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Education

Tests go online

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Approach tailor-made for Wales: Kirsty Williams

NATIONAL reading and numeracy tests in Welsh schools are set to replace paper with innovative online assessments that adapt to a pupil’s abilities, Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has announced.

Currently the tests, taken by all pupils in Years 2-9, are carried out on paper. They aim to find out about pupils’ reading and numeracy skills in order to identify what each child needs to focus upon to progress.

The paper tests will be replaced with new personalised assessments to be taken online that have been specifically designed for use in Wales. The new assessments will automatically adjust the level of the questions to match the individual taking the test, providing an appropriate level of challenge for each learner.

The change to online tests will reduce marking time and administration.

Benefits include:

  • Assessments tailored to individual pupils
  • More detailed information on a child’s performance
  • A reduction in feedback times to teachers and learners

Schools will be able to test classes, small groups or individuals according to their facilities and at a time that works for them and their learners

The new tests will be phased in over three years, starting from the 2018/19 academic year.

Kirsty Williams said: “These tests are about raising standards by showing the next steps that children need to take in their learning. The move to online personalised assessments for reading and numeracy will benefit pupils, parents and teachers.

“Pupils will be taking assessments that will adapt to their needs and skills. They will have the benefits of automatic marking and schools will have feedback faster than before, giving them a better picture of how they can help all their learners to move on.

“This approach is tailor made for Wales. It shows how we are investing in our schools to continue our national mission of education reform to drive up standards and make sure every pupil in Wales, whatever their background, has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.”

The NUT has welcomed the proposals to change the way the literacy and numeracy tests are conducted in Wales.

NUT Cymru says that the new proposals have the potential to improve the way the tests are undertaken but note there still remains compelling evidence that this form of testing is counterproductive to the style of education being developed in Wales.

NUT Wales Secretary, David Evans, said: “NUT Cymru are still of the view that standardised testing is a flawed concept that does not fit into the ethos of the existing education system in Wales, and certainly not alongside the principles of the curriculum as presented by Professor Donaldson. We would have liked to have seen the Cabinet Secretary announce these tests were to be scrapped. However, it is fair to say that the changes that are being put forward could have a positive impact on the way the tests are currently implemented.

“Two of the big concerns we have raised with the Welsh Government in the past are the workload burden these tests have created for teachers and the way they have hindered the confidence of large numbers of pupils. In theory, making the tests an online process and ensuring they are adaptive which allow pupils to work at their individual abilities, can help address some of those issues. Naturally we will have to monitor the implementation of the new approach and I am sure the Cabinet Secretary and her department will take on board the feedback from the profession that follows.”

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Education

Acorn Antics Achievement

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From little acorns: Learning can grow

LEARNERS from all over Wales have been taking part in Natural Resources Wales’ (NRW) biggest ever Acorn Antics campaign.

Over ​30 education and learning groups collected approximately 386,400 acorns in three weeks – enough to plant 257 football pitches full of oak trees.

The Acorn Antics project, which takes place each year, helps NRW plant more trees which have been grown from local seeds.

The project also gives young people the opportunity to learn about, and connect with, the natural environment in Wales.

Ffion Hughes, Education Co-ordinator, Natural Resources Wales said: “We piloted the project in North East Wales over the last two years, but this year we opened the opportunity to education groups across Wales.

“The reponse has been huge and we’re proud to help more people get outside and learn about our woodlands and forests.

“In three to four years we will be able to replant the succesful saplings in the area they were found as acorns.”

Education groups such as Brownies, Cylch Meithrin, Scouts and primary schools took part.

With acorns collected from school grounds and country parks. Some were even collected from the grounds of a tennis centre and an art gallery.

Ffion continued: “We want to thank everyone who organised or took part in collections, and the landowners who gave permission for groups to collect acorns from their sites.

“2017 has been a great year for Acorn Antics which will help ensure there will be plenty of Welsh oaks for the future.”

NRW have sent the acorns to the Forestry Commission tree nursery in Cheshire where they will be grown into saplings.

Replanting local seeds helps reduce the risk of spreading pests and diseases which can devastate forests.

Oak trees help provide a home for wildlife, and help reduce the effects of climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

They can also help reduce flood risk and help create great places for people to relax and enjoy the outdoors.

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Education

Keynote speech at Natural History Museum

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Microfossils: Relevant to the future

DR MARTIN BATES was one of the keynote speakers at this year’s Micropalaeontological Society Annual Conference held at the Natural History Museum

The conference theme was ‘Microfossils: A Deeper Understanding of Human History’ and was open to all aspects of micropalaeontology. The title of Dr Bates’ keynote speech was Barriers, beaches and landscape change in Prehistoric Orkney: the contribution of microfossils which he presented jointly with Dr John Whittaker from the Natural History Museum.

The annual conference attracts international academics and experts but particularly encourages postgraduate students and early career researchers to take part, with awards for the best oral and poster sessions available for those early in their micropalaeontology careers. This conference helps support the work of the Micropalaeontological Society (TMS) which exists ‘to advance the education of the public in the study of Micropalaeontology’ and is operated ‘exclusively for scientific and educational purposes and not for profit’.

Based at the University’s Lampeter campus, geoarchaeologist Dr Martin Bates has a research focus on soils and sediments from archaeological sites and the geoscience of submerged landscapes.

He said: “I was delighted to take part in this year’s Micropalaeontological Society Annual Conference held at the Natural History Museum. It was particularly enjoyable to present a talk jointly with John after working together for so long in the field and laboratory but never sharing the same stage.

“The talk focused on what happens when sea levels rise and flood formerly dry land areas. A topic that is pertinent not only to the past but also perhaps the future.”

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Education

Google for Education in Wales

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Teachers to get digital tools: Kirsty Williams

TEACHERS will soon have more choice about the digital tools they use thanks to the roll-out of Google for Education, Kirsty Williams has announced.

The new software is a direct result of feedback from schools and will be made available through Hwb – the digital learning platform for Wales which provides a range of centrally-funded, bilingual digital tools and resources.

Latest statistics for October 2017 show that there were a total of 736,813 log-ins to Hwb during the month – a 55% increase over October 2016 – which equates to an average of over 23,000 log-ins every day.

As well as announcing plans for the roll-out of Google for Education, the Cabinet Secretary also provided an update on other areas of the Learning in Digital Wales (LiDW) programme.

This included progress on investing in School Broadband – a Taking Wales Forward commitment to provide superfast broadband to all schools in Wales.

This will provide fibre connections for 343 schools across Wales via the PSBA network and will ensure schools are able to access the range of tools and resources available via Hwb, as well as supporting the new curriculum.

The Cabinet Secretary announced that to date, over a third of targeted schools have been upgraded to faster speeds.

Guidance will also be published shortly to help schools understand how local area network issues can affect their internet connectivity and how they can make the best use of investment from the LiDW programme.

Kirsty Williams said: “We want our teachers to have access to the best digital tools and resources and the best quality superfast broadband.

“We have listened to the feedback we’ve been receiving from schools and I’m very pleased that, as a result of their feedback, we will be rolling out Google for Education in 2018.

“This will give our teachers a much wider range of digital tools and resources and will lead to greater collaboration and communication within the classroom.”

As a result of ongoing feedback, the Welsh Government will also not be renewing the Hwb+ virtual learning platform once the current contract expires in August 2018.

Schools, local authorities and regional education consortia will be contacted to ensure they are ready to take advantage of the new digital tools and can make the transition from the Hwb+ platform next year.

Liz Sproat from Google for Education said: “We congratulate the Welsh Government for their commitment to provide the very best education to learners across Wales. We’re delighted that Google’s education tools will be made available to schools via the Hwb platform and look forward to supporting them on their journey with us.”

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