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Education

Fund to cut class sizes introduced

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Investment: Targeted at infant classes

A NEW £36m fund to reduce infant class sizes and raise standards has been announced by Education Secretary Kirsty Williams.

Directed at the front line and starting with the largest class sizes, it will target classes where teaching and learning needs to improve and where there are high levels of deprivation.

The money, consisting of both revenue and capital funding, will be invested over the next four years, up until 2021.

The latest figures show that 7.6% (8,196) of infant pupils in Wales were in classes of over 30.

Kirsty Williams said: “Our national mission is to raise standards and extend opportunities for all our young people.

“Time and time again parents and teachers tell me that they are concerned about class sizes. We have listened to these concerns, looked at the international evidence, and are today announcing a new £36m fund to address infant class sizes.

“There is a positive connection between smaller classes and attainment, particularly for pupils from poorer backgrounds. This is most significant for younger children, which is why we are targeting this investment at infant class sizes.

“This announcement, linked to our other reforms, will create the space for teachers to teach and for pupils to learn.”

Jess Turner, UNISON Cymru organiser for schools, said: “Classroom-based support staff really welcome this news. Smaller classes reduce workload and give support workers more time with pupils and this more personalised support helps to tackle inequalities. UNISON would like Welsh Government to go much further and also apply additional funding to junior and secondary schools too. The evidence around class size shows they need to be reduced very significantly to make a real difference to student attainment.

“It’s essential teaching assistants are properly deployed in the classroom and never used as cheap stop-gap replacements for teachers.”

“While we welcome this statement, it’s important to put it in context. When one considers that the money will be paid out over a five year period, it is not a vast amount; it is, however, most certainly a small step in the right direction,” said Ywain Myfyr, Policy Officer with UCAC.

“We hope that in helping to reduce class sizes this money will go some way towards reducing teachers’ workload and improving standards of attainment, especially for pupils living in areas of social deprivation,” he added.

“The introduction of the Foundation Stage was a visionary step but it was not properly funded from the outset. It is essential that we ensure that no child in the Foundation Phase in Wales is educated in a class which exceeds the legal limit in terms of size. It is now important that this money is shared carefully to ensure fairness.”

“We now call on the Welsh Government to go one step further and make classes of under 25 statutory for all age groups and to plan for a general reduction in class sizes for the benefit of pupils and the education workforce in general in Wales. We believe that this would match the principles expressed in this morning’s statement.”

NUT Cymru Secretary David Evans said: “This announcement is very welcome news. Kirsty Williams and the Welsh Government should be congratulated for responding to the concerns of parents and the teaching profession who see unmanageable class sizes as one of the most concerning issues they face. For too long, this problem has been ignored. Putting it on the agenda has been a major campaign for the NUT and we are grateful there has been a positive reaction from the Cabinet Secretary for Education.

“Naturally, we will have to monitor exactly how this money is utilised. What we do not want to see is local authorities using it to fill holes in their budgets. The Welsh Government are absolutely right to demand that any and all business cases show explicitly how they will contribute to reducing class sizes. It will be crucial that local authorities are not only clear about how they are going to use this funding, but also that they are accountable at the point of implementation.

“If this funding is put to good use it could have a profound impact on an issue that is at the very top of the agenda for teachers, which is why it absolutely must find its way to the front line.”

The Welsh Conservatives’ education spokesperson gave a less enthusiastic reception to the Education Secretary’s announcement.

Questioning how the policy can feasibly be implemented in the face of Wales’ teacher recruitment crisis, Darren Millar AM said: “The scant evidence base for this policy is well documented with a Welsh Government adviser having publicly spoken out against the idea of its implementation back in June.

“Conversely, there is growing evidence of Wales’ worsening teacher recruitment crisis, and so it remains unclear how this policy can be made to work; smaller class sizes mean more classrooms, which in turn demands more teachers – of which our country is in woefully short supply.

“Today’s announcement is little more than a multimillion pound sop to the remaining Welsh Liberal Democrat and will not be the silver bullet to solving the education crisis facing Welsh schools.”

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Education

School’s concern over ‘inappropriate use of images of staff and pupils’

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THE HEADTEACHER of a Pembrokeshire primary school has written to parents and guardians following concerns over certain social media activity.

Mrs Clare Hewitt, of Neyland Community Primary School, said that it filled her “with great sadness” to have to email parents and guardians of pupils at her school.

She added that the school had alerted the police regarding the matter.

Mrs Hewitt said that it came to light that there had been “inappropriate use of images of staff and pupils for TikTok pages and Messenger groups.”

The school said it is asking that all parents, where their child uses social media, to check social media accounts to ensure that they are being used appropriately and safely,

Parents or guardians with concerns have been asked to telephone the school on Monday or to contact Mrs Hewitt by email.

Parents and guardians of pupils were contacted by email on Saturday night (May 15).

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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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