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Education

Students relying on free school meals fell further behind

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THE ATTAINMENT gap between disadvantaged primary school pupils and their classmates has grown in mathematics by one month since the onset of the pandemic, according to interim findings published this week by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

The findings are drawn from an ongoing EEF-funded study that aims to understand changes to the gap which might have occurred due to the periods of partial school closure resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

While disadvantaged pupils’ outcomes in mathematics seem to have been hit hardest by the first national lockdown, the attainment gap did not widen (or shrink) during the Autumn 2020 term.

Thar suggests that gaps caused by Covid are unlikely to close without intervention.

The research is based on assessment data collected by FFT Education from 132 primary schools prior to and after the first national lockdown.

The report did not measure the impact of school closures on overall learning progress (sometimes referred to as learning loss) but, instead, looked at the differences in progress between pupils eligible for free school meals and those that are not.

Data from reading and maths assessments (PIRA and PUMA tests) taken in Autumn 2019 was used as a baseline to track the trajectory of the attainment gap.

Pupils whose data was included in the sample were all in Years 1 to 5 (5-to-10-year-olds) during the academic year 2019-2020.

Reading and maths tests were administered to these same pupils on their return to the classroom in September 2020, and then again towards the end of the Autumn term 2020.

Disadvantaged pupils’ performance in the tests was compared to that of their classmates to examine changes to the attainment gap which might have resulted from the first period of partial school closures.

The analysis of these results indicates that pupils from socio-economically deprived backgrounds have fallen further behind in maths since the onset of the pandemic.

Contrary to previous estimates, this study found no discernible change to the disadvantage gap in reading.

The findings also highlight the difficulty of combatting educational inequality in classrooms.

Data collected from PIRA and PUMA assessments taken at the end of the Autumn term 2020 indicate the return of all pupils to school in September has not been sufficient in narrowing the gap.

Further analysis is currently underway.

A final data set will be collected in June 2021 to examine whether the disadvantage gap narrows, widens, or remains stable.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “Today’s research gives us more evidence of the enormous impact school closures have had on young people, especially those from low-income homes.

“The research indicates the need for long-term, sustained support for schools as they work to accelerate the progress of their disadvantaged pupils.

“To mitigate against the long-term impact of lost learning, large government funding is required. The cost of failing to act now will be a catastrophe for young people from low-income homes.”

Professor Becky Francis, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “The pandemic has brought the significance of social and educational inequality into sharp focus.

“Research studies like this one are providing clear evidence that substantial existing gaps have grown further due to the disruption to learning caused by the pandemic.

“In strategizing an approach to recovery, we are presented with the opportunity to go beyond restoring the learning lost during partial school closures, and work towards rebalancing the scales for disadvantaged pupils.”

Researchers from FFT Education said: “Our study makes a fresh contribution to the research on the effects of COVID.

“We find that attainment gaps between disadvantaged students and their peers have widened slightly in maths, but not reading.

“We also find that there were surprisingly weak associations between school responses to COVID – for example, phoning students during the lockdown – and attainment.”

Education

Primary schools enjoy a taste of opera at three special performances

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PEMBROKESHIRE MUSIC SERVICE brought the ABC of Opera to Haverfordwest for school children to enjoy a special live performance recently.

ABC of Opera, founded by renowned opera singer Mark Llewelyn Evans, performed The Crazy Classicals and the Curse at three shows on 9th and 10th July.

Almost 1,000 primary school pupils delighted in the fusion of pantomime and opera where the evil Queen of the Night, escaping from Mozart’s Opera the Magic Flute, tries to banish music for ever. Featuring a host of classical composers and Trevor the Trunk, they work together with the children to stop her.

The cast comprised of seven professional opera singers, with the orchestra being made up of staff from Pembrokeshire Music Service, senior pupils from County music ensembles and invited guests.

Head of Pembrokeshire Music Service Philippa Roberts: “Pembrokeshire Music Service is delighted to partner with ABC Opera to bring an exceptional live music experience to our students, giving pupils a fantastic introduction to Opera in a fun and engaging environment.

“This initiative, made possible thanks to the generous support of the National Music Service Wales, saw our staff and pupils performing side by side in the orchestra along with professional vocalists.”

ABC of Opera aims to deliver invaluable life lessons to children and young people through a lively exploration of the lives and music of the great composers, building character, celebrating difference and encouraging creativity. “Any Body Can with ABC.”

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Education

Ysgol Harri Tudur bans mobile phones starting September 2024

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STARTING September 2024, pupils at Ysgol Harri Tudur in Pembroke will no longer be allowed to bring mobile phones to school. This decision follows a consultation with parents, guardians, and carers that concluded on July 1.

The consultation process began on June 26, when the school sent out a letter to parents and carers, inviting their opinions on the matter. The letter highlighted growing concerns about the negative impact of mobile phones on students’ education, safeguarding, mental health, and well-being. It noted, “There is increasing evidence of the negative impact that mobile phones have at school on learners’ education, safeguarding, mental health, and well-being. Covid has certainly made the situation worse, with the reduction in face-to-face relationships.”

Previously, the school operated an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ policy, requiring students to turn off their phones and leave them in their bags. However, enforcing this policy proved to be challenging. The letter explained, “Alerts from social media platforms, emails, texts, and calls during the school day create an environment which is very difficult for learners to resist checking and responding to. Mobile phones allow learners to play music, games, and take photographs and video clips. The latter places learners at risk of cyber bullying.”

The issue sparked a lively debate on a local Facebook group. Some contributors raised concerns about students with medical conditions who need their phones for glucose monitoring, medicine reminders, or well-being journals. One user pointed out, “It’s difficult for people with a medical condition, who need to have their phone with them.”

On the other hand, many welcomed the ban, hoping it would reduce dependency on devices, decrease cyber-bullying, lessen peer pressure to own the latest models, and encourage students to engage more with each other. One parent commented, “Plenty of other schools already implement this policy – and it works.”

Another parent emphasised the importance of allowing pupils who are being bullied in other ways to contact home.

Ysgol Bro Gwaun in Fishguard has already implemented similar policies with reported success. Haverfordwest High is also considering a mobile-free approach.

Additionally, Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi in St David’s, Pembrokeshire, has seen significant improvements since implementing a similar policy. Pupils now hand in their phones at the start of the school day, which has led to better attendance, behaviour, and learning. The school’s police liaison officer reported a 75% reduction in phone-related issues, and both exclusions and bullying incidents have decreased dramatically.

For emergencies, the Pembroke school advises parents to contact Reception or email [email protected]. If learners need to contact home urgently, they are encouraged to speak to their Pastoral Leader or any senior member of staff.

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Education

New funding for outdoor learning in Pembrokeshire

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THE PEMBROKESHIRE OUTDOOR SCHOOLS (PODS) initiative has recently benefited from funding and support from local businesses, community councils and charitable trusts to enable it to continue work in supporting schools and learners in the county.

PODS is co-ordinated by Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, supporting a network of specialist organisations, teachers and local authority advisors with the aim of enabling learners to benefit from high quality outdoor learning experiences, encouraging children to become fully engaged with and confident in their local environment.

With the support of one of the PODS partners, the Pembrokeshire Coast Charitable Trust, a recent appeal for additional funds resulted in contributions from a variety of sources including the Enhancing Pembrokeshire Fund, which was able to support the Outdoor Schools initiative with £15,000 in grant aid.

Director of the Trust Katie Macro said: “We are thrilled to support the Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools project, a vital initiative that helps pupils across Pembrokeshire understand the importance of our natural habitat. This work would not be possible without the generous support of many wonderful funders, whose input has made a real difference to this cause.”

Several community councils also showed their support for the work of the PODS partnership with donations, including Haverfordwest Town Council, Scleddau Community Council, and Newport Town Council. Support was also received from Llywyndu Solar Farm via the NextEnergy Solar Fund.

Bryony Rees, Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools Co-ordinator said “There’s an increasing recognition of the value of outdoor learning for our children, both in terms of specific topics and themes, and also the benefits to overall health and wellbeing. PODS seeks to make the best of Pembrokeshire’s amazing outdoor spaces, not only in the National Park, but also in and around the communities where our schools are located. This additional funding is most welcome in that respect.”

As a result of the Outdoor Schools partnership, schools and teaching staff across Pembrokeshire have been able to provide valuable learning experiences for pupils, often supported by outdoor learning specialists.

Across Pembrokeshire, schools and teaching staff have been able to provide valuable learning experiences for pupils, often supported by the outdoor learning specialists that make-up the Outdoor Schools partnership, or by making use of the resources and training provided.

Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools is dependent on external funding to continue its work with schools and learners. Earlier in the year, a donation from Blue Gem Wind enabled the PODS Co-ordinator to offer targeted support to secondary schools in the area. This included a coastal challenge day at Newgale with Year 8 pupils from Henry Tudor School, supported by the National Park Authority’s education team and Pembrokeshire Coastal Forum.

For more information on Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools, contact Bryony at [email protected], call 07870 488014, or visit the Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools website: http://pembrokeshireoutdoorschools.co.uk/.

If you would like to donate to the PODS project, please get in touch via [email protected].

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