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Welsh teaching union officer berates inspector

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Under fire: Sir Michael Wilshaw

Under fire: Sir Michael Wilshaw

A WELSH union policy officer has berated an Ofsted inspector who has called for children to be taught in schools from as young an age as 2.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said in a speech in London, this week, that he believed that the poorest children in primary schools would benefit, and be more able to catch up with their more advantaged classmates, if they were taught from the age of two, rather than three, which is the current entry point in state schools’ nurseries. He cited primary schools as the best places to provide that education, saying: “Let me be clear: What the poorest children need is to be taught and well taught from the age of two. Children who are at risk of falling behind need particular help. And it remains my view that schools are often best placed to deliver this.”

He went on to say that schools had better and more extensive access to specialists for this age group, citing speech and language therapists, along with behaviour management and parenting support within the framework of the schools. He continued by saying: “So put simply, we need to get more of the poorest children into primary schools earlier.”

Referencing a scheme in 2013 coveringsome260,000disadvantaged children who were offered free education as 2 year olds in England, he said that less than half of those who could access the scheme were. Speaking about the uptake of the 2 year old offer, a DoE spokesperson said the number had doubled to 157,000, saying: “It is for parents to decide at what age their child should attend a childcare setting and for how long. We want to help parents make choices based on what is right for their family, rather than what they can or can’t afford. The overwhelming evidence shows high-quality early years provision gives benefits that last throughout a child’s life.”

A local government association councillor, David Simmonds, added weight to the argument, saying: “Many early years providers, including nurseries, childminders, and school-based settings, opt to work with their local councils, and mums and dads are seeing the results with more high quality provision becoming available. However, we could do so much more if some of the bureaucratic barriers preventing councils from using their expertise were lifted.”

However, completely contrasting this viewpoint was Owen Hathway, NUT Cymru Policy Officer, who said: “Quite frankly the notion that children should start school as young as two years old is simply not supported by evidence. In some of the best performing education systems in the world children do not start formal education until much later. In Britain children already start school at an age that is younger than many across the globe and spend more days in school per year than the vast majority of nations. It is undoubtedly the case that all parents, but particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, need support. However this should be in terms of being able to provide high quality and affordable child-care at such a young age. We do really need to allow children to have a childhood.”

In support of this sentiment was Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, who said: “While schools do offer many benefits, including the potential for an easier transition into reception and beyond, they are not necessarily geared up to support very young children. And teachers are not necessarily trained to teach two-year-olds. Many schools need to make big changes to their premises, their lunchtime arrangements and their staffing in order to provide the best care and education for two-year-olds, and this cannot happen overnight.”

Also commenting on the issue was Party of Wales Mid and West AM, Simon Thomas Shadow Education, Skills and the Welsh Language Minister who said: “Plaid Cymru has been out to consultation on extending nursery education to all 3 year olds rather than targeting on the basis of poverty. This consultation was after Labour councils decided to cut provision of childcare.”

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Education

Primary schools enjoy a taste of opera at three special performances

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PEMBROKESHIRE MUSIC SERVICE brought the ABC of Opera to Haverfordwest for school children to enjoy a special live performance recently.

ABC of Opera, founded by renowned opera singer Mark Llewelyn Evans, performed The Crazy Classicals and the Curse at three shows on 9th and 10th July.

Almost 1,000 primary school pupils delighted in the fusion of pantomime and opera where the evil Queen of the Night, escaping from Mozart’s Opera the Magic Flute, tries to banish music for ever. Featuring a host of classical composers and Trevor the Trunk, they work together with the children to stop her.

The cast comprised of seven professional opera singers, with the orchestra being made up of staff from Pembrokeshire Music Service, senior pupils from County music ensembles and invited guests.

Head of Pembrokeshire Music Service Philippa Roberts: “Pembrokeshire Music Service is delighted to partner with ABC Opera to bring an exceptional live music experience to our students, giving pupils a fantastic introduction to Opera in a fun and engaging environment.

“This initiative, made possible thanks to the generous support of the National Music Service Wales, saw our staff and pupils performing side by side in the orchestra along with professional vocalists.”

ABC of Opera aims to deliver invaluable life lessons to children and young people through a lively exploration of the lives and music of the great composers, building character, celebrating difference and encouraging creativity. “Any Body Can with ABC.”

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Education

Ysgol Harri Tudur bans mobile phones starting September 2024

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STARTING September 2024, pupils at Ysgol Harri Tudur in Pembroke will no longer be allowed to bring mobile phones to school. This decision follows a consultation with parents, guardians, and carers that concluded on July 1.

The consultation process began on June 26, when the school sent out a letter to parents and carers, inviting their opinions on the matter. The letter highlighted growing concerns about the negative impact of mobile phones on students’ education, safeguarding, mental health, and well-being. It noted, “There is increasing evidence of the negative impact that mobile phones have at school on learners’ education, safeguarding, mental health, and well-being. Covid has certainly made the situation worse, with the reduction in face-to-face relationships.”

Previously, the school operated an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ policy, requiring students to turn off their phones and leave them in their bags. However, enforcing this policy proved to be challenging. The letter explained, “Alerts from social media platforms, emails, texts, and calls during the school day create an environment which is very difficult for learners to resist checking and responding to. Mobile phones allow learners to play music, games, and take photographs and video clips. The latter places learners at risk of cyber bullying.”

The issue sparked a lively debate on a local Facebook group. Some contributors raised concerns about students with medical conditions who need their phones for glucose monitoring, medicine reminders, or well-being journals. One user pointed out, “It’s difficult for people with a medical condition, who need to have their phone with them.”

On the other hand, many welcomed the ban, hoping it would reduce dependency on devices, decrease cyber-bullying, lessen peer pressure to own the latest models, and encourage students to engage more with each other. One parent commented, “Plenty of other schools already implement this policy – and it works.”

Another parent emphasised the importance of allowing pupils who are being bullied in other ways to contact home.

Ysgol Bro Gwaun in Fishguard has already implemented similar policies with reported success. Haverfordwest High is also considering a mobile-free approach.

Additionally, Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi in St David’s, Pembrokeshire, has seen significant improvements since implementing a similar policy. Pupils now hand in their phones at the start of the school day, which has led to better attendance, behaviour, and learning. The school’s police liaison officer reported a 75% reduction in phone-related issues, and both exclusions and bullying incidents have decreased dramatically.

For emergencies, the Pembroke school advises parents to contact Reception or email [email protected]. If learners need to contact home urgently, they are encouraged to speak to their Pastoral Leader or any senior member of staff.

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Education

New funding for outdoor learning in Pembrokeshire

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THE PEMBROKESHIRE OUTDOOR SCHOOLS (PODS) initiative has recently benefited from funding and support from local businesses, community councils and charitable trusts to enable it to continue work in supporting schools and learners in the county.

PODS is co-ordinated by Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, supporting a network of specialist organisations, teachers and local authority advisors with the aim of enabling learners to benefit from high quality outdoor learning experiences, encouraging children to become fully engaged with and confident in their local environment.

With the support of one of the PODS partners, the Pembrokeshire Coast Charitable Trust, a recent appeal for additional funds resulted in contributions from a variety of sources including the Enhancing Pembrokeshire Fund, which was able to support the Outdoor Schools initiative with £15,000 in grant aid.

Director of the Trust Katie Macro said: “We are thrilled to support the Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools project, a vital initiative that helps pupils across Pembrokeshire understand the importance of our natural habitat. This work would not be possible without the generous support of many wonderful funders, whose input has made a real difference to this cause.”

Several community councils also showed their support for the work of the PODS partnership with donations, including Haverfordwest Town Council, Scleddau Community Council, and Newport Town Council. Support was also received from Llywyndu Solar Farm via the NextEnergy Solar Fund.

Bryony Rees, Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools Co-ordinator said “There’s an increasing recognition of the value of outdoor learning for our children, both in terms of specific topics and themes, and also the benefits to overall health and wellbeing. PODS seeks to make the best of Pembrokeshire’s amazing outdoor spaces, not only in the National Park, but also in and around the communities where our schools are located. This additional funding is most welcome in that respect.”

As a result of the Outdoor Schools partnership, schools and teaching staff across Pembrokeshire have been able to provide valuable learning experiences for pupils, often supported by outdoor learning specialists.

Across Pembrokeshire, schools and teaching staff have been able to provide valuable learning experiences for pupils, often supported by the outdoor learning specialists that make-up the Outdoor Schools partnership, or by making use of the resources and training provided.

Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools is dependent on external funding to continue its work with schools and learners. Earlier in the year, a donation from Blue Gem Wind enabled the PODS Co-ordinator to offer targeted support to secondary schools in the area. This included a coastal challenge day at Newgale with Year 8 pupils from Henry Tudor School, supported by the National Park Authority’s education team and Pembrokeshire Coastal Forum.

For more information on Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools, contact Bryony at [email protected], call 07870 488014, or visit the Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools website: http://pembrokeshireoutdoorschools.co.uk/.

If you would like to donate to the PODS project, please get in touch via [email protected].

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