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Education

Pembrokeshire County Council Failings lead to set up of Education Recovery Board

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huw-lewis-265017737-2512757Concerned parents and guardians of our County’s children will be disappointed with the decision by the Welsh Assembly to appoint a Welsh Recovery Board to oversee improvements, once again, in Pembrokeshire County Council’s education service. This comes after nearly two years of our Council attempting to resolve this worrying situation, without, it would appear, satisfactory success.

In 2011, a report by Children Commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler, led to a team being sent by the Assembly with the purpose of overseeing change in Pembrokeshire County Council’s policies and systems for safeguarding children and young people. These were judged to be ‘unfit for purpose’ by ESTYN who had produced a report at that time.

Council leader at the time, John Davies, assured voters and County constituents that Pembrokeshire County Council were not hiding from the matters raised, and he promised improvements and change in order to meet the requirements of both ESTYN and the Welsh Assembly.

It will come as grim news, therefore, that now Ministers from the Welsh Government have stated that changes in how our Pembrokeshire County Council safeguards children are not happening fast enough. As a result of this dissatisfaction, Huw Lewis, the Assembly Education Minister, along with Local Government Minister, Lesley Griffiths, have decided to set up a Recovery Board to oversee these required improvements in Pembrokeshire’s Education Services.

Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council, Jamie Adams, is quoted as saying he welcomes the board, having already had productive meetings with them.

Reading from a local newspaper’s message board, and in response to this developing story, it was clear from the comments attached to the story, that parents are angered and dismayed by the seeming inability of Pembrokeshire County Council to resolve issues and problems directed at them from some two years ago, despite Assembly assistance.

In April of this year, the Pembrokeshire Ministerial Board was wound up after more than a year and a half advising the local authority on changes to its policies and operation for safeguarding children.

In a Welsh Government written statement, Huw Edwards, Minister for Education, commented on an ESTYN report published in December 2012 that had said of Pembrokeshire, ‘The Authority’s education services were found to be unsatisfactory’, and it further went on to say that they had, ‘judged Pembrokeshire’s prospects for improvement as unsatisfactory’. As well as that, it stated that, ‘corporate leaders and senior elected members have been too slow to recognise key issues in safeguarding’. Of Pembrokeshire County Council, Mr Lewis continued by adding that, ‘arrangements lack rigour and do not identify, accurately, areas in need of further improvement and the Authority has made limited progress in addressing recommendations from previous inspections’.

In support of those who provide the day to day education in our County, Angela Davies, Shadow Minister for Education and local AM, said that,

“Education services in Pembrokeshire have gone through a torrid time over the past few years but parents and pupils must hold fast to the fact that the majority of the teaching profession are totally committed to providing an excellent education for Pembrokeshire children”.

She was, however, quite clear as to where the blame should lie for the failings of the County Council education services and said,

“The ongoing problems stemmed from inadequate management practices within education services and a poor attitude to the proper safeguarding of children. Like all parents I know that I expect my children to be treated well and kept safe at school. Their well being and safety is of equal importance as the education they receive, and it was with a great sense of shock that we learnt of the adverse, and, at times, damning reports from Estyn and CSSIW which were the reasons for the initial Pembrokeshire Ministerial Board and for education services to be put into special measures.

The key issues appear to be inadequate oversight of key services, a lack of action when things went wrong, inadequate management, weak representation and an overly strong officer culture resistant to change. Since then a number of agencies have examined aspects of education and safeguarding in Pembrokeshire and there appears to be a sense that improvements are ongoing but are happening too slowly.

The fact that the Welsh Government have felt able to replace the Ministerial Board with a Recovery Board is good news and I am sure that Pembrokeshire’s appointment of a new Head of Education Services will usher in a more dynamic and constructive era.”

She also went on to make further comment on the Assembly’s role in education for Wales,

“I am concerned that there are so many local authority education services in special measures throughout Wales and I have called on the Welsh Government to explain why this is so.

It is also concerning to note that the General Teaching Council for Wales is not being inundated with lots of disciplinary cases arising from all these special measures and I would have thought that if education is so very bad in Wales, given the six Authorities in special measures, then the GTC would be flat out.

I am aware that the Government has an agenda for change and there are recommendations that there should be fewer local education authorities, ultimately, perhaps, leading to fewer county councils. However, I do not want to see education services, teachers and, above all, our children’s present and future being used to crowbar change. So I challenge the Government to ensure their actions are crystal clear and their motives pure.”

It is to be hoped that for the sake of our County’s children and for the peace of mind of parents and guardians alike that this Recovery Board is able, finally, to steer our County Council’s education services in the right direction, and resolve the safeguarding issues that remain of grave concern to all those who work in those areas where children are involved. As one local teacher put it, “No one wants to see a repeat of what happened at the Pupil Referral Unit in Neyland or read again about twenty-five cases of alleged professional abuse, as happened between 2007 and 2011”.

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Education

Care is Apprenticeship Ambassador Elen’s true vocation

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ELEN LEWIS is developing a career in health and social care thanks to a bilingual Foundation Apprenticeship opportunity provided by Blaenmarlais Care Home in Narberth.

Elen, 19, who lives in Narberth, believes care is her true vocation and may consider training to become a hospital nurse in the future.

Due to her passion for the Welsh language and apprenticeships, she has been appointed an Apprenticeship Ambassador by Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol (CCC) and the National Training Federation of Wales (NTfW).

Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol leads the development of Welsh medium and bilingual education and training in the post-compulsory sector in Wales and the NTfW represents work-based learning providers across Wales.

She began working at Blaenmarlais Care Home 18 months ago, having previously taken a Health and Social Care Level 3 course at Pembrokeshire College. She is now completing her Foundation Apprenticeship in Health and Social Care through City & Guilds, delivered by the same college and hopes to progress to a Level 3 Apprenticeship.

Happy speaking in both Welsh and English to improve her language skills, Elen said: “I love my job because it’s so rewarding to care for our residents and develop a relationship with them. A couple of them enjoy having a conversation in Welsh.

She is proud to be an Apprenticeship Ambassador because, she says, it gives her a chance to promote the Welsh language: “I like apprenticeships because they allow people to earn while they learn, which is one of the main reasons I was not interested in going to university.

“Welsh medium and bilingual apprenticeships provide an opportunity to learn in the language of your choice and encourages the use of the Welsh language, which is important.

“We have spoken Welsh in my family for generations and it’s a unique language to our country and should be preserved. It’s a real bonus when you go into a job and you have an opportunity to speak both Welsh and English.”

Helen Hill is deputy manager of Blaenmarlais Care Home, which has 22 residents and 30 staff, including four apprentices. Despite only two residents speaking Welsh, she thinks it’s important that they are able to converse in the language of their choice.

“We support the opportunity for our staff to do bilingual apprentices if they wish,” she said. “I am one of five members of staff who speak Welsh and am proud of the language and my heritage.”

Janice Morgan, Pembrokeshire College’s Welsh language development officer, has taken on an extra role as bilingual support tutor, funded by Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol.

“Elen is an excellent Apprenticeship Ambassador and fully realises the importance of using her Welsh language skills in her work setting when speaking to residents and staff in their first language,” she said.

Lisa Mytton, the NTfW’s strategic director, said: “Many workplaces are becoming more bilingual, so completing an apprenticeship bilingually or in Welsh can increase an individual’s confidence to work in both languages and their employability.

“Our Apprenticeship Ambassadors are excellent role models for apprenticeships, highlighting the benefits of learning and working bilingually in the workplace.”

Elin Williams, from the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol, said: “This is the third year running that we have appointed ambassadors for the apprenticeship sector, and we think this is a vital tool in showing people that it is possible to continue with your bilingual learning through the apprenticeship route.

“With the Welsh Government’s target to reach one million Welsh speakers by 2050, it has never been more important to develop your bilingual skills and increase your employability prospects.”

The Apprenticeship Programme in Wales is funded by the Welsh Government with support from the European Social Fund.

To find out more about apprenticeship opportunities go to Careers Wales https://careerswales.gov.wales/apprenticeships or telephone 0800 028 4844.

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Education

Young people’s equality and diversity debate held at County Hall

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STUDENTS from all secondary schools in Pembrokeshire, including the Pembrokeshire Learning Centre, took part in a lively debate recently on equality and diversity issues affecting young people in Pembrokeshire.

The debate was chaired by Cllr Pat Davies, Chairman of Pembrokeshire County Council, and the guest speakers were Rocio Cifuentes, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Jane Houston, Welsh Government Senior Policy Advisor (Education), Cllr Guy Woodham, Pembrokeshire’s Cabinet Member for Education and the Welsh Language, and Steven Richards-Downes, Director of Education.

The presentations were followed by a question and answer session, which focused in particular on LGBTQ+ areas of discussion.

“We thoroughly enjoyed our visit as it was fantastic to see all of the Pembrokeshire Secondary Schools coming together as a collective to discuss such an important issue,” said Rocio Cifuentes. “You’ve helped establish an excellent forum and we hope it continues!”

Cllr Pat Davies said it was great for so many interesting and valuable views to be shared. “For my year of office as Chair of the Council I have picked up a theme of inviting young people into the Council Chamber to debate issues relating to Democracy, Equality and Diversity and discuss their concerns and hopes around these issues,” she said.

“This was the first of such meetings and it was obvious that there are further conversations needed concerning the issue of LGBTQ+ and the intention is that another meeting be arranged.”

Cllr Guy Woodham said, ‘The opportunity to hear the views of young people is always a valuable experience and I am keen to explore ways in which they can become regularly involved in debating issues that are important to them and which will also help inform the Council’s own decision making process’.

The event was organised by Pembrokeshire County Council with support from the County’s secondary schools, Welsh Government and the Children’s Commissioner’s Office.

(Pictured: The secondary school representatives with speakers in the Council Chamber at County Hall – Credit PCC)

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Education

Port sponsors inspirational Duke of Edinburgh event at Pembrokeshire College

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OVER seventy people came together at Pembrokeshire College recently to celebrate and learn about the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award at a Business Tea, sponsored by the Port of Milford Haven.

The audience heard from Pembrokeshire-born adventurer Tori James who embarked on her DofE journey in school, but now holds the title for the first Welsh woman to climb Mount Everest and is a proud ambassador for the programme. Gold award holder Lucy Aur also spoke about her positive experiences of the DofE programme, highlighting the strong connections she created with her fellow explorers.

During the afternoon, certificates were presented to businesses, the Ascona Group and Hydro Industries, who have pledged their support for DofE, as well as volunteers Caroline Wilson and Andy Jones who have dedicated many years of hard work and commitment to the charity.

The Port of Milford Haven is proud to be a Silver Associate of DofE and its Chief Executive Tom Sawyer and Chairman Chris Martin were delighted to be able to speak about their support. Tom Sawyer said “The DofE programme offers young people so many opportunities and equips them with important life skills such as confidence, creativity and compassion. From an employer’s perspective, candidates who have completed DofE often have an incredibly interesting background and have broadened their horizons as a result of enrolling onto the programme. I would wholeheartedly encourage anyone who’s thinking of signing up to do so and would certainly recommend that other businesses in the area consider offering their support.”

Robert Newsome OBE, who is Chair of Ambassadors for DofE Wales and hosted the Business Tea event, commented “This event has been a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the impact and success DofE has on the lives of participants. It has also afforded the opportunity to thank local volunteers who support young people in engaging with the programme. Most of all, this has been a chance to showcase to community and business leaders how The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award contributes positively to personal development and wellbeing, encourages volunteering work within our communities and fosters a range of employability skills. We are extremely grateful to all those industries and businesses that support us in ensuring the inclusion of young people in West Wales.”

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