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Education

Adult learning: Richard’s story

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Making learning a family affair: UWTSD graduate Richard Thomas with his sons

UWTSD has marked Adult Learners’ Week by encouraging its mature students to tell their own stories.

Richard Thomas, a single father of three, graduated last summer with a degree in Sports Therapy.

He recently spoke to UWTSD about his transformational journey from gardener to Sports Therapist:

“In the summer of 2014 I was working as a Gardener and handyman in the quiet village of Bancyfelin. I didn’t see it as a long term career and with three children and no partner, I felt I needed a better career direction so I started to look at returning to education. After realising that UWTSD offered a degree in Sports Therapy I decided this was the area that I really wanted to learn more about.

“I immediately loved the course description – having been passionate about sport, fitness, Crossfit and having also had many sporting injuries in the past – I felt that this course would be fascinating to follow. Because of my family commitments, I wasn’t able to travel long distances to study so the fact that the Sports Therapy course was available to me in Carmarthen was great too! I had no idea of how I was going to work, study and juggle my boys’ commitments too and I can’t deny that there were times during the course where I found it difficult – but those hard times were definitely worth it!

“Following this course has not only helped me to learn about a new profession and to embark on a new career that I’m very passionate about – it has also helped me grow as a person. The course set me academic challenges as well as challenging me to manage my time and to fit in work, study and raising three boys as a single father.

“The course was full of work experiences and volunteer opportunities and by the end of the course, I felt prepared to face the world of work because of those opportunities.

“This past year – the first year after graduation – has been tough but it would have been even more difficult if it hadn’t been for the experience and connections that I made during my time on the course.

“During my studies, I was lucky enough to work with the Welsh Under 20’s Rugby team; the Dragons; Cardiff Devils Ice Hockey; Swansea City FC as well as Bristol City FC – not forgetting the various events that we covered such as the Swansea Triathlon, The Burn, Invncbl and some epic Charity cycle rides.

“Since graduating, I’m really lucky that the list of organisations and events I’m working with continues to grow. I now work with the FAW and the Under 15’s Welsh Girls Football team; Whitland RFC and I have a role with Hockey Wales too. I also work with Gower College Rugby, Llanelli and District Schoolboys Under 15’s and the successful Rugby Sevens team, the Carmarthen Warriors. Alongside this work I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a Hip and Groin Testing team – which I initially started doing during my time on the course – but I’m now also been working with Swansea City as part of their testing team as well as the IRFU as part of their ongoing Injury reduction strategies.

“I am currently still trying to manage my time but am enjoying the challenge. Indeed, enrolling on this course was easily one of the best decisions of my life. It’s helped me immeasurably – not just academically and career wise – but it’s also made a huge difference to me on a personal level. I’ve met friends that I’ll have for life and I managed to complete a BSc degree – something that for many years would have felt impossible.

“I am the first person in my family in living knowledge to complete a degree and I’m not ashamed to say that I cried like a baby at my graduation ceremony. Receiving an award for my academic work was probably one of the proudest moments of my life. The fact that I’ve achieved something that I previously didn’t really believe I could, has helped me to raise my own expectations and has allowed me to really expanded my horizons – both career wise and personally. It’s also had a great positive effect on my children – the eldest of whom is now going to University this year.”

As the only Sports Therapy degree in Wales accredited by the Society of Sports Therapy, the BSc Sports Therapy degree programme is designed to educate competent practitioners in all aspects of Sports Therapy. During their time on the course, students learn in a practical setting with plenty of hands on teaching in a dedicated Sports Therapy Suite and Rehabilitation Centre. All teaching staff are experienced Graduate Sports Therapists who have worked in professional, semi-professional, national and international sports over a number of years.

Education

College lecturer shortlisted for two WorldSkills UK EDI Hero Awards

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ESTABLISHED in 2020, the WorldSkills UK Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Heroes Awards honour the individuals and organisations that promote and embed innovative practices, projects, and initiatives, making a positive impact on learners, workplaces, and the wider skills system.

With seven categories including: Rising Star, Role Model, Inclusive Skills Development, Skills Competition Diversity Champion, Network of the Year, Skills Competitions Advocate, and Initiative of the Year, Ben Blackledge, CEO for WorldSkills UK commented: “These awards are an amazing opportunity to highlight and celebrate the difference being made by organisations and individuals across the skills sector.

“We are passionate about championing the need for inclusive opportunities that give all young people the chance to succeed in work and life, and that is why we are thrilled to come together in person in a few weeks to celebrate and hear first-hand who the winners are.”

Pembrokeshire College Employability Co-ordinator for the Life Skills Academy, David Jones, has been shortlisted in both the Role Model and Skills Competition Diversity Champion categories for the work he does on a daily basis to encourage and inspire his learners to remove barriers and achieve their full potential.

David will now join the other finalists at an awards ceremony on 7 March at the House of Commons, where the winners will be announced. Charlotte Nichols MP will be presenting the awards and commented: “Congratulations to this year’s WorldSkills UK EDI Heroes Awards finalists!

“I am absolutely delighted to support the awards, and I’m thrilled that the award ceremony will be hosted in-person for the first time at the Houses of Parliament.

“This provides a unique opportunity to celebrate the outstanding finalists and anticipate the announcement of this year’s well-deserving winners.”

The annual EDI Heroes Awards event is dedicated to celebrating the achievements of those going above and beyond to create more inclusive practices. All awards are open to students, apprentices, employers, and employees, recognising individuals and organisations who are making a difference to the future of the industry. 

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Education

Estyn decision to scrap headline gradings has ‘lifted a burden’ on schools

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Estyn’s decision to remove gradings such as “excellent”, “adequate” or “needs improvement” from inspection reports has lifted a burden on schools, a committee heard.

Owen Evans, Estyn’s chief inspector, told the Senedd’s education committee that feedback from schools since scrapping the headline gradings has been overwhelmingly positive.

Giving evidence on Estyn’s 2022-23 report, Mr. Evans said the new approach has led to a far more professional dialogue with schools about what’s working and what’s not.

“I think that’s been incredibly refreshing,” he said. “There are several layers of pressure that come with an Estyn inspection of a school….

“The removal of summative judgements and the fact that you’re going to be labelled with that one word, has lifted a burden on the sectors that we look at.”

‘Outlier’

However, Mr Evans stressed that removing gradings must be seen as a trial.

He said: “We are a bit of an outlier. We are still the only inspectorate in the British Isles that has removed summative judgements and a lot of eyes are on us about how this is working.”

Mr Evans, who has been in post for two years, added that Estyn is likely to carry out a review to ensure the reforms have led to further improvements.

He said it was important to introduce parental reports given the removal of gradings, suggesting that reports for learners themselves could also be on the horizon.

Asked about Estyn’s funding, which has increased from £11.5m in 2021-22 to £16m currently, Mr Evans told the committee the uplift was due to the pandemic.

‘Backlog’

He told the committee the interruption created a huge backlog and Estyn needed to increase capacity to finish its six-year cycle of inspections by the end of the current academic year.

Mr Evans said 90%-plus of the uplift has gone on additional inspections and inspectors.

Arguing the additional funding should become a part of the inspectorate’s baseline budget, he told MSs that Estyn will start visiting schools twice every six years from September.

He explained that the main inspection has been slightly curtailed, so Estyn can afford to have an interim inspection after three years rather than a “big bang” every six.

“It’s imperative the budget stays at that or slightly higher,” he said. “But we realise there’s a lot of pressure on the system – we have to demonstrate the value of what we’re doing.”

‘Self-evaluation’

Laura Anne Jones, for the Conservatives, raised concerns about an emphasis on self-evaluation, saying: “I don’t think anyone’s going to mark themselves badly.”

Laura Anne Jones MS speaking in the Senedd
South Wales East MS Laura Anne Jones MS is the Conservative shadow education minister

Mr Evans shared the shadow education minister’s concerns as he warned that self-evaluation is not yet strong enough within schools for Estyn to rely on it.

The chief inspector, who was previously S4C’s chief executive and a senior Welsh Government civil servant, warned that the pandemic continues to cast a shadow.

Mr Evans said variability between schools has widened, raising attendance as an example.

“Some are coping and some are not,” he told MSs: “I think the social contract between schools and parents has, to a degree, broken down.”

‘Stubborn’

Claire Morgan, a strategic director at Estyn, said average attendance is 87.5%, meaning pupils are missing 12 days of education in an academic year “which is far too much”.

She called for more to be done to tackle “stubborn” attendance issues, saying successful schools have a strong community focus.

Mr Evans said exclusions are rising while the number of children and young people going into pupil referral units has doubled since the pandemic.  

He said pupil referral units are no longer helping learners return to mainstream education.

He said: “The wave of anecdote I hear – from everyone from headteachers to teachers and caretakers to support staff – is behaviour, particularly out of the classroom, has worsened.”

‘Relentless’

On Wales’ poor performance in the latest Pisa results, Mr Evans said he was disappointed but not shocked as he called for a “relentless” focus on standards.

He said the results reinforce Estyn’s previous annual reports, which have long raised concerns about numeracy, science and literacy.

Mr Evans suggested a focus on the new curriculum has taken away from subject specialism.

Asked about the impact of poverty on attainment, he said the pupil development grant can make a difference but he suggested the funding is being used to plug budget gaps.

The chief inspector also raised concerns about “great deficiencies” in recruiting teachers in terms of the Welsh language and secondary school subjects such as maths.

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Education

Castle School closure certain now rescue plan has failed

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PARENTS have been informed that the highly regarded Castle School, a beacon of independent education since its establishment in 2009 in Cresselly, is on the verge of closing down, with no rescue plan in sight.

The institution, which began with a mere 22 secondary-aged pupils, saw significant growth over the years, relocating to Narberth in 2015 and later to Haverfordwest. The school, known for its broad curriculum catering to pupils from the age of three to 18, prides itself on an ‘exceptionally high academic performance’, boasting an average of 95 per cent A*-C grades at GCSE.

Despite its academic success, the school announced earlier this month that it would be shutting its doors to the majority of its pupils come July, though it will remain operational for current GCSE and A Level students until their examinations are completed the following year.

Harriet Harrison, the headteacher and proprietor, expressed that the decision to close was made with a ‘heavy heart’ and after considerable deliberation. The news has left many parents in a scramble to secure alternative educational arrangements for their children.

A glimmer of hope appeared when Dr Mark Boulcott, a local dentist and retired army officer with a daughter at the school, presented a rescue plan. “I am doing what I can as quickly as I can. I am doing my very best to stop the closure of a great school,” Dr Boulcott stated, signalling his commitment to prevent the closure.

The school was envisioned to transition into a charitable organisation, with Dr Boulcott collaborating with Mrs Harrison until the end of this academic year before assuming full leadership in July. Unfortunately, this plan has been rendered unviable, with Dr Boulcott disclosing that from a business standpoint, the school’s recovery from the Covid crisis was insurmountable under the current conditions, making the prospect of taking over ‘untenable’.

In an earnest letter to the parents, which was obtained by The Pembrokeshire Herald, Dr Boulcott lamented that the challenges of establishing the school elsewhere were too great, necessitating a considerable investment and an estimated two years to navigate bureaucratic hurdles.

“It is with regret that without immediate extensive capital investment, something we do not have, school purchase resurrection or reorganisation is impossible,” Dr Boulcott concluded in his correspondence with the parents, effectively extinguishing the last embers of hope for the school’s survival.

As the community grapples with the impending loss of Castle School, the situation underscores the continuing pressures faced by independent educational institutions in the post-pandemic landscape.

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