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Education

New term structures prompt fears of ‘chaos’ in our schools

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Report and Comment by Herald Special Correspondent, John Vaughan

 

classroom_pupils_closeup_290There are fears amongst many within the education sector that Wales could be heading into chaos with a radical potential restructuring of term times. This comes as England adopts a policy from 2015 whereby head teachers will have the power to set their own school terms, potentially scaling down the long held traditional six week summer holiday to as little as four weeks.

The plans for England were announced on Monday July 1 of this year. The Department for Education set out the policy to ensure that, in future, term times are decided upon by head teachers and not local Councils. As it stands at present, Wales is not included in these plans and, though currently there is no legal duty on councils or governing bodies in Wales to work together on holiday times, there are plans to give the Assembly Government powers to set the same holiday times for all state schools in Wales. However, this is not policy yet and there is growing concern from some people within education that Wales could well follow in the same direction as England.

The National Union of Teachers have stated it will cause problems for families in different schools. A view shared by South Pembrokeshire And Carmarthen West AM and Shadow Minister for Education, Angela Burns who said, exclusively to the Herald,

“Imagine the chaos, a child at one school, another at one with different term times. It is hard enough with the disparity that England and Wales have. Even schools in the Vale of Glamorgan have different term times to Pembrokeshire. It’s the logistics!”

The Shadow Minister went on to express her concerns over the impact that this could have for potential childcare issues and parents planning for their work schedules. She stated,

“Why not let the County Council do it as they do now? I don’t understand the point of it and what are the benefits?”

Some have cited that one of the potential benefits of such a change could be cheaper package holidays for parents; others are more sceptical of this as an argument, as Christine Blower, head of the National Union of Teachers, pointed out when suggesting that holiday companies would just expand the period over which they charge premium rates, with the result that the general public would have fewer weeks of less expensive holidays.

Mrs Burns expressed her concern at the current Welsh Government proposal that the Welsh Minister for Education could have the sole power to set school term dates which could also mean an arbitrary decision could be taken on five or even six terms in a school year. She stated that she had been challenging these proposals. Mrs Burns also cast doubt upon the idea of cheaper holidays, given any change of term structure by saying that,

“The holiday companies would soon cotton on to it and nothing would change (with regard to cheaper holidays). I don’t see how that (argument) holds water”, a sentiment echoing that of Christine Blower.

A further argument put forward for this change is that it would allow for a better means of organising the curriculum. One head teacher in England argued that the changes would allow for ‘more equalised blocks of working which would be much better for curriculum planning and would be better in terms of levels of student and staff exhaustion’. Putting this point forward to Mrs Burns she responded by saying,

“Instinctively I don’t like the idea, but there is statistical evidence that the long summer break does give children too much time to forget what they are learning. The more successful European countries have shorter terms.There might be a discussion worth having about a four term year, it might serve small children, especially during the winter term”

This raised an important issue with regards to the lack of consistency with current term times and, when this was suggested to one local teacher, who asked not to be named, said,

“I can understand the argument that some of our terms are currently very long, with the present structuring, and, certainly, the autumn term leading up to Christmas can really take it out of all involved, pupils and teachers alike, but the summer holiday is almost an institution. It is a very long year and at the end of it we are all exhausted. I would suggest the first week of that summer break be a period for recovery and rest and then the last week is mostly used by teachers to prepare for the autumn term, whereby you simply hit the ground running almost immediately. I can see an argument for a five week summer break, but I would add that extra week on to the Christmas holiday, leaving the term length as it is. I can’t imagine the kind of chaos that would ensue if different schools had different term times – it makes you glad to be teaching in Wales if this is what is about to happen to our colleagues in England”

Seeking a response from the Head of Education in Pembrokeshire, Kate Evan-Hughes stated that,

“If such a policy were to be introduced in Wales, we, as a local education authority, would work with schools to minimise the impact and disruption for parents and students”

It certainly appears that whatever is decided upon in Wales, the policy is likely to cause at least some disruption and disorientation to parents, teachers and pupils when it is introduced into English schools.

However, a local Pembrokeshire school governor, who wished to be unnamed, did stress there may be some positives,

“From speaking to teachers I know it can take months for children to be re-focused after the summer holidays. I can see a four week holiday might be of benefit to help with this problem and pupils would re-focus much more quickly. Also, schools often struggle to keep children in school, holidays are cheaper (outside of current holiday times), but of course holiday companies would cotton on, but it could well cut down on unauthorised absences which is a real problem.”

It is an emotive issue and there are opinions for and against the change in England. No matter whether Wales adopts this policy or not, it seems from speaking with the various academic parties that, in Wales, there is at least a growing movement to question as to whether there should be a change to the structure of the school year and the amount of and length of terms. However, what are the impacts likely to be and who will it benefit? As Angela Burns states,

“This is a big decision that needs to be taken with all the consultation of teachers, unions, parents, governors, support services and businesses as it is a really radical move. If only one school did this it would be highly disruptive. It is a decision that needs proper analysis, research, evidence and consultation with everyone that it will affect. It is a huge change that needs investigating properly. It could be very unsuccessful”

Perhaps we, in Wales, should wait and see how successful it is in England before deciding upon a policy for Wales. After all, where education is concerned, risks simply cannot be taken with children’s academic futures. It is far too important for that and, surely, a measured and patient approach should be taken before any change is made, where quantifiable evidence has been studied and reflected upon before any final decision?

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Education

Multi-million build Pembrokeshire school continues at pace

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MORGAN SINDALL CONSTRUCTION and Pembrokeshire County Council have celebrated reaching the halfway stage of delivering Haverfordwest’s £48.7m landmark new Haverfordwest High VC School building.

The milestone was marked with a ‘topping-out’ ceremony, where the client team were invited to witness for themselves the dramatic progress that has been made on the former Sir Thomas Picton School site.

This key stage also represents a continuing commitment to transforming Pembrokeshire schools into high quality 21st Century school environments. The strong partnership working between the authority and Welsh Government is providing learners with the very best facilities.

The new school building will accommodate 1500 pupils aged 11-16 and 250 sixth form pupils. It will open in September 2022.

Demolition of the former school started in January 2020, with all involved with the project working hard to ensure construction began in November 2020.

The client team were invited to a ‘topping out ceremony’ at the school, which is held once the building structure is complete. The ceremony includes the placing of an evergreen tree on top of the building for good luck.

Morgan Sindall Construction are now at the halfway point and on track to have the school ready during summer 2022.

As part of the project, Morgan Sindall Construction are also building new sports facilities including an eight-court sports hall, a full-size floodlit 3G pitch and two multi-use games areas. The existing athletics track, all-weather pitch and grass pitches will also be retained.

It will not just be those that attend the new-build high school and sixth form that benefit from the new sports facilities – all will be available for the local community to use outside of school hours.

Robert Williams, area director of Morgan Sindall Construction, said: “We’re delighted to reach this major milestone at Haverfordwest High VC School and see this project really taking shape. Being at this stage of the project, despite all the challenges we have faced with the pandemic and supply chain, is testament to the hard work and dedication of everyone involved.

“The new school will provide first-class educational and sports facilities for both current and future generations of pupils to enjoy, as well as the surrounding community who will have access outside of school hours.

“We look forward to continuing our close working relationship with Pembrokeshire County Council and the Welsh Government as they continue their important work with the 21st Century Schools and Colleges Programme.”

Cllr Guy Woodham, Cabinet Member for Education and Lifelong Learning at Pembrokeshire County Council, praised the progress on site, and said. “I continue to be impressed with the huge efforts everyone has made to keep this project on time despite the many challenges that have had to be faced and overcome. My heartfelt thanks go to all involved and I very much look forward to this fantastic new school opening in September next year.”

The construction of Haverfordwest High VC School is now at the halfway stage.

Jane Harries, Headteacher at Haverfordwest High VC School, said: “The school are delighted with the progress achieved by the team despite the challenges posed by COVID. To be able to keep the programme on time and on budget is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the team from Pembrokeshire County Council, Morgan Sindall and all the contractors involved.

“The Headteacher, Governors and staff are particularly grateful for the opportunity to be regularly consulted on aspects of the design and build process for the new school which will undoubtedly be an outstanding educational provision for the pupils from Haverfordwest and its catchment area.”

County Councillor Alison Tudor, local member for Prendergast, said there was a great deal of anticipation for the new school, which would make a big difference to the future of education in Haverfordwest.

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Education

First Class Honours for Pembrokeshire woman

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A WOMAN from Pembrokeshire will graduate from her university studies next week with a First Class Honours degree.

Genevieve Robertshaw Maidment is among those to have completed their degree at the University of Worcester, achieving First Class Honours in her studies in Screenwriting with Film Production.

The 24-year-old, of Narberth, said: “I honestly can’t believe that I managed to complete my time here with a First. It’s been such a crazy few years, and I’m so proud that I finally succeeded in getting myself to this point after years of thinking I would never even make it to University, let alone achieve a First Class Degree! But I will say that I’ve been so incredibly lucky to have had such caring and supportive lecturers and the most fabulous course-mates, and I just hope I’ve done them proud, because I couldn’t have managed it without them.”

Genevieve’s long-term plans are not yet fixed, but, in the short term, she is looking to relocate to Bristol, which she says is a creative and media-centric city where she can take opportunities that arise. “Ideally, I’d love to break into the creative industry one day, either as a writer or by working in Location (for film or TV), but at the moment I’m just content to take things a step at a time as I embark upon this new chapter of my life,” she said. “Whilst I now have a lot of re-evaluating and figuring out to do, completing my degree has given me a renewed faith and confidence in myself, and will hopefully help to open doors for me in the Future.”

She is one of around 3,000 graduands who will graduate from the University in the historic Worcester Cathedral next week.

Genevieve, who attended Ysgol Dyffryn Taf, in Whitland, (Whitland school) and Coleg Sir Gar (Carmarthenshire College), in Llanelli, was initially attracted to Worcester due to the content of the course. “But when I arrived on campus for one of the Open Days, I just instantly felt at home, and subsequently couldn’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else,” she added. “This feeling of belonging was further intensified when I then met some of my prospective lecturers. They were so lovely and engaging, and really made me certain that this was somewhere I – a then rather terrified and under confident 21-year-old – might flourish.”

Having taken up her studies, Genevieve found continuing them when the pandemic hit in March 2020 challenging. She said: “It was such a concerning time for multiple reasons, but with regards to my degree, I felt very supported by my lecturers, and it was absolutely clear that the University was trying ever so hard to make things work for us under very restricting and unpredictable conditions.”

Her final year was, she acknowledged, overshadowed by the pandemic, but she added: “Despite all of the fear, uncertainty, and concern for ourselves and our loved ones, we continued to do our very best, and found enjoyment where we could – facing the year with a resilience that most of us probably never knew we had. So for that we should take courage for the future, because no matter what the outcome was, we did it!”

For Genevieve, one of the things that kept her going throughout this time was Loco Show Co. – the musical theatre society at the University. In her final year she was elected as its Director, giving her the chance to write and direct a pantomime, though due to Covid restrictions it was performed online instead.

The University’s Deputy Vice Chancellor and Provost, Professor Sarah Greer, said: “The class of 2021 showed remarkable resilience and determination in the face of some unprecedented challenges during their studies, due to very difficult external circumstances. They have all done so well in earning a degree from Worcester, through their hard work, perseverance and dedication. This should stand them in good stead as they move into their chosen careers. Our students who earned a First Class Honours should feel particularly proud of themselves – it is an outstanding achievement. Many congratulations to them and I wish them all the very best in their future careers. I would also like to thank our outstanding staff at the University, who went above and beyond to ensure that our students reached their full potential.”

For information on courses at University of Worcester visit www.worcester.ac.uk or for application enquiries telephone 01905 855111 or email admissions@worc.ac.uk

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Education

We Swim Wild brings micro plastic research to the Pembrokeshire Coast

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THE PILOT session of Pobl Dwr was filmed for an upcoming episode of ITV’s Coast and Country series with Sean Fletcher and pupils from Castle School in Haverfordwest explored marine and environmental issues affecting the waterways in Wales. 

A pupil from Castle School said “I found 22 pieces of microplastics in one cup of sea water”.

Created by the Wales non profit We Swim Wild, Pobl Dwr has made children aware of the microplastic pollution crisis, while giving them a chance to explore the beautiful coastline and deepen their connection with the ocean environment. 

We Swim Wild aims to educate and empower the younger generation on environmental action and micro plastic pollution.

A pupil from Castle School described their experience as “the biggest eye opener ever”.

The project gives pupils an opportunity to learn about the marine life on our coasts through an immersive snorkeling programme, wellbeing activities such as breathwork and meditation, citizen science microplastic analysis that actually feeds into We Swim Wilds national microplastic database with Bangor University.

We Swim Wild founder Laura Owen Sanderson says “ We have been highlighting the issue of microplastics for the last few years, through adventure activism campaigns and U.K wide citizen science projects to map for microplastics. 

The education programme gives young people the opportunity to experience the magic of wild waters safely, equips them with the skills and tools to analyse water for silent contaminates and the opportunity to see the scale of the problem in real time”. 

The project in Pembrokeshire is in collaboration with The Big Retreat Community, the non profit arm of The Big Retreat Festival in Pembrokeshire, one of the top adventure and wellbeing festivals in the UK. 

Festival founder Amber Lort-Phillips says “Wellbeing in nature is at the heart of everything we do. As a result of the pandemic, we know that young peoples’ mental health has suffered significantly. We want to give them the skills to improve their own mental and physical health whilst learning how to protect the planet for generations to come, and there is no better place to do it than in our home, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.”

“Plastic can commonly be found in our water, soil and air,” explains Laura. “Crucially, we now know it is in our bodies as we breathe in, eat and drink plastic particles every day. As plastic production grows, so does our exposure. There is growing concern that it may be harming our health.”

Laura adds  “We know that the presence of microplastic and nano plastic in our bodies can’t break down and is associated with chronic disease and pressure on our immune systems, such as arthritis, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The truth is there is currently not enough money invested in Plastic research and its impact on our health. Our citizen science campaigns and education programme go some way towards mapping current UK levels for this emergent contaminate”.

We Swims Wild’s ultimate goal is to get the UK government to start testing regularly for microplastic levels as an emergent contaminate and to put greater restrictions on plastic production and its use. 

A group of MP’s including MP Mike Penning has also called on the chancellor to commit to a £15 million fund to examine the potential health impacts of plastic.

The Pembrokeshire project has been sponsored by the National Lottery community fund. We Swim Wild will be bringing this programme to coastal communities across Wales over the coming months. 

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