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Education

Wales leads way with Microsoft for schools

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WALES will be one of the first countries in the world to fund Microsoft classroom software applications for all maintained schools, thanks to new investment from the Welsh Government.

As classrooms continue to digitally evolve, this approach will ensure all schools across Wales have the same level of access to these essential software applications. This will help learners gain the skills they need to thrive in an increasingly digital world, an essential aim of the Welsh Government’s Digital Competence Framework.

Not only will this new £1.2 million investment improve equity of access to digital resources, but it is also a direct measure to support schools in reducing their costs and that of families. It follows recent announcements by the Minister for Education on support for school uniform costs and other kit, as the Government increases its share of funding for new school buildings and increases the number of children who benefit from free school meals.

The Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams, confirmed the software will be available via the Welsh Government’s Hwb digital learning platform, which is currently used by over 85% of schools in Wales.

The licensing deal contains a range of Microsoft products, including the full desktop version of Microsoft Office 365 ProPlus which includes a Welsh language interface and proofing tools, along with additional security features.

Also included is Minecraft Education Edition with Code Builder which provides a range of ways for learners to explore, create and experiment with coding. This supports the Welsh Government’s Cracking the Code plan to expand coding in every part of Wales.

All teachers and learners will be able to download and install the latest versions of all these software applications on up to 5 personal devices at no cost. Online versions of the software applications will continue to be available through Hwb for use anywhere, such as public computers in libraries.

Kirsty Williams said: “I’m proud to say we’re one of the first countries in the world to take this progressive approach to providing schools with this software. Through our curriculum reforms we want all learners to have relevant high-level digital, literacy and numeracy skills, and access to these applications is an important step towards achieving that.

“This will reduce the burden on schools to pay for their own licensing fees and also ensure all our schools have the same level of access to the digital tools they need to progress these skills in our learners. This is vital as we aim to reduce the attainment gap and increase standards in our schools.”

Cindy Rose, Chief Executive of Microsoft UK, said: “The introduction of Office 365 will be transformational for both teachers and pupils, empowering them to collaborate more effectively, saving time and generating better learning outcomes. Equally, Office 365 provides students with valuable skills to help them obtain employment following school,” said Cindy Rose, CEO, Microsoft UK.
“Additionally, the accessibility tools built into Office 365 will mean all students gain the confidence to contribute to learning discussions. Similarly, with Minecraft Education Edition, students will develop computational thinking skills in an immersive and classroom-friendly format that sparks creativity and innovation. This agreement ensures Wales retains its position as a world leader in digital education delivery.”

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Education

Funding for music education trebled to the tune of £13.5m

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Every child will have the opportunity to benefit from music education as part of the Welsh Government’s plans for a national music service, which will help ensure no child misses out due to a lack of means.

As the National Plan for Music Education is published, the Minister for Education has confirmed funding will be trebled, with £13.5m being invested over the next three years.

The plan will make access to music education fairer and more consistent across Wales, with a particular focus on learners from low-income households and those with Additional Learning Needs. Support will be available for children and young people to access and progress with music tuition, with learners from disadvantaged and under-represented groups supported to join music ensembles.

The plan includes a number of key work programmes such as:

A review on music tutors’ terms and conditions, to ensure they are treated equitably and are recognised properly.
A ‘First Experiences’ programme to offer children in primary schools a minimum of half a term of musical instrument taster sessions, delivered by trained and skilled music practitioners.
A ‘Making Music with Others’ initiative, including opportunities for children and young people in secondary schools to gain industry experience through working alongside musicians and creative industries
A new national instrument and equipment library to support access to a resource bank to be shared across Wales.
These programmes will be rolled out from September 2022, supporting schools and settings to give all children and young people from the ages of 3 to 16 the opportunity to learn to play an instrument as well as singing and making music in our schools and our communities.

The National Music Service will operate as a ‘hub’, with the Welsh Local Government Association co-ordinating the Music Service’s programmes with a wide range of organisations. It will help schools and settings in their delivery of the Curriculum for Wales and provide more diverse opportunities for children and young people to experience music outside schools and settings.

First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford and the Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, visited St Joseph’s Cathedral Primary School in Swansea to see a cluster of primary school children taking part in a ‘Play Along’ session led by Swansea Music Service.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said:

“The establishment of a National Music Service for Wales is an important commitment in our Programme for Government and I’m delighted that we are delivering on this pledge.

“Learning an instrument was a formative part of my upbringing and a lack of money should not be a barrier to any young person who wants to learn to play music. We are fortunate in Wales to have a strong tradition of school, county and national ensembles, and we want to make sure that our children and young people are able to play a full part in these. This funding will support music services in schools and within the community to help nurture our young musical talent.”

The Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles said:

“Our vision is for all children and young people across Wales, regardless of background, to have the chance to learn to play an instrument. The plan we are publishing today, backed by funding, will help deliver that vision.

“For too long, the chance to learn an instrument and develop musical skills has been for those few whose families and carers who can afford tuition. I want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to access music tuition, and that’s why we’re making this significant investment to deliver a range of activities for our children and young people to learn and experience the joy of music.

“The development of the National Music Service will ensure that we nurture our next generation and continue to produce new talent and showcase Wales to the world.”

WLGA Chief Executive Chris Llewelyn said:

“We are proud to work with the Welsh Government on delivering this vital service to children across Wales. Many families in Wales can’t afford an instrument, and this funding will go a long way to opening doors to children across Wales to have the opportunity of learning an instrument.

“Playing an instrument and reading music is a very important skill for a child, and music brings enormous joy to children. Local authorities believe that children across Wales will have better access to instruments, and this plan will develop many future talented musicians, and support pupils to develop their musical skills.”

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Education

Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society launches 2022 Student Bursary Award

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WOULD you like some extra financial support to assist with your chosen college or career path? Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society’s Student Bursary Award is now open for applications.

The £1,000 bursary is open to all qualifying students studying agriculture, veterinary science, agricultural engineering, food technology, forestry or other subjects clearly allied to agriculture.

The bursary is tax free and will be awarded to the student who, in the opinion of a panel of judges, has submitted the best dissertation on how the bursary will assist them to complete their course of study.

The last winner of the award was 21-year-old Gracie Morris, of St. Davids. A former pupil of Ysgol Croesgoch and Ysgol Dewi Sant, Gracie was in her fourth and final year at Harper Adams University studying BSc agriculture with crop management at the time of winning the award.

Gracie said, “It was an honour and a privilege to have been awarded the Pembrokeshire County Show student bursary award in 2019. The bursary enabled me to undertake research towards my final year dissertation on biofumigation to control Rhizoctonia solani in potatoes.”

“The bursary allowed me to be financially secure during my last year of studies. Most of my spare time was spent researching for my dissertation so having a part-time job alongside university was not not possible for me.”

Gracie recommends qualifying students apply for the award. She said, “I would urge all Pembrokeshire students who study subjects that are clearly aligned to agriculture to apply for this bursary as it won’t only assist with your studies but will also give you great experiences such as undertaking an interview which is a key employment skill. It will also assist in your future career within the agriculture industry.”

Qualifying students must not have won the student bursary on a previous occasion, the applicant must be studying or has been accepted to study agriculture or allied subjects at a UK college or university at A-Level or higher and the applicants’ family home must be in Pembrokeshire.

Rob James, Chairman of the Society’s Bursary Committee said, “A panel of independent judges, chaired by a representative of the society, will draw up a short list of candidates who will be interviewed and the winning candidate will be asked to give a short presentation at a future meeting of the society’s show council.

“The standard of applications has always been exceptional which gives a lot of heart that there are a lot of very talented young people in our community. We are very much looking forward to receiving applications for this year’s bursary and hearing from the younger generation.”

To enter, students must submit a dissertation of 1,000 words entitled ‘How the bursary will assist my career progression.’

Further details and the entry form can be found on the website: www.pembsshow.org or by calling the show office: 01437 764331. The closing date for applications is Friday, 1 July 2022.

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Education

Welsh Relationships and Sexuality Education Code: Parental choice vs children’s education

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A GROUP calling itself Public Child Protection Wales is fundraising for a legal challenge to the Welsh Government’s Relationships and Sexuality Education Code.
The Code passed the Senedd as part of the Curriculum for Wales.
The group claims to have raised £13,000 of the £100,000 it says it needs to bring the case.
It has already acquired the services of a barrister, Paul Diamond.

PCP Wales: Barrister Paul Diamond to take on Welsh Government (Pic Herald archive)

CODE ENDS PARENTAL CHOICE

The Code makes Relationships and Sexuality Education compulsory and ends a parent’s right to exclude their children from such lessons.
Public Child Protection Wales says it is for parents to decide the appropriateness of Relationships and Sexuality Education for their children and not for the state to intervene in their right to keep their children either ignorant or enlightened on the subject.
While PCP Wales claims to be a non-party political group, its cause has been taken up by extremist and fringe right-wing organisations who have tried to jump on the bandwagon to publicise their political agendas.
PCP Wales says its aims are “to promote a high standard of Safeguarding and raise awareness of exploitation and abuse of children. We will challenge policies that fail to safeguard and fight for additional investment in Children and young people’s services.”
Its intervention in Relationship and Sexuality Education extends “safeguarding” to include a final parental say over whether a child receives that education from their parents or teachers.

PEMBROKESHIRE AND PCPW

A case against Paul Dowson, county councillor for the Pembroke Dock Central Ward, relating to PCPW’s campaign goes before the Adjudication Panel for Wales later this year.
Councillor Dowson published a Facebook post stating that 0-3-year-olds “will” be taught about masturbation and that the new RSE curriculum “includes teaching 13-year-old boys and girls about anal sex”.
That is untrue, and the Ombudsman described the first of those allegations as particularly “outrageous and unpleasant”.
In an email to a fellow councillor, Councillor Dowson said RSE lesson plans teach 3-year-olds about masturbation and 11-year-olds and upwards about bondage, anal sex, and facial ejaculation.
Those untrue statements do not originate with Paul Dowson. They derive from misinformation peddled by individuals trying to outrage the public and incite opposition to the new Code.
The Ombudsman concluded: “I have seen no evidence that Councillor Dowson has evidence as to the content of the RSE curriculum or its lesson plans over and above that which is publicly available from Welsh Government.”
As a result, the Ombudsman concluded Paul Dowson’s posts were disinformation and alleged they brought his office as councillor into disrepute.
Paul Dowson rejects the allegations and criticisms, which form one part of a disciplinary case to be heard later this year.

CODE CONTENT UNPUBLISHED

While that might appear irrelevant to the campaign headed by PCP Wales, it goes towards the continuing miasma of disinformation, misinformation, and alarmism published on its Facebook page.
While RSE is taught in many countries in one form or another, teaching methods vary. In short: “For Wales, do not see “England”.
Moreover, as the lesson plans and Code content remain – as yet – unpublished, any information about alleged lesson plans and the course content is speculation at best and spurious at worst.
Therefore, the key issue cannot be what the course will teach – or even what campaigners imagine it will teach.
Instead, the core of any legal action against the Welsh Government must be on either “religious exemption” – the position before the new Curriculum became law – or an infringement on a parental choice about what their children are taught.
The religious exemption would be an arguable point only after the Welsh Government issues its guidance on the Code and lessons’ content. There is no engagement of any potential religious right to refuse until then.

PARENTAL CHOICE AND THE RIGHT TO LEARN

So, the case must centre on the question of parental choice.
PCP Wales is clear that’s their main objection – apart from scare stories about what the Welsh RSE Code might mandate.
They say: “[W]e must fight the legislation which mandates this over parental rights, preventing the parent carer from acting in the child’s best interest and be the judge as to what is age appropriate. It is time the adults shouldered the responsibility of sex education in the form of appropriate Safeguarding.”
PCP Wales trusts neither the Welsh Government, local authorities, maintained schools, headteachers, teachers, nor school governors to act appropriately or to gauge what is age-appropriate for a child. They assert parental autonomy and parental choice as the determining factor in what children learn in school.
Carried to absurd lengths, that train of argument would give parents control of everything taught in schools, or at least an ideological say over what their children learn about literature, history, or science.

LEGAL SERVICES OR SUPPORT

PCP Wales has instructed the independent barrister Paul Diamond to fight their case.
According to his website, Paul Diamond is “the leading barrister on the law of religious liberty, including matters of both ethical and social conscience.
“He combines his considerable strength in the field of religious liberty with his knowledge of public and European law. Paul is a specialist in European Human Rights law, EU law and certain aspects of public law.
“He has served as Standing Counsel to the Christian Legal Centre, a sister organisation of Christian Concern as well as the Keep Sunday Special Campaign.”
On its website, the Christian Legal Centre says: “We’re here to safeguard the freedom of Christians to live and speak for Jesus Christ, and to provide legal support for those taking a stand for Jesus and the truth that flows from him.”
The Christian Legal Centre is not a regulated legal practice and has no standing to instruct a barrister to act on behalf of clients.
Its interventions in public interest cases have been the subject of strong judicial criticism, which it rejects.
CLC’s interventions in cases are not meritless.
Freedom of religion and speech underpin civil society. However, the law is secular, created by legislatures, and subject to judicial interpretation.
However, to show the Welsh Government acted in such a way as to either infringe a protected right, whether relying on statutory breach or legal precedent, PCP Wales will have to demonstrate a real loss of a real existing right protected by real law.

THE WELSH GOVERNMENT RESPONDS

A spokesperson said: “It is disappointing that this group continues to promote incorrect and misleading claims about Relationships and Sexuality Education in Wales’s new curriculum.
“Topics like online safety, consent, and sexual health are all included in the Code, but at developmentally appropriate stages so learners aren’t exposed to things that aren’t appropriate to their age and development.
“At a younger age, for example, children will be taught about treating each other with kindness and empathy.
“As children grow older, they will gain an understanding of topics such as online safety, consent, and sexual health – all of which will be handled in a sensitive way.
“These reforms have been welcomed by a number of respected organisations including the NSPCC, the Children’s Commissioner’s Office, and Welsh Women’s Aid.”

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