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Education

A long road back for education

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EVEN before schools find out what the new normal will be, the pressure is already on the education system to deliver significantly more.

Some talk about a ‘lost generation’ needing to ’catch-up’ amid concerns those comments stigmatise children. However, the reality is that children have missed months of face-to-face teaching, and that has inescapable consequences.

DISADVANTAGED SLIP FURTHER BEHIND

Wales’s learners have been part of the pandemic’s ‘collateral damage.’

Although, for now, there are more questions than answers, solutions to repair that ‘damage’ will need to be carefully considered and delivered during the Welsh Parliament’s sixth term.

Even before the pandemic, Wales already faced an uphill struggle to secure good educational outcomes for all its learners.

The most disadvantaged learners have extra challenges which can prevent them from achieving their full potential.

Even though the previous Welsh Government invested £585 million since 2012 through the Pupil Development Grant (PDG), the attainment gap it was seeking to close, didn’t narrow.

It also typically widens as learners get older.

There’s a stark difference between children eligible for free school meals and their peers at Key Stage 4, the two years where learners usually take GCSEs and other examinations.

Children and young people themselves are well placed to give their verdict.

A 2021 Children’s Commissioner survey of 20,000 children found that 35% didn’t feel confident about their learning, compared to 25% in May 2020. 

63% of 12–18-year-olds were worried about falling behind.

There are countless reports setting out adults’ views about how missing more than half a year of ‘face-to-face’ schooling has affected learners.

One of the major concerns is the variation between what schools have delivered to pupils.

There’s a long list of potential impacts:

·        ‘Lost learning’ meaning pupils could underperform academically and have their long-term prospects affected.

·        A loss of confidence in the examination and assessment system.

·        Long-term reductions in school attendance, a factor known to be key to educational outcomes.

·        Difficult transitions between school years and from primary to secondary.

·        Challenges in re-engaging learners and addressing low motivation.

·        An unhelpful ‘catch up’ narrative about lost learning placing unnecessary psychological pressure on children and young people; and

·        A negative effect on learners’ ability and confidence to communicate in Welsh where they haven’t been able to do so at home.

WIDER EFFECTS

As well as these obvious educational issues, there are wider predicted effects.

Current learners could earn less, with one estimate of up to £40,000 in a lifetime.

The harm to children’s physical health and a higher prevalence of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, are also serious concerns.

 The pandemic’s wider economic impact is also likely to increase the number of children living in low-income families.

Again, it’s the most disadvantaged learners who are predicted to bear the brunt in the longer term.

For example, in March 2021, the Child Poverty Action Group found that 35% of low-income families responding to its UK wide survey were still without essential resources for learning, with laptops and devices most commonly missing.

The Fifth Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education (CYPE) Committee heard that there is “plenty of evidence” that” there are striking differences between families in terms of their ability to support young people in their learning: the resources they have around them, the enthusiasm, the engagement, the commitment”.

REBUILDING TRUST

There must be work to rebuild relationships that have been under significant strain during the past 12 months.

Those between teaching unions and the decision-makers within the education system; between parents/carers and schools; and perhaps, most importantly, re-establishing the relationship between learners and their teachers.

Some of the immediate solutions which are already on the table or up for discussion are: more money, including the ‘Recruit, Recover and Raise Standards funding’; more teachers and learning assistants on the ground; changing term times; and setting up summer schools, holiday clubs and home tuition.

However, the longer-term problems are far harder to solve.

One estimate puts the cost of Wales’s journey back from COVID-19 at £1.4 bn to meet the challenges to the education system alone.

The opportunity exists for major reform and an examination of the whole approach to and aim of education.

Children and young people’s return to the classroom has been heralded as a big chance to put their well-being at the heart of education. As well as having a positive impact on well-being, put, mentally healthy children are much more likely to learn.

Following pressure from the Fifth Senedd’s CYPE Committee and its stakeholders, Wales has already made a significant shift towards establishing a ‘Whole School Approach to Mental Health’. The challenge during the Sixth Senedd will be to deliver it.

PERMANENT CHANGE

The potential sting in the tail is that, at the same time, the education system is getting children back to school, it also contends with major legislative reform.

This is in the form of wholesale changes to both the school curriculum and support for learners with Additional Learning Needs.

Some may argue that there’s been no better time to have such significant changes.

If the education system can successfully implement these three major reforms, arguably Wales will complete significant leg work and be on a firmer footing to meet the challenges presented by Covid-19.

At this stage there may be many more questions than answers for the education system.

The world into which learners will move has changed forever.

Not only has the pandemic interrupted their schooling, but the future journeys they were expected to make into the workplace or further and higher education could be unrecognisable.

The skills and aptitudes needed in the ‘new normal’ are only now beginning to be identified and are likely to be different from those needed before the pandemic began.   

Education

Schools gearing up for Shwmae Day

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THE Criw Cymraeg (Welsh Crew) at our schools in Pembrokeshire have been busy preparing a whole host of exciting activities to celebrate ‘Shwmae Day’ today! (Friday, October the 15th). 

Shwmae Day is a celebration of the Welsh language and all things Welsh. Seren and Sbarc (the Welsh Language Charter mascots) are asking children to dress as Welsh superheroes or in their best red, white and green outfits to celebrate the day and kick start their Language Charter journey this year.

Bro Ingli Welsh Crew (pictured) have organised several activities for Shwmae Day. Every child and even the staff will come to school dressed in a Welsh cape like Seren and Sbarc. The Criw Cymraeg have arranged a competition between each year for one winner to win a specially designed Seren a Sbarc water bottle. Parents will have the opportunity to have a cup of tea and Welsh cakes when dropping off their children at school in the morning and having a Welsh conversation with the Criw Cymraeg or even being taught a few phrases! The donations will be given to the Wales Air Ambulance. The Criw Cymraeg have also arranged with the kitchen for everyone to have Welsh soup and Welsh cakes for lunch.

Roch School are also dressing up as superheroes. Their Criw Cyrmaeg have arranged lots of exciting activities throughout the day for children to use their Welsh skills from crafts, mocktail making, listening to Welsh music and quizzes to teddy bear picnics. Children will have an extra surprise as they host some special superheroes at their picnic who will join them playing Welsh language games in the playground and sharing a sandwich at the teddy bear picnic.

Scores of teams have also registered for the Big Welsh ‘Dim Clem’ quiz hosted by Menter Iaith Sir Benfro for our English medium primaries. We’ll see which school will be crowned the winner!

And finally, to top off the excitement, all schools will have access to an online gig by Welsh artist Gwilym Bowen Rhys to enjoy during the day.

“What a fantastic effort by our schools to celebrate the Welsh language and to kickstart their Language Charter journey,” said Cllr Cris Tomos, Cabinet Member for the Environment and Welsh Language. “I wish everybody a great, fun-filled day.” 

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Education

Shwmae ‘rocks’ project in the lead-up to Shwmae Day

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TO mark Shwmae Day this year, Pembrokeshire County Council and Menter Iaith Sir Benfro have come together to create a Shwmae rock trail for learners and their families to help explore their ‘cynefin’. 

Cynefin, pronounced “ku-nev-in” is a Welsh word that doesn’t have a direct English translation but is used to describe a place or habitat where people feel they belong.

Families have had the opportunity to visit fifteen historic locations in Pembrokeshire to search for special Shwmae stones which mark Shwmae Day. Shwmae Day is a celebration of the Welsh language and is celebrated annually on October 15. As such, the Welsh language mascots – Seren and Sbarc, have hidden 15 stones especially designed by Hedydd Hughes around the county at interesting places in Pembrokeshire’s history.

Catrin Phillips, one of the organisers, said: “This has been a great opportunity for everyone of all ages to get around our beautiful county and learn some of the rich history of the area and of course having a selfie!”. 

Catrin added that all the locations are also featured on a beautifully illustrated map of Pembrokeshire by Hedydd Hughes which was commisioned for learners in Pembrokeshire to discover more about our county’s fantastic legends, brave heroes and rich history. Learners can enjoy exploring the map on their school wall or by using the interactive version on www.ygromlech.co.uk

Dozens of families have already enjoyed searching for the stones and learning about Pembrokeshire. Visit www.facebook.com/shwmae to see the locations they’ve been enjoying and for clues and competition details so that you can also take a ‘Pembrokeshire Shwmae’ selfie!

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Education

Launch of Month-Long Crucial Crew

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PARTNER AGENCIES gathered at South Hook LNG recently, for the launch of what will be a month-long safety campaign with local schools, during November.

Working in partnership with the financial support of South Hook, Pembrokeshire County Council is once again bringing together teams from Road Safety, School Transport, Domestic Abuse Services, Food Safety/ Food Standards Agency, Dyfed Powys Police, Mid and West Wales Fire Service, Welsh Ambulance Services, RNLI, Western Power and Network Rail, providing focused safety learnings to around 1400 of our County’s school children.

Being held via video learning for the second year, schools are being encouraged to include Crucial Crew in classroom discussions, throughout November. Films from each of the Agencies provide valuable safety messages, for a range of situations in which youngsters may find themselves; from first aid and bus safety to staying safe online and whist in the vicinity of railway tracks. A visit will be arranged for each school from a partner agency in the month of November to support their learning.

“Safety is our priority in everything that we do at the Terminal, so South Hook is proud to be a long-time supporter of Crucial Crew and the important safety education that it brings to so many local young students each year” commented Hamad Al Samra, General Manager at south Hook LNG Terminal.

As part of this year’s Crucial Crew, a competition will also be launched, asking children to design a poster, highlighting some of their memorable safety learnings. Prizes will be given to both the students and the school, with the poster being used for launch of the 2022 Crucial Crew event.

County Councillor Phil Baker, Cabinet Member for Infrastructure, Licensing and Major Events said “Pembrokeshire County Council is very proud to be a partner of Crucial Crew. We are saddened that once again we are unable once teach the pupils face to face, but grateful that through the HWB platform the partners are able to share their essential safety messages to local students throughout Pembrokeshire.”

He added “The Crucial Crew 2021 event, would not be possible without the dedication of the agencies and their staff, school staff and the continued support of South Hook LNG- which we are very thankful for.’”

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