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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

Industry collaboration will give local stuidents ‘head start’ in clean energy jobs market

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A NEW course preparing students for the future renewables’ jobs market has been launched by Pembrokeshire College. Two global renewable energy companies – EDF Renewables UK and DP Energy – have joined forces with Pembrokeshire College and designed a course to raise awareness, transfer real-world sector knowledge, and inform career journeys for 16-18 year olds.

The 2-year course – Destination Renewables – will educate learners about renewable energy technologies,​ including wave, tidal, onshore wind, solar and offshore wind and associated project development processes. This collaboration with industry will help to bridge the skills gap and showcase the diverse range of careers within the sector, all the while supporting net zero targets and maximising regional benefits.

Pembrokeshire is already a centre for energy, having played host to established technologies such as gas and petrochemicals, and is now providing a home for emerging sectors in renewables. EDF Renewables UK and DP Energy are themselves developing Gwynt Glas, up to 1 GW of floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea, off the coast of Pembrokeshire.

Nancy McLean of EDF Renewables UK who is leading the Gwynt Glas project, said: “With an increasing focus on tackling climate change and securing energy supplies, renewable technologies have to be developed and rolled out quickly, and we need to build a skilled workforce to deliver our plans. The partnership with Pembrokeshire College helps us to develop homegrown talent and meets the Welsh Government’s aspirations to develop green skills to achieve net zero. In addition to developing the Gwynt Glas floating offshore wind project, EDF Renewables UK is investing in onshore wind, solar, and battery projects right across Wales, so future career opportunities are plentiful.”

Chris Williams, Head of Development UK and New Markets at DP Energy, said: “There is a wealth of renewables expertise in the County, which is one of the reasons why we recently opened our UK headquarters here in Pembroke Dock. By introducing learners to the many career pathways within renewables we believe we can build the workforce needed to support projects like Gwynt Glas and DP Energy’s wider ambitions in Wales including tidal, onshore wind, solar, batteries and hydrogen. Having this skill base is crucial for Wales to maintain its position as a leader in renewable energy generation and technology development and is knowledge that can be exported across the world.”

Pembrokeshire College is the County’s largest provider of post-16 education and Head of Engineering, Arwyn Williams, said: “The College is delighted to be working so closely with industry to develop the talents needed for future careers in a sector that is so important to all our lives, and one which already has an established home right here in Pembrokeshire. Like our delivery partners – EDF Renewables UK and DP Energy – we are keen to maximise the regional benefits that renewables projects can bring, and we will focus our efforts on developing a skilled local labour force to work across all disciplines.”

Destination Renewables is underpinned by the Skills and Talent programme of the Swansea Bay City Deal, jointly funded by the Welsh and UK Governments, alongside private sector investment. Pembrokeshire Coastal Forum will support the renewables industry in the delivery of this private sector and education partnership to manage high-quality industry content standards and ensure a positive learner journey.

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Education

Finalists revealed in the Professional Teaching Awards Cymru

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THIS WEEK, 29 education professionals from across Wales have been revealed as finalists of the fifth Professional Teaching Awards Cymru.

The awards celebrate inspiring education professionals across Wales. Pupils, colleagues, and parents have nominated the extraordinary education professionals in their lives, and the nominees have now been shortlisted to 29 finalists across ten categories.

The nominees in South West Wales include:

Laura Buffee (Haverfordwest High VC School, Haverfordwest) for the Pupil (or Pupils’) Award for Best Teacher

Iona Llyr (Ysgol Maes y Gwendraeth, Llanelli) for Inspirational Use of the Welsh Language

Pembroke Dock Primary School (Pembroke Dock) for the Betty Campbell MBE award for promoting the contributions and perspectives of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Communities’ – a new category for this year.

The Pupil (or Pupils’) Award for Best Teacher is given to those nominated by pupils – past or present – who feel they have made a huge difference to their life in school.

The award for ‘Inspirational Use of the Welsh Language’ is for education professionals who have inspired pupils and colleagues to use and enjoy the Welsh language.

‘The Betty Campbell MBE Award’ has been named after Wales’ first black headteacher, and recognises an individual, team or school that has demonstrated an outstanding awareness of the importance of an inclusive education in their classroom.

The new award has been welcomed by Betty’s daughter, Elaine Clarke, who said: “The Award is a wonderful way to promote inclusion of all Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups and we are sure the recipients will continue to be inspired and develop future generations in the footsteps of our mother.”

The Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, said: “The calibre of this year’s nominations has, as ever, been outstanding. They demonstrate the breadth of inspiring education professionals we have here in Wales and it’s important we recognise that.’

“We have so much good work promoting the contributions and perspectives of Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities by schools and educators across Wales, and this is recognised by the new Betty Campbell MBE award.’

“I look forward to celebrating these fantastic individuals who go above and beyond for their profession.”

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Education

Pembrokeshire schools celebrate the great outdoors

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THE FIRST Outdoor Celebration Day to be held since 2018 was hosted by Pembrokeshire Outdoor School (PODS) at Scolton Manor on Thursday, May 26.

The PODS partnership, which is co-ordinated by Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, is a network of specialist organisations, head teachers and local authority advisors. Its aim is to support schools in encouraging children to become fully engaged with and confident in their local environment.

This year’s Outdoor Celebration Day was attended by 130 students from Croesgoch CP School, Gelliswick Church in Wales VC School, Golden Grove School, Johnston CP School, Lamphey School, Neyland Community School, Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi, St. Oswald’s VA Primary School and St Marks School.

After introductions and a welcome talk by Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools Co-ordinator Bryony Rees, each school was awarded a Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools award by Tegryn Jones, CEO of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, and Chairman of Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools, Graham Peake. This was in recognition of their progress and achievements with outdoor learning over the last few years.

Pupils had the chance to participate in workshops in the woods and on the lawn with PODS, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, the Foundation Phase Team at Pembrokeshire County Council, Darwin Centre, Sport Pembrokeshire and Tir Coed. Activities included mini beast hunts, building with natural materials, fire craft, Tree identification, bush craft and commonwealth activity games.

Bryony Rees said: “The event was enjoyed by all, with one pupil commenting that he had the best day in the ‘nature playground’. Representatives from Sustainable Schools, Keep Wales Tidy (Eco-Schools) and the National Trust were also on hand to connect with teachers, share ideas and discuss how outdoor learning in schools could be developed in line with the National Curriculum for Wales.”

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