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Education

Senedd told of families’ struggles with new ALN system

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FAR TOO many children and young people are unable to access support under Wales’ new additional learning needs system, leaving families at breaking point, the Senedd heard.

Jack Sargeant led a debate on a 15,000-name petition, submitted by Victoria Lightbown, raising concerns about implementation of the additional learning needs (ALN) system.

He said the ALN reforms have triggered more petitions in recent months than any other subject aside from 20mph, with five being considered by the petitions committee.

Mr Sargeant raised Estyn’s concerns about inconsistent application of reforms under the ALN Act, which is replacing the previous special educational needs (SEN) system.

The Labour MS, who chairs the petitions committee, said he has heard harrowing stories of parents having to fight against a system that sometimes feels inflexible and unsympathetic.

Buffy Williams, the newly elected chair of the Senedd’s education committee, said there is enthusiasm for the reform’s core principles but too much inconsistency on the ground.

She cautioned that a new category of pupils, with lower level additional needs, is emerging.

“They were on schools’ old SEN registers,” said the Labour backbencher.

“But for various reasons – which include funding, workload and perhaps the flexibility offered by the new curriculum – they are not being recognised as having ALN.”

Ms Williams, who represents Rhondda, said 32% fewer children were recorded as having SEN or ALN in the 2022/23 school year compared with 2020/21.

She raised concerns from the president of the education tribunal about “universal provision” being wrongly used as a reason not to give a child an individual development plan.

Saying the Act needs time to bed in, Ms Williams added that schools’ ALN co-ordinators need more dedicated non-teaching time to do their roles justice.

Sam Rowlands, for the Conservatives, raised concerns about far too many children falling through the gaps amid a massive overhaul of the system.

Mr Rowlands, the former Conwy Council leader, who represents North Wales in the Senedd, said parents also report issues with accountability.

Heledd Fychan, Plaid Cymru’s shadow education secretary, warned that too many children and young people are unable to access the support they need.

She told the chamber she was moved to tears by stories of families at breaking point.

Ms Fychan recalled one parent telling her how they contemplated suicide due to the strain of constantly trying to fight for the support their child deserves.

“This is the level of concern in our community – support is desperately needed,” she said.

The South Wales Central MS raised concerns about “incredible” inconsistencies for learners who need additional support in Welsh.

She warned that disabled and neurodivergent children are being excluded from many of the things that make school fun, from school trips to Christmas concerts.

Peredur Owen Griffiths, her Plaid Cymru colleague, highlighted a sense of frustration and anger among parents stemming from dismay at substandard provision.

He quoted a letter from Blaenau Gwent Council to parents which warned schools “can no longer afford to recruit the required number of staff to support our most vulnerable learners”.

Hefin David, whose daughter is autistic, reflected on his own family’s experiences.

He said: “One of the things that happens when you have a child with additional learning needs, or ALN in your family, is that it isn’t a moment of revelation – it’s a slow discovery.”

The Labour MS for Caerphilly stressed the importance of educational and clinical support, warning that all too often the two are disconnected.

Dr David likened the system to a pinball machine that passes parents from pillar to post.

He said his daughter is clearly diagnosable and in the right place in the system, but: “The problem you’ve got is where the children have more grey-area diagnoses….

“It’s much harder for them to find their place in the system as well, and I know others have had that experience. That’s where we really need to pick up.”

Vikki Howells, a fellow Labour backbencher, stressed that the transition to the new ALN system is not yet complete, with phased implementation allowing lessons to be learned.

She said casework in her Cynon Valley constituency shows ALN must be a priority.

Ms Howells, a former teacher and assistant head of sixth form at Caerphilly’s St Cenydd Comprehensive, highlighted a Welsh Government announcement of a further £20m for ALN.

Mabon ap Gwynfor, the Plaid Cymru MS for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, called for educational support to be based more on need rather than a diagnosis.

The shadow health secretary raised examples of children aged six not getting a diagnosis until they are 12 or 13, leading to a delay in support at school.

Lynne Neagle, Wales’ new education secretary, said ALN reform was always going to be an ambitious, systemic programme of change and it remains early days.

Vowing action to improve implementation, she told the chamber her priorities are twofold: improving oversight and increasing consistency.

Responding to the debate on May 8, she said the Welsh Government has protected more than £50m this year for ALN reforms.

Ms Neagle said there are examples of excellent practice in Wales’ schools, with the sector embedding a new person-centred approach while running the SEN system in parallel.

But she recognised the challenges, telling MSs: “We do hear too often that the families of children with ALN have to fight for the right support and education – and this must change.”

Education

Fostering Creativity in Education: StateOfWriting’s Best Practice

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Creativity is the beating heart of education, but finding an effective way to nurture creative thinking can be difficult. StateOfWriting encourages you, as an educator, and your students to unleash your creative sides with the following five practical strategies to enhance creativity in education.

1. Embrace Interdisciplinary Learning

Education stays isolated when topics are kept separate and are not mixed like ingredients in a smoothie – only when that happens is creativity born. Encourage children to find connections between subjects like art and science or history and technology. StateOfWriting is one free resource where educators can order custom-created assignments that mix the two, and students can get custom writing online. You would never expect algebra to help create a masterpiece, but sometimes, it could. 

2. Create a Safe Space for Experimentation

In case you forgot, creativity is a messy process. It’s adding a pinch of mayhem so you can discover something that works. Support an environment where students can feel psychologically safe with experimentation and failure. Teach learners that there is no creation without experimentation and no success without trial and error. Students must learn not to fear the failing grade, but instead fear the missed opportunity to learn something new. Your classroom must be a safe zone where there are no bad ideas and no stone will be left unturned in search of wisdom.

3. Encourage Divergent Thinking

Ever heard of thinking outside the box? Teach your learners to destroy the box altogether – that’s even better. Divergent thinking is about finding more than one solution to a problem; even the wildest and craziest solutions that a person might think are bananas can work in mysterious ways, and that’s actually how most inventions were born. Appropriate prompts and exercises can encourage students to think outside the box when brainstorming ideas. With StateOfWriting, students can polish those wild ideas into structured essays or consolidated arguments that can make even the harshest cynics go: “Hmm. Maybe there is something to their idea after all”. 

4. Integrate Technology in Creative Projects

Tech creativity? That doesn’t sound right, does it? But it can be! To make the most of creative assignments, provide students with digital tools and platforms where they can create. A digital museum exhibit, for example, or a multimedia presentation created with images, video, text, and music that illuminate a topic of study. Teach learners how to use these tools and platforms, helping your charges not only meet academic standards but also expand them creatively, shaping new possibilities.

5. Celebrate Diversity of Expression

There are more shades of creativity than you could find in a rainbow. Let your students express themselves in ways that are authentic to them: writing, drawing, music, dancing, and anything in between. StateOfWriting is here to support students beyond essay writing – we celebrate creativity in all forms and strive to offer resources that empower students to express themselves authentically. Be unapologetically yourself when working on your assignments, and the result will pleasantly surprise both you and your professors.

Unleashing the Creative Spark

Creativity isn’t just a buzzword. It’s the other side of learning, the spark in the corner of the professor’s eye, the impulse behind the kid asking questions. When educators turn thought into action and philosophy into exploration, students embrace the learning process. Interdisciplinary studies, safe spaces and playful experimentation, divergent thinking, technology, and the embrace of difference — these are the tools of creativity. With the help of StateOfWriting’s tools and tutors, educators can turn learning and assessment into a creative experience that lights the fires of innovation in every student.

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Education

Alun Davies says additional learning needs reforms not delivering

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THE ARCHITECT of Wales’ additional learning needs system warned the reforms are not delivering on the aim of transforming support for children and young people.

Alun Davies, who steered the Additional Learning Needs (ALN) Act through the Senedd, said the reforms had to deliver a sea change in learners’ experiences.

But the Labour MS for Blaenau Gwent, who has been on the backbenches since 2017, said implementation of the legislation has not delivered some of the initial ambitions.

“It breaks my heart sometimes to listen to the stories of parents, who are fighting hard for their children and who deserve the support to flourish.”

The former minister for lifelong learning called for confirmation that children and young people do not need a diagnosis to receive support in schools and colleges.

Lynne Neagle, who previously chaired the committee that scrutinised the 2018 legislation, confirmed support should be based on need rather than a diagnosis.

Stressing ALN is very much a priority, Wales’ education secretary told her Labour colleague: “I don’t agree with your rather bleak assessment of how the reforms are going.”

Ms Neagle acknowledged challenges with consistent implementation of the reforms, which are being phased in to replace the special educational needs system.

She said the Welsh Government has invested more than £60m to support implementation, with £54m budgeted for ALN in this year.

Also during education questions on June 12, the Conservatives’ Tom Giffard raised concerns about Labour’s pledge to apply VAT to private schools.

Mr Giffard, who represents South Wales West, told the chamber the Welsh Government has not carried out an impact assessment of such a policy.

The shadow education secretary estimated the cost to Welsh schools at £18m, asking how Welsh ministers would fill the “black hole”.

Accusing her opposite number of coming up with a “back-of-a-fag-packet” calculation, Ms Neagle said the policy will actually release funding for schools.

She replied: “You should know all about black holes, given that we have a black hole in our budget of £700m as a result of being short-changed by the UK Conservative Government.”

Meanwhile, Cefin Campbell criticised Keir Starmer’s pledge to recruit more teachers given education is devolved and Labour has run Wales for 25 years.

Mr Campbell, who took over the education brief in a Plaid Cymru reshuffle last week, said a survey shows three-quarters of teachers in Wales had considered leaving the profession.

The former lecturer raised concerns about the initial teacher education incentive scheme, saying the Welsh Government has “no idea” if it is working due to a lack of evidence.

Ms Neagle said Sir Keir is well aware education is devolved, suggesting consequential funding will be used to address Wales-specific needs such as shortages in certain subjects.

She agreed about the importance of data on incentive schemes: “I’ve been very, very clear about that with officials. You can’t change policy without having effective data.”

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Education

Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi’s model train club appeals for donations

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THE YSGOL Penrhyn Dewi Model Train Club, is reaching out to the community for donations of old Hornby 00 gauge rail tracks and accessories. The club, which has been a staple of the school’s extracurricular activities, aims to enrich its collection and create more intricate and engaging layouts for its members.

In an appeal reminiscent of a bygone era, the school has issued a traditional wanted poster, urging those with unused or forgotten model railway items to consider contributing to the club. The poster, which features a vintage steam locomotive and a railway crossing sign, reads: “Wanted: Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi VA Model Train Club is looking for donations of any old Hornby 00 2 rail track or accessories no longer used or needed.”

The initiative, spearheaded by enthusiastic students, seeks to foster creativity and technical skills through the hobby of model railroading. The club members, dressed in their school blazers, are pictured eagerly overseeing their current collection, which, while cherished, is in need of expansion to accommodate their growing ambitions.

Donations can be left at the Dewi Campus reception or, if necessary, arrangements can be made for items to be collected. The poster concludes with a heartfelt “Diolch!”, expressing the club’s gratitude in advance.

This appeal not only highlights the club’s dedication to preserving a traditional pastime but also underscores the educational value such activities offer. Engaging in model railroading allows students to learn about engineering, history, and geography in a hands-on and enjoyable manner.

As the Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi VA Model Train Club looks to the community for support, it stands as a testament to the enduring charm and educational potential of model trains. The school hopes that with the generosity of the public, they can continue to inspire and educate the next generation of railway enthusiasts.

For those interested in contributing, further details can be found on the school’s website or by contacting the Dewi Campus directly.

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