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Education

Government to act on early exam entry

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SCHOOLS across Wales have been accused of ‘gaming’ the examination and qualification system at GCSE level and failing pupils in the process.

The issue has arisen following a report from Qualifications Wales, the regulator of non-degree qualifications and the qualification system in Wales, which has alerted the Welsh Government to the high risk that overall GCSE results will decline in Wales due to the widespread practice of entering children a year early into GCSE examinations in order to ‘bank’ results, with able pupils denied the chance to improve their grade at a later examination.

Almost two thirds of Year 10 pupils were entered for the English GCSE in the last exam cycle.

The same practice in England led to the UK Government intervening and making adjustments to school league tables, so that only the first attempt at examinations counted towards schools’ performance.

And Kirsty Williams, the Cabinet Secretary for Education in the Welsh Government, has said she may now intervene to prevent or curtail Welsh schools from putting Welsh pupils forward to sit GCSEs a year early.

In an interview on BBC Wales’ Sunday Politics, Kirsty Williams said: “What I’m concerned about is that children that, perhaps had the potential to get an A* and A or a B at the end of a two year course end up having to settle for a C because they do it early and they’re not re-entered again.

“I want children to fulfil their potential in school. I want early entry to be only for the children who will benefit from it.

“When I see such large numbers as are being reported as being entered, that’s something I am concerned about.”

Qualifications Wales said the problem is particularly acute this year due to a more rigorous curriculum and examination programme.

The body is scheduled to complete a review and report to the Welsh Government in September this year on the issue.

Welsh Government advice is that decisions about early entry into GCSE’s must be made ‘in the interests of the individual child’. In May, however, the Welsh Government’s Director of Education, Steven Davies, claimed in evidence to an Assembly Committee that schools have conducted early entry ‘to test the system’.

Mr Davies continued: ‘There are also those out there who are gaming.’

Mrs Williams’ stance on the subject has been welcomed by Adam Price AM.

Adam Price has been making representations regarding early exam entry to the Welsh Government since the start of the year having been contacted by a local maths tutor who had seen a dramatic rise in demand for private tutoring.

The Plaid Cymru AM also met with the Education Secretary in May to express concern that pupils may not be reaching their full potential.

Mr Price says he welcomes the willingness of the Education Secretary to intervene but said options for early entry should not be closed off to everyone.

Adam Price said: “I first made representations to the Education Secretary back in January having been contacted by a local maths tutor who had seen a dramatic rise in demand for private tutoring. His concern was that pupils were being entered for early examination but did not have time to actually finish the course before sitting the exams.

“Whilst it seems attractive for pupils to ‘bank’ a good grade early and take some pressure off a year later, many pupils will miss out on a better grade if they were to be given the opportunity to complete the course over the longer and traditional two year timescale.

“Early entry for exams is not a new phenomenon – this has always been a feature of GCSEs at the discretion of teachers and it should not be closed off entirely. But there does seem to be widespread change this year with almost two-thirds of all pupils in Wales being entered a year early.

“I welcome the Minister’s comments that she is prepared to intervene depending on the findings of her review, but the pressure on schools and teachers must be considered as part of this investigation.

“We all want what is best for our school pupils. The education system should support pupils who need the full two years of study, and allow teachers to make decisions on how pupils can best reach their individual potential.”

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Education

Redhill pupils praised for helping win another change in animal welfare law

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TOUGHER prison sentences for animal cruelty will come into force this summer after the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill received Royal Assent today. Maximum prison sentences will be extended to five years for the most heinous animal cruelty crimes.

Pupils from Redhill Prep School in Haverfordwest have been praised in Parliament for their tireless work over the last four years in campaigning for stronger laws to protect animals. Under the guidance of teacher Vicky Brown, the young pupils have lobbied their local MP Stephen Crabb, members of the House of Lords and a number of Government ministers to persuade them to support the Finn’s Law campaign. 

‘Finn’s Law’ which came into force in June 2019 and prevents those who attack or injure service animals from claiming self-defence. The law is named after Finn, a police dog who was stabbed whilst pursuing a suspect with his handler PC David Wardell. Finn sustained serious stab wounds to the chest and head, but only criminal damage charges could be brought against his attacker.

This latest change in the law today is known as ‘Finn’s Law Part 2’ and ensures that all animals now benefit from the tougher protection in law.

Stephen Crabb MP said: “Redhill pupils should feel very proud of the work they have done to build support for these changes in the law. Their campaigning work on Finn’s Law Part 1 and 2 received a special mention in the House of Lords when it was being debated. I am aware of just how important their letters were in persuading Government ministers to throw their full weight behind the new law.”

Deputy Head, Vicky Brown said: “We are so proud of all the children have achieved. This project has been so exciting and is one that neither the children or I shall ever forget. We’d like to thank all the people that have supported and encouraged the children in this campaign. They have proved to the children that no matter what your age, you can make a difference.”

The new maximum penalty will enable courts to take a firmer approach to cases such as dog fighting, abuse of puppies and kittens, illegally cropping a dog’s ears and gross neglect of farm animals. As well as a prison sentence, offenders can also receive an unlimited fine.

The measure is also widely supported by animal welfare groups including the RSPCA and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. The Private Members Bill was introduced by Chris Loder MP in February 2020 and with the full support of UK Government has now passed into law.

Photograph shows the online meeting that was held with Stephen Crabb and Redhill School’s year 3 and 4 pupils to talk about their brilliant work in promoting Finn’s Law Part 2.

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Education

New independent sixth form opens in Haverfordwest

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A NEW independent sixth form is set to open in Haverfordwest in September 2021. The latest addition to Castle School, which relocated to Haverfordwest in 2020, the new sixth form will offer 20 different A Level subjects and a BTEC in business through bespoke study programmes that include options to study online or in the sixth form. Students will also get the option to complete work and study placements abroad.

The launch of the sixth form comes after a busy year for Castle School, which relocated from Narberth to Haverfordwest in September 2020, taking over and refurbishing Glenover House, a beautiful old ‘gentlemen’s residence’ that had been empty for five years. The move enabled the school to expand and increase its educational provision.

In addition to its main building, the school has a cookery school and performing arts facility in Snowdrop Lane, and a further site on Snowdrop Lane which is being specially converted to create the sixth form centre. The site will also include an indoor sports facility for whole school use.

The sixth form is designed with flexible study in mind: as well as offering a broad range of subjects and the ability to study online from any location, it will provide instant access study support as well as face to face teaching. In addition, students will get the option to study for one of their A Levels at Pembrokeshire College, in order to experience a different learning environment.

Other milestones for Castle School this year include the opening of a second independent school, Westward House, in St Clears and the purchase of a narrow boat, which will be moored on the Avon and Kennet canal. This will give pupils opportunities for short residential trips to Bristol, Bath and beyond.

“With a floating hotel licence, our newest acquisition will enable small groups of pupils to take their studies further afield and benefit from enhanced learning, extracurricular boating skills and a look at the wider world,” said Harriet Harrison, owner of Castle School and Westward House.

“Things have been tricky over the past year, but along with many others we have seen the difficulties of a world of Covid not as an opportunity for excuses but as a time for stepping up, working harder and making things better and stronger wherever possible. Our schools are thriving, and despite being desperate to get back to normal, we have used this time to improve our facilities for all the children in our care who are coming back after these long periods of lockdown and remote schooling. We can’t wait to see everyone.”

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Education

U-turn on compulsory lifesaving lessons in Welsh secondary education

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SCHOOLS in Wales will now teach first aid and lifesaving skills as part of the new curriculum.

Wales will join England and Scotland by introducing first aid and lifesaving kills to their national secondary education curriculum.

Kirsty Williams, Education Minister had previously rejected the calls for emergency resuscitation skills to be compulsory in school.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was introduced in the secondary school curriculum in England in September 2020.

Local authorities in Scotland have also committed to introduce lifesaving skills to their secondary education curriculum.

The British Heart Foundation had backed the campaign for CPR to be taught in schools.

In a long fought battle, Suzy Davies, a Welsh Conservative Member of the Senedd for South Wales West, secured the commitment from the Welsh Education Minister in the course of debating amendments to the new Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill, which will make sweeping changes to the way Welsh children are educated.

The new curriculum for Wales is planned to come into force from 2022.

Children, parents, families and medics have long argued that regular teaching of CPR in particular will raise our children to have the skills and confidence to step in and save the life of someone in cardiac arrest if they encounter them outside a hospital setting.

The commitment was included in the Welsh Conservative manifesto for the Assembly election in 2016, and Suzy Davies, the Shadow Education Minister, said:

“After 10 years campaigning for this, I was beginning to wonder if it would ever happen.

“From securing cross-party support for this in my early days as an Assembly Member, through several debates and pitches to different Ministers, on to my own proposed legislation which found favour among Senedd Members, it was difficult to understand why Welsh Government was so resistant.

“In this country, our chances of surviving a cardiac arrest outside hospital are as poor as 10%. In countries around the world where teaching CPR and defibrillator use is compulsory, those odds improve dramatically. These skills are quick and easy to learn and easy to remember.

“ Alun Davies MS – himself a cardiac arrest survivor – has rightly argued that we should be able to learn these skills at any time in our lives and that defibrillators should be a commonplace feature of our public landscape. I couldn’t agree more – but how simple it is to ingrain these skills from an early age and raise generation after generation of lifesavers.”

Under the new curriculum, teachers must follow statutory guidance made by Ministers to support various aspects of the new way of teaching. After changes guaranteed by the Education Minister, this guidance will now instruct teachers that they should teach lifesaving skills and first aid: It is no longer optional.

The mandatory teaching of life saving skills and first aid (not just CPR) has been supported by the medical profession, including paramedics and fire service co-responders, as well as charities like St. John’s Cymru, British Heart Foundation, Calon Defibrillators, Cariad and the Red Cross.

It is taught through many youth groups, including Torfaen Sea Cadets who trained Aneurin Metcalfe, the young man who saved someone’s life only this week.

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