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Plans to shorten school summer holidays pushed back



PLANS to shorten the summer holidays have been shelved due to the pressures on Wales’ schools and significant opposition from trade unions.

Lynne Neagle, Wales’ education secretary, confirmed school year reforms will no longer take place in 2025/26, with the decision deferred until after the next Senedd election.

She said pausing the proposals, which included cutting the summer break to five weeks or possibly four, will give teachers more time and space.

Ms Neagle recognised the pressure on schools implementing a new curriculum and additional learning needs (ALN) system while under financial constraints.

She said: “My starting point is always the best interests of children and young people. This means ensuring reforms are properly planned out and have the time and space to succeed.”

A Welsh Government consultation received more than 16,000 responses and 6,500 people backed a petition against the proposals, which was submitted jointly by education unions.

“Opinion was hugely divided on this,” said Ms Neagle.

“To ensure we get this right, we need to continue listening to and engaging with schools, teachers, unions as well as children, young people and parents.”

Plans for a shorter summer break – which were brought forward under Mark Drakeford, the former first minister – aim to reflect contemporary patterns of family and working life.

In 2023, research on Wales’ school year, which had hardly changed in more than 150 years, suggested long summer breaks disadvantage low-income families and children with ALN.

Nicola Fitzpatrick, interim Wales secretary for the National Education Union (NEU) Cymru, welcomed the Welsh Government listening to unions’ concerns.

She said: “Members will be pleased that the Welsh Government has seen sense and decided not to change the pattern of the school year.”

Ms Fitzpatrick said the NEU consultation response made clear there was no clear rationale for reform and that any changes needed to be evidenced based.

She warned: “It remains a really difficult time in education and the education workforce have seen significant periods of change, including implementing the new curriculum and significant additional learning needs reform.

“We also have a funding crisis, major workload issues, pupil behaviour and attendance issues, and mental health challenges for both staff and students.

“These should be the cabinet secretary’s main priorities and we look forward to discussing these with her as part of her commitment to listening and working in partnership.”

Tom Giffard, the Conservatives’ shadow education secretary, urged the Welsh Government to ditch the contentious proposals altogether.

He said: “Education is in crisis with soaring absenteeism, a shocking decline in standards, the worst Pisa results in the UK and rising incidences of violence plaguing our schools.

“We have long called for the Labour government to scrap this distraction and get on with tackling the problems they have created in education over the past 25 years.

“Kicking this into the long grass is not good enough.

“Labour cannot ignore every teachers’ union, let alone the tourism and business sectors, who are against the plans, the policy needs to be scrapped completely.”

Heledd Fychan pointed out that consulting on reforming the school year was part of Plaid Cymru’s cooperation agreement with the Welsh Government, which ended recently.

She said: “As we emphasised throughout the consultation period, it’s important that the Welsh Government listened to the views of parents, teachers and learners.”

Calling for action to improve school attendance, attainment and safety, the party’s shadow education secretary warned: “It’s clear that there is a crisis in education in Wales.”

Ms Fychan urged the Welsh Government to put plans in place for the forthcoming summer holidays to support children and families from low-income backgrounds.

“Steps must also be taken to ensure no child goes hungry in the school holidays,” she said.

Caerphilly’s Labour MS, Hefin David, said he “understands the differences of opinion” on the matter – but welcomed the proposed changes being axed.

He said: “As a parent of an eight-year-old and six-year-old, I find that the summer holidays are much easier and cheaper to manage than October and especially Christmas.

“In the summer when the weather is better, there are far more ‘free’ activities available such as parks, splash pads, picnics and public gardens. Free summer activities are plentiful but shut down quickly once the season is over.

“In October with the poor evening light and colder weather, the demands are more often for softplay, trampolining and other indoor activities that charge a fee.”

Dr David highlighted how children are more likely to play outside during the summer months, but stay indoors during the winter.

“It’s quite a challenge to manage this. Personally, life would be more difficult with a two week October holiday- it’s already one of the trickiest to navigate”.

Ms Neagle, who will give a statement on the school year in the Senedd at about 4pm today (June 4), pledged to prioritise support during the school holidays.

Jane Dodds, the Lib Dems’ leader in Wales, said: “I am pleased to hear that the Welsh Government has listened to the serious concerns raised over these proposals.

“Changes of such a seismic scale risked adding further pressure onto the shoulders of teachers and schools that are already being weighed down by the long lasting impact of Covid on education.

“Any future reforms must be seriously scrutinised and stress tested so that we know our children are receiving the very best education possible.”

In the weeks since Vaughan Gething became first minister, the Welsh Government has also pushed back controversial farming and council tax reforms until after the May 2026 election.


Research reveals nearly half of children in Wales had additional learning needs



A NEW study has highlighted the prevalence of additional learning needs, formerly known as special educational needs, among under 16-year-olds in Wales. The findings come with a policy briefing, calling for a robust review of processes used to recognise such issues and more inclusive learning support for all children nationally.

The research and policy reports, led by the University of Bristol and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, found nearly half (47.9%) of children born in 2002/2003 were identified with some form of additional learning needs (ALN) at some point during their schooling. This was shown to have the biggest impact on academic achievement across all Key Stages of their education.

Lead author Dr Cathryn Knight, Senior Lecturer in Psychology of Education at the University of Bristol, said: “Our findings clearly challenge the notion that learning needs only affect a minority of learners. Key common factors increasing the likelihood of being identified with SEN also emerged, emphasising the importance of recognising the child’s environment and understanding their individual situation to effectively support their learning needs.”

Researchers from the University’s School of Education and Swansea University analysed data from more than 200,000 children in Wales, born between 2002 and 2009, to understand the levels of SEN and its impact on academic achievement.

Findings revealed that the earlier the additional needs emerged and were recognised, and the longer their education was spent with these known needs, the less likely they were to meet nationally expected levels of attainment.

Dr Knight said: “Our research suggests the former SEN system in Wales was unable to effectively support students to mitigate the negative impact of SEN on their grades. This underscores the substantial toll of SEN on academic achievement. To improve academic attainment levels in Wales, it is crucial to prioritise effective support for this very large group of learners.”

Learners having free school meals (FSM) throughout their education were found to be four times more likely to be identified with SEN compared to those not in receipt of free meals. Those born in the most deprived neighbourhoods were shown to be even more likely (4.6 times) to be identified with SEN.

The study also showed boys were much (5.5 times) more likely to be identified with SEN than girls. Children with higher school attendance had a lower likelihood of SEN identification and learners born in the summer, so younger in their year group, were three times more likely to be identified with SEN than those born in the autumn.

Dr Knight said: “This raises concerns about the effectiveness of SEN identification processes, particularly given the unexpectedly high number of learners identified with SEN. It suggests a potential issue of over- or under-identification of certain children.”

The main policy recommendations in the report were to prioritise inclusive educational initiatives that recognise and support all children. The substantial impact of SEN on children’s grades, raises questions about how children with learning needs can be supported to show progression within the education system. Therefore, consideration of more inclusive assessment practices is recommended. The report also calls for current methods used to identify learning need to be rigorously reviewed, with a new focus on ensuring accuracy, fairness, and inclusivity.

The research mirrors similar national findings. Evidence from the Education Policy Institute in England also found a high level (40.7%) of SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) identification. Other research, published in the British Educational Research Journal, has also shown that children with SEND in England are also far less likely to meet expected learning standards than their peers at Key Stage 1.

Dr Knight said: “We also need longer-term evidence within Wales and across the UK in order to develop a fuller understanding of the challenges. This includes possible systematic issues with how learning needs are recognised and their subsequent impact on attainment.”

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School children focus on Pembrokeshire’s renewable energy future



FENTON COMMUNITY PRIMARY SCHOOL welcomed renewable energy experts to help Year 5 and 6 learners broaden their knowledge as part of their Marine Energy Project.

During the summer term Blue Gem Wind, Pembrokeshire Coastal Forum and the Darwin Experience have discussed Pembrokeshire’s importance in the renewable energy sector and low carbon technologies with the school children.

Learners designed and built models of different anchorage structures for offshore turbines, and learnt from the Darwin Centre about the different marine organisms that might colonise them.

They pitched their design ideas, with a combination of class designs being built and deployed at the Marine Energy Test Area (META) in Milford Haven by Pembrokeshire Coastal Forum.

The visits have inspired many new ideas and possibilities for the future of the learners.

Summer Marshall (Year 6) explained: “It was a great opportunity for our designs to be actually made into something for a real-life purpose.”
“If it wasn’t for this project I wouldn’t have learned about the importance of marine habitats and how these are linked to our future,” added TJ Hill (Year 6)
“It is really important because a lot of future jobs will be based around renewable energy and technology,” said Milly Badger (Year 6).
“From having Blue Gem Wind, META and Darwin visit, it’s made me think about a job in renewable energy,” added Oscar Davies (Year 6).

Acting Executive Headteacher Gareth Thomas said: “The project has enabled development of careers and work-related experiences with our learners. Direct industry engagement has been crucial to motivate our learners to think about the future jobs in Pembrokeshire and the life they may lead here.”

Year 5 and 6 teachers Leah Hackett, Matthew Vaughan and Mike Lowde agreed that many of their pupils could work in the renewable industry in future.

“Hopefully, after this, we have a group of enthusiastic pupils who already have a keen understanding of the benefits of renewable energy and the place it holds in Pembrokeshire and the wider world,” they added.

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Pupils delight in ice cream treat from Pembrokeshire’s number one van



CHILDREN at Ysgol Caer Elen in Haverfordwest were treated to a delightful surprise on Tuesday when they were all given the opportunity to enjoy ice cream, generously provided by Mr McGeown and his family.

The delicious ice cream, a highlight of the school’s summer celebrations, was not just a treat for the pupils but also a testament to the McGeown family’s commitment to supporting educational projects. The funds raised by the family have been donated to the school, aimed at enhancing various school initiatives.

The joyous event was made even more special by the efforts of volunteers Martin, Sian, Amirah, Jack, and Alyannah, who served the ice cream. Their contribution ensured that the occasion was filled with a wonderful and happy atmosphere.

The school extends its heartfelt thanks to Mr McGeown and his family for their generosity and support. Their donation will play a crucial role in the continued development and success of school projects, benefiting all pupils.

“We are incredibly grateful to Mr McGeown and his family for their kindness and support,” said Mr Dafydd Hughes, the headteacher of Ysgol Caer Elen. “The ice cream treat brought immense joy to the children and added to the spirit of our summer celebrations.”

Ysgol Caer Elen, a pioneering Welsh-medium school catering to students from ages 3 to 16, prides itself on its vibrant community and commitment to high-quality education in Pembrokeshire. The school’s ethos centres on creating a caring and inclusive environment where every pupil is encouraged to achieve their best and develop their skills for the 21st century

The community looks forward to seeing the positive impact of the McGeown family’s contribution, as the school continues to thrive with the support of dedicated and caring individuals.

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