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Education

Education Minister to quit Senedd in May

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KIRSTY WILLIAMS, Wales’ Education Minister will not stand in next year’s Senedd elections.

Ms Williams, who holds the constituency seat for Brecon and Radnorshire was first elected to the then-Welsh Assembly in 1999.

“After much reflection, I have decided not to stand as a candidate in the next election,” she said.

Kirsty Williams is highly-regarded and seen as being perhaps the ablest of the current Welsh Cabinet.

Her departure from the Senedd in May could spark a Cabinet reshuffle by Mark Drakeford.

Mrs Williams said: “There is of course sadness in making this decision, but also a strong sense of pride. Above all else, I’d like to thank the people of Brecon and Radnorshire for their support over the last two decades.”

Writing to her local constituency party, Kirsty Williams said: “Next May it will have been 22 years since I was first elected to represent the people of Brecon and Radnorshire.

“The local party, and then the constituency, placed its trust in me – a young, female, Welsh Liberal Democrat, new to elected politics and for our new parliament. It remains the proudest day of my political career.

“And for us to keep winning and keep achieving for our community, has been the honour of my life.

“To be the parliamentarian for Brecon and Radnorshire and in Powys is not to own the seat or constituency, it is to be a steward of it – following in the footsteps of Welsh Liberal giants and hopefully being able to pass on and support another generation.

“I know that my pride in being the first female leader of a Welsh political party was shared locally and nationally, and I hope it was a small inspiration to others. Working with my party colleagues in the Senedd, we worked diligently to hold the Government to account.

“Despite being an opposition party, we turned campaigns into policies that changed lives across the country.
“This included the introduction of the Nurse Staffing Levels Act and the Pupil Development Grant which continues to support our most disadvantaged pupils.”

Kirsty Williams said it had been “an immense honour to serve my country as Education Minister”.

“Every day I have been inspired and uplifted by the shared commitment across the country to be ambitious for all our learners,” she said.

“‘Our national mission’ has been the biggest programme of education reform since the Second World War. It has been a nation-wide collective endeavour.

“The support I’ve received from civil servants, private office, and Ministerial colleagues has been invaluable and unstinting.

“Over the last four years, we have fought to raise standards for all children, to reduce the attainment gap and to get some pride and confidence back into Welsh education. Working together,
our improved performance in national and international assessments, radical student support changes and investment in teachers, is proof that education is truly Wales’s national mission. Being
the family of a politician is never easy. I must thank my husband and three wonderful daughters for the patience, and at times resilience, that they have shown over these years.

“My late parents started the interest in politics and current affairs with lively debate around the kitchen table, and I know they would be proud of how their granddaughters are already strong independent women with their own opinions!

“It is with them in mind that, after a great deal of thought and reflection, I have decided not to stand as a candidate at the next Senedd election. The next candidate, and the Welsh Liberal Democrats, will have my abiding support and I will be out there campaigning as ever.

“There is, of course, sadness in making this decision, but also with a sense of achievement and pride. Above all else, I would like to thank the people of Brecon and Radnorshire for their support over the last two decades. Diolch o Galon. I may be biased, but I am in no doubt that our constituency is truly the greatest anyone could have the privilege of representing.”

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Education

£18m to support children and young people with additional learning needs

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NEW funding to support children and young people with Additional Learning Needs has been announced by Jeremy Miles, the Minister for Education and Welsh Language.

£18m will be made available to provide extra support for children and young people with ALN who’ve been affected by the pandemic and to help educational settings as learners move to the new ALN system from this month.

£10m of the funding will be used to support learners with ALN affected by the pandemic and to improve their wellbeing. During the pandemic, many disabled children and young people, including learners with ALN, continue to experience a negative impact on their mental health and difficulties accessing education.

The funding will add to existing support for ALN learners, such as intensive learning support and speech and language therapy. The funding can also be used to provide extra resources to target the impacts of the pandemic, such as mental health support and tailored support to help with attendance.

£8m will be allocated to schools, nurseries, local authorities and Pupil Referral Units to move learners from the old Special Educational Needs (SEN) system to the new ALN system, as the roll-out of the Additional Learning Needs Act continues.

The new ALN system, being rolled out over three years, will ensure children and young people with ALN are identified quickly and their needs are met. The Act makes provision for new individual development plans, designed to put the views of learners at the heart of the decision-making process, alongside those of their parents or carers.

Minister for Education and Welsh Language Jeremy Miles said:

“We are determined to deliver a fully inclusive education system in Wales – a system where additional needs are identified early and addressed quickly, and where all children and young people are supported to thrive in their education.

“Schools and nurseries are already doing a fantastic job of supporting their learners, but we know they need more resources to do this. That’s why I’m announcing this additional investment to support learners to overcome the effects of the pandemic and prevent the entrenchment of inequalities on their education, employment opportunities, their health and wellbeing.”

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Education

Over £100m of new funding will help make schools and colleges Covid-secure

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Schools and colleges to receive additional funding

SCHOOLS and colleges will receive £103 million in Welsh Government funding, as learners return for the January term.

£50m will be provided via local authorities through the Sustainable Communities for Learning programme. The funding will help schools carry out capital repair and improvement work, with a focus on health and safety measures, such as improving ventilation. The funding will also be used to support decarbonisation.

£45m of revenue funding will also help support school budgets, assisting schools as they continue to deal with the ongoing impacts of the pandemic and to prepare for the requirements of the new curriculum.

An additional £8m will be provided to further education colleges, to ensure learning can continue safely and ensure the most disadvantaged learners are not further impacted by the pandemic.

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

“I know schools and colleges have faced a very difficult time and everyone across the workforce has worked incredibly hard to meet the challenges of the pandemic. This funding will further support our schools and colleges to keep settings as Covid-secure as possible.

“While we want to support the sector in recovering from the pandemic, we also have to make sure we continue to plan for the future, and help all education settings across Wales fulfil our collective goals of making Wales a net-zero nation.

“The funding announced today will help us to ensure sustainability across the sector – be that the environmental sustainability achieved through decarbonisation, or sustainability in provision.”

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Education

Union calls for ‘immediate action’ to keep schools open in January

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A TEACHERS’ union is calling on the Welsh Government to “take urgent action” to reduce the potential risk of further disruption to education as a result of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

The surge of Covid cases in Wales, driven by the spread of the Omicron variant, is expected to cause significant staff absence issues when schools return next week.

Some schools need to start planning for pupils to return to online learning, Wales’ first minister said last week.

Mark Drakeford said teacher and staff illness will mean some pupils returning to home learning, but decisions would be made by individual councils, rather than the Welsh government.

The NASUWT union said its members “desperately want to be able to provide face-to-face teaching for all children and young people in the next academic term without further problems caused by the pandemic.”

While NAHT Cymru Director Laura Doel said: “The availability of staff is the biggest threat to education in January. Without the workforce fit and well, learners cannot go back to the classroom.”

NAHT Cymru Director: Laura Doel (Pic: BBC Wales)

The Welsh Conservatives want the government in Wales to “follow in the footsteps” of their English counterparts and invite “an army of ex-teachers to return to classrooms” in a bid to ease any potential pressure.

Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT General Secretary, said teachers have been “on the frontline throughout the pandemic to support pupils and students and provide them with the best education possible.”

“However, the rising number of cases of the Omicron variant could cause significant disruption in the next academic term with many teachers being forced to self-isolate.

“The Welsh Government must take immediate action to ensure that schools can continue to operate safely and provide high quality education.

“This is particularly important to protect disadvantaged and vulnerable children and young people who have often been affected most by the pandemic.”

The NASUWT is urging the Welsh Government to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission by providing government-funded air cleaning units to every school and college that needs these devices.

They are also calling on the Welsh Government to support household close contacts to self-isolate to reduce the risk of transmission and wider disruption within schools.

The union wants the government to commit to providing schools with more resources to enable on-site Covid testing.

The NASUWT has also called for improved financial support for schools and colleges to help with the cost of supply staff to cover for Covid-related absence.

Neil Butler, NASUWT National Official for Wales, said: “Teachers, pupils and students, and parents will be concerned about the potential risk of further disruption to schools caused by the Omicron variant.

“The Welsh Government must do everything it can to prevent schools from experiencing significant staffing problems next term and further damage to the education of children and young people.”
Staff availability, biggest threat to education.
NAHT Cymru Director Laura Doel said: “The availability of staff is the biggest threat to education in January.”

“Without the workforce fit and well, learners cannot go back to the classroom.”

“If LFTs for close contacts need to be taken for 7 days there must be a supply available for schools.”

“If track and trace are supposed to support the system we must ensure they have the capacity to do so and if parents are to understand what is required of them, there must be clear communication.”

“All of these elements need to be up and running next week to ensure the return to school is the success we want it to be.”

“The pressure on TTP system is an ongoing concern and therefore we maintain that classes should be designated as contact groups for testing purposes to bring consistency across all Local Authority areas and relieve the added pressure to trace close contacts, particularly in primary schools which is extremely difficult.”

“Given that staff availability has been a key area of concerns for months, NAHT Cymru believes prioritising the workforce for booster vaccinations was an opportunity missed.”

“It is too early to tell whether the new measures announced will be enough to keep schools open in January but we welcome the reintroduction of staggered session times and the planning days that will help schools manage their local situations.”

“Remote learning will remain a last resort, with staff absence and risk levels being the determining factors, but be assured that school leaders remain committed to doing all they can to support their learners and their families.”

The Welsh Conservative shadow education minister Laura Anne Jones MS said those who are recently retired, or trained as a teacher and moved career, should be asked to consider whether they can find even a day a week for the spring term to help protect face-to-face education.

She said: “Teachers have gone above and beyond throughout the pandemic, doing an inspirational job to support their pupils and communities in the face of adversity.”

“However, the disruption to school life and extended periods at home mean pupils’ education has inevitably suffered, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

“With cases of Omicron increasing across the country we must make sure schools and colleges have the teachers available to remain open for face-to-face education.”

“We have to be prepared for the new term ahead, otherwise our children will again feel the brunt. A ‘call to arms’ such as we’ve seen from Nadhim Zahawi and the Conservatives is a great idea and one we should replicate in Wales.”

“I hope the Labour Government gets such a scheme up and running so we can increase support in the classroom and minimise disruption to our children’s education.”

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