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Education

Labour seeks ‘nuanced changes’ to student finance

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Labour ‘dishonest’ on higher education fees: Simon Thomas

Labour ‘dishonest’ on higher education fees: Simon Thomas

A DECISION to kick announcements regarding the future of student finance in Wales made by former Education Minister Huw Lewis appears to have spectacularly backfired following comments made by former minister Julie James during a media interview.

Speaking at a Labour campaign event in Aberdare on Monday, Julie James, a Deputy Minister in the Education and Skills department of the last Welsh Government told BBC Wales: “We’re committed to continuing our current policy until Professor Diamond reports in the autumn.

“And then we’re committed to an evidence-based policy after that, with the commitment that Welsh students will always be better supported than their counterparts elsewhere.”

The Diamond report into Welsh Higher Education was commissioned as long ago as 2013 and a summary of evidence presented in December 2015 made uncomfortable reading for the then Welsh Government.

Speaking to The Herald at the time, Plaid Cymru’s Simon Thomas, a candidate in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, said: “The report (by Professor Sir Ian Diamond) could not be clearer. All of those bodies which responded to it agreed that the current tuition fee policy is completely unsustainable.

“The evidence is overwhelming and unanswerable, but the Welsh Government has decided to wait until October and then probably feign surprise when it is told things have to change. The Welsh Government’s position on tuition fees is dishonest.”

Indeed, every education institution – including the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales – that provided evidence to Professor Diamond said that the Welsh Government’s commitment to its student finance policy – especially tuition fees – was damaging the Welsh higher education sector and was untenable.

On the campaign trail, Labour has been combative on the issue, claiming that only it will maintain the favourable settlement on tuition fees that Welsh undergraduate students have. Leighton Andrews, the former Minister who can always be depended on to stick a spoon in a pot and stir it, has even taken to social media to deride parties who have failed to commit to maintaining an unaffordable and wasteful policy.

Now, Ms James, a former minister who was actually in the Education and Skills ministry when Professor Diamond’ summary of evidence was released has hinted that Welsh Labour’s approach may change ‘depending on what Professor Diamond says’. In particular, Ms James has hinted that the Assembly Learning Grant (currently set at around £5,000) will be targeted by any new Welsh Labour Government as a way of making up the shortfall in subsidising tuition fees for Welsh students.

Ms James suggests that: “There might be nuanced changes.”

Taking the fight to Plaid and the Conservatives on student finance when one of its own candidates and a former minister has now hinted at change and, moreover, claimed that a future Welsh Labour Government’s policy will be determined by a report which it kicked back until after the election, has drawn predictable fire from both Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Conservatives.

A Welsh Conservative spokesperson told The Herald: “Welsh Labour’s stance on this issue changes from one day to the next which is indicative of a party in complete disarray.

“Welsh Conservatives have long campaigned for a reform of Labour’s unsustainable tuition fee support policy and would introduce ‘Student Rent Rebate’, offering undergraduates timely and sustainable help with university living costs.

“We would further support students in reducing their debt by exploring the viability of fast-track degrees studied over two academic years.”

Responding to a Labour politician’s admission that the current level of support given to university students may be cut, Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Education Minister Simon Thomas said: “This is the first sign that Labour politicians are realising that they cannot maintain the fiction of their tuition fee policy as it is.

“Plaid Cymru has always said that the current system is unsustainable and our manifesto has committed to a more sustainable model of funding, whereby students who live and work in Wales within five years of graduating will have £6,000 of their loans written-off, up to £18,000.

“Voters deserve an honest answer about Labour’s plans. Pretending that things won’t change is unsustainable and there will be a huge black hole in Labour’s budget if they don’t explain what they will do with their tuition fee policy.”

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Education

Exam success celebrated with Learning Pembrokeshire

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ADULT learners celebrated their exam success with Learning Pembrokeshire at its annual awards ceremony recently.

The event, organised by members of the Learning Pembrokeshire Adult Community Learning team was kindly hosted by Pembrokeshire College, co-members of the adult learning partnership.

Learners who attended had gained accreditation in Digital Skills, Maths, English and English as a Speaker of Other Language. Hardworking tutors from the Essential Skills, ESOL and Springboard teams were very happy to take the opportunity to present certificates to their hardworking learners and celebrate their progress on their lifelong learning journey.

As well as staff and learners, the event was attended by Stephen Richards-Downes, Director of Education and Erica Williams from the Strategic Migration Partnership at the Welsh Local Government Association. Master of Ceremonies for the morning was Tomos Hopkins from Welsh for Adults and their Welsh choir was kind enough to add their voice to the event.

The range of qualifications attained included Agored Cymru Units and Awards, Essential Skills Wales Level 1 and level 2, BCS ICDL, GCSE and Life in the UK.

Special mention was given to the achievements of young people from Futureworks’ programmes around the county.

A warm welcome extended to our newest cohort of ESOL learners from Afghanistan, who are just beginning their learning journey with Learning Pembrokeshire.

A range of work created by learners in other non-accredited classes such as Sewing, Stained Glass, and Art was also displayed.

If you are interested in finding out more about free Essential Skills and ESOL classes, please call the Freephone 0808 100 3302.

To find out more about the wide range other classes including GCSE, Health and Well-being classes, Languages and General Interest contact your local Community Learning Centre, visit the Learning Pembrokeshire page on the Council’s website or Facebook. Or you can call Central Services on 01437 770130.

Captions: Learners are presented with their awards by Learning Pembrokeshire

The annual awards ceremony was held for adult learners at Pembrokeshire College

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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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