would be unthinkable.”

Lynne Neagle raised concerns about the capacity of the outdoor education sector to meet the bill’s requirements on the Welsh language and additional learning needs provision.

Wales’ new education secretary warned the bill would require additional changes to terms and conditions of school staff, which could hamper recruitment and retention.

Ms Neagle said education unions and councils have significant concerns about the potential impact on an already stretched financial situation facing schools.

She told the chamber the bill would bind the Welsh Government to expressly fund residential outdoor education over and above any other aspect of Wales’ new curriculum.

The Senedd voted 25-26 against the bill following the debate on April 17, with opposition members outnumbered by the Welsh Government and Labour backbenchers.

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Education

Pupils take centre stage for dance competitions

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MORE than 230 Pembrokeshire pupils have taken part in exciting dance competitions at primary and secondary school levels.

Sport Pembrokeshire hosted the primary school dance competition on March 19th at Fishguard Leisure Centre.

Seven schools from across the county and more than 160 pupils took part, including both boys and girls from school years 3-6.

All style and street dance were the categories that teams, solos and duos could enter. There were 55 solo performers entering the street dance solo category.

Pupils from Ysgol Bro Gwaun performed a group dance and some performed brilliant solos for the primary pupils to watch.

Finola (FF Dancers), Kelly (Kelly Williams School of Dance) and Lowri (Lowri Jones School of Dance) judged the high standard of competitions with dance coaches Lucy Kerrison and Kelci Francis helping out during the day.

They are all thanked for their help and expertise as putting on an event of this nature would not be possible without their valuable input.

Forty eight medals, 22 trophies and numerous certificates were presented, including awards for stand-out performers.

The atmosphere was great and it was brilliant to see the pupils taking part, getting creative and showcasing their skills, all with a smile on their faces.

The secondary schools dance competition was hosted on Thursday, 29th February at Haverfordwest Leisure Centre.

In total 77 girls from school years 7-11 competed in various categories such as teams, duos and solos. These included street, all style, freestyle, jazz and cheer.

Finola and Kelly judged the day with the help from Lucy and Kelci. Kelci, a former Ysgol Harri Tudur pupil, also gave showstopping performances.

It was a great day with a fantastic atmosphere and very rewarding to see so many girls taking part in sport and enjoying every minute.

Some of the schools who attended are now through to the UDOIT Dance Competition in Cardiff.

Hundreds of pupils have enjoyed school dance competitions over recent weeks.

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Education

Second Pembrokeshire Chess Tournament celebrates youth and skill

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THE SECOND Pembrokeshire Chess Tournament drew participants from 21 schools across the region, culminating in a day of intense competition and camaraderie.

The tournament, reported by Vicky Brown, saw young chess enthusiasts gather for a day marked by strategic gameplay and exceptional talent. Henry Burton from Redhill emerged victorious, claiming the top spot in a closely contested field. The duo of Steffan Hughes and Huw Holliday, also from Redhill, followed closely in second place, while Osian Griffiths (Ysgol Caer Elen), Bryn Williams (Milford Haven Community School), and Iolo Hughes (Redhill) shared the third place, showcasing the depth of talent present among the participants.

In recognition of outstanding sportsmanship, Carys Callan from Redhill was honoured with the ‘David Pinch Award’, embodying the spirit of fair play and respect that marked the tournament. A special mention was given to Tyler Davison-Hall from Johnston CP School for participating in the Game of the Tournament, further highlighting the event’s competitive yet friendly atmosphere.

The tournament benefitted significantly from the expertise of Ian Eustis from the Welsh Chess Union, who served as Arbiter, ensuring the smooth running of the games. The event was also supported by Martin Jones and Scott Hammett, who took on the roles of stewards, and the Friends of Redhill (FOR), who managed the refreshments, contributing to the day’s success.

The local chess community, including participants and spectators, expressed their appreciation for the organisational efforts that made the event possible. For those interested in furthering their chess skills, the Pembrokeshire Chess Club extends an invitation to meet on Tuesday evenings in Steynton. Martin Jones, contactable at 07884384131, is available for further details regarding membership and participation.

Looking ahead, Redhill is poised to host its next chess tournament on Saturday, 8th June, promising another opportunity for young chess players to demonstrate their skills and passion for the game. The success of this event not only highlights the thriving chess scene in Pembrokeshire but also sets the stage for future tournaments that continue to inspire and engage the youth in the noble game of chess.

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