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Education

Estyn optimistic about improvement

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There is sustained improvement: Kirsty Williams welcomes report

THE BIGGEST trend in Welsh education over the last seven years has been the move towards a culture of self-improvement.

According to Estyn’s Chief Inspector’s Annual Report published on Wednesday (Jan 24), schools and other education and training providers increasingly take ownership of their own improvement and share expertise and best practice with each other.

Chief Inspector Meilyr Rowlands says​:​ “Looking back over the last seven-year cycle of inspections, there’s been a shift in education in Wales towards greater collaboration. It’s clear from our inspections of over 2,700 schools, non-maintained settings, colleges and other education and training organisations that there is enough excellence across Welsh education to support improvement and help reduce variability.

“This spirit of cooperation is most obvious in the way that the new curriculum is being developed with the teaching profession and how schools themselves are beginning to develop innovative teaching and learning practices. Consortia of local authorities work together and schools support each other to improve teachers’ professional skills.”

In schools like Ysgol Gynradd Bynea, Llanelli, pupils led a project to develop an outside learning village. Learners developed a range of skills from designing architectural models to budgeting and placing orders. In the further education sector, Pembrokeshire College has developed partnerships that support the development of skills in Pembrokeshire, improve learners’ access to post-16 education and engage with hard-to-reach groups.

More findings from the seven-year inspection cycle:

  • Inspection findings this year are broadly similar to those for the last seven years as a whole. Seven-in-ten primary schools inspected this year are good or excellent, similar to last year, while half of secondary schools inspected are good or excellent, a bit better than last year
  • There are many strengths in nursery settings, maintained special schools and in further education colleges, where the quality of education provided is good or better in most cases. Variability within and between providers remains a challenge in most other sectors.
  • Schools that are most successful at raising standards for all their pupils and at closing the gap in the performance of pupils eligible for free school meals compared to their peers, encourage greater involvement of parents and the community and create a culture where education is respected and valued.
  • In the quarter of schools that deliver the Foundation Phase well, pupils make good progress, become confident learners, and are well-prepared for future learning. But many schools remain reliant on more traditional teaching methods, especially for children aged 5 to 7.
  • As the secondary school accountability system became increasingly linked to examination results, some schools focused too much on examination technique rather than on providing a broad education. The best schools develop learners’ knowledge, skills, and attitudes to learning by capturing their interest through engaging learning experiences.
  • Mergers of further education colleges have resulted in a smaller number of large providers. The new leadership teams of these institutions have overseen improved provision in this sector over the last seven years.

Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams, welcomed the report as further evidence that Wales’ education system is uniting in a mission of self-improvement.

The Welsh Government also expressed pleasure in the ​’​spirit of cooperation​’​ with the teaching profession in developing a new curriculum.

The report also welcomes:

  • The establishment of a National Academy of Educational Leadership;
  • A “more systematic approach” to how pupils learn, apply and practise their literacy and numeracy across the curriculum;
  • Major changes in how professional learning is organised;
  • Improvements in attendance and behaviour;
  • Strengths in learner wellbeing, care, support and guidance, and learning environment; and
  • Strengthened links between higher and further education.

Welcoming the report, Kirsty Williams said: “Our national mission for education seeks to raise standards, reduce the attainment gap and deliver an education system that is a source of national pride and enjoys public confidence.

“It is clear from reading this report that there is sustained momentum in Welsh education; a culture of self-improvement that is embedded in the system and, most importantly, owned by those working in the profession.

“I am heartened to see the Chief Inspector welcoming the steps we have taken to drive up standards and support improvement in our schools – particularly our efforts to work with the teaching profession in developing the new curriculum.

“The report notes our efforts to reduce the attainment gap, but we know there is no room for complacency. That’s why we’re doubling the Pupil Development Grant for our youngest learners, so that every child has the opportunity to reach their potential.

“By continuing to work together, I am confident that we can achieve our national mission and deliver an education system that is a source of national pride and public confidence.”

David Evans, Wales Secretary of the National Education Union Cymru, said: “This report shows that despite increasingly difficult funding settlements and the ongoing concerns of workload schools and teachers in Wales are continuing to provide an education service we can be proud of. Amongst the many positives identified, it is especially good news to see recognition from Estyn for the work schools are doing to work constructively together.

“The profession has always espoused the benefits of self-improvement, collaboration and the focus on teaching and learning. This report highlights those issues and the benefits to be gleaned when teachers are allowed to take ownership of their teaching practices. This will be a big boost as we seek to implement the new curriculum and highlight the cooperative approach that we see being priorities in communities across Wales.”

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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