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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

Free school meals opportunity for WG

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No reason to make Wales' poorest children pay: Bevan Foundation Director calls for investment

THE WELSH G​OVERNMENT​ has a unique opportunity to make sure that children from low-income families don’t go hungry, writes Victoria Winckler, Director of the Bevan Foundation.

Each year, around one in six of Wales’ school pupils claims a free school meal because their parents receive a benefit such as Employment and Support Allowance, Job Seekers’ Allowance or Income Support. At around £2.50 a go – £12.50 a week per child – this is quite a big help.

And the benefits of a nutritious midday meal are not just financial: a decent meal contributes to better concentration in the afternoon and ensures low income children have better diets too.

UNIVERSAL CREDIT CHANGES

The introduction of Universal Credit means that new rules about who can get a free school meal are needed. Universal Credit is set to be in place for new claimants in all parts of Wales by the end of 2018. The process of switching existing claimants to UC will take place gradually from 2019.

Universal Credit is paid to families where someone is working as well as families which are out-of-work. This means that the old rules for getting a free school meal can no longer be used.

In anticipation of this, the National Assembly for Wales passed the Free School Lunches and Milk (Universal Credit) (Wales) Order in 2013.

Put simply, this piece of secondary legislation enabled the children of all recipients of UC to receive a free school meal, irrespective of circumstances, while the benefit was being rolled out.

In practice, the numbers of children who benefited from the new rule were likely to be very small as the roll-out of UC doesn’t apply to claimants with children.

As Universal Credit is set to be rolled-out to all types of households, including those with children, the UK Government is cutting back on eligibility.

The plan is that children in families receiving UC which have an income from work of more than £7,400 will not be eligible for a free school meal.

The move has prompted a row in the House of Commons about the UK Government allegedly ‘taking away’ free meals from a million children, with equally furious counter claims.

It’s worth checking Channel 4’s Full Fact for the details, however.

CHANNEL 4 FULL FACT ANALYSIS

There’s some respectable maths behind Labour’s claim that a million children will lose out on free school meals after the government introduces a means test.

But they haven’t mentioned two key points:

  • No one who is currently eligible for free school meals under Universal Credit will lose their entitlement.
  • In fact, under Universal Credit, 50,000 more children will receive school meals by 2022 than would have done under the previous benefits system.

This is not a case of the government taking free school meals from a million children who are currently receiving them: it’s about comparing two future, hypothetical scenarios. Both of them are more generous than the old benefits system.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN IN WALES?

Universal Credit, as everyone knows, is not devolved. But free school meals are. It is for the Welsh Government to decide who can receive a free meal.

Provision is already less generous in England, where all infant pupils get a free meal regardless of their families’ income. The question is whether the Welsh Government will follow the same route as the UK Government for children in families receiving Universal Credit.

WHAT ABOUT THE COST?

Because the UK government has limited the eligibility for free meals in England there’s no Barnett consequential to help cover the cost of increasing eligibility in Wales.

But that is no reason to make Wales’ poorest children pay.

Aneurin Bevan famously said in 1949 ‘the language of priorities is the religion of Socialism‘. And on this he was right.

At the same time as Wales’ least well-off children have to pay £12.50 a week for a dinner, there’s free bus travel on the Traws Cymru service for anyone, a subsidised canteen for Assembly Members and government officials, and free swimming for over-60s.

If you had to choose who got the freebie, who would you select?

Any change to the rules will be via an order to be considered by the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee.

If the Welsh Government is serious about the well-being of future generations, there is not better case for investing in the health and education of Wales’ children than this.

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Education

Gold for Ammanford skills pair

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Joshua Richards: Faced network security challenges

A 15-YEAR-OLD from Ammanford has won a gold medal in the final of a national skills competition.

Backed by the Welsh Government through the European Social Fund, Skills Competition Wales is a series of events held in colleges across the country, designed to celebrate vocational skills and create highly skilled, talented employees for the Welsh workforce.

Shane Ellis, 15, who is currently studying for an Entry Level BTEC at Coleg Sir Gar, competed against students from across Wales in a wood working challenge. The competitors were tasked with creating a wooden box using different woodworking joints.

Shane said: “I’d heard about the competition from a friend, and at first I thought I was too young to apply. When I found out that I could actually go for it, I entered myself into the competition straight away.”

“I felt confident during the competition, because I’d practised using the saw on different joints in my carpentry classes lots before, in preparation for the competition.

“I really enjoy wood work, so I’m hoping to do more carpentry as part of my course next year, and hopefully become a carpenter when I finish college.”

Shane will be joined by 17-year-old Joshua Richard, also from Ammanford, who won a gold medal in computing.

Joshua is currently studying for a Level 3 BTEC in Computing at Coleg Sir Gar, and he competed against students from across Wales in a series of network security challenges.

The competitors were tasked with a range of challenges, from using a Windows virtual machine and setting it up with firewall rules and group policies to using a Cisco Packet Tracer simulation tool to set up a secure wireless network.

Joshua said: “I really enjoyed taking part in the competition this year. I competed last year in the IT Technician Skills Competition, so it was great to be able to compete again, but in a different category this time.

“Once I finish this course I’m hoping to go to the University of South Wales and do a degree in cyber security and forensics. I particularly enjoy learning about the crime side of IT security.

“I’ve loved computers since I was young. I enjoyed IT lessons at school but always felt that I wanted to do more, so working on computers became more of a hobby outside of school. My dad is always fixing computers too, so maybe my interest in computers had something to do with growing up watching him at work.”

More than 50 competitions are taking place this year, across a wide range of different vocations from bricklaying and hairdressing to aeronautical engineering and culinary art.

The successful youngsters may then go on to be shortlisted for the UK Squad, competing against the world’s most talented young people at the EuroSkills competition in Austria, in 2020, or the WorldSkills international final in Shanghai in 2021.

Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning, Eluned Morgan said: “Competitions like these are essential for establishing transferable skills for the future, and allow young people at the start of their careers to flourish.

“They provide individuals from Wales with the opportunity to demonstrate their skills as well as the chance to go further and compete on a national or even international level.

“I would like to congratulate Shane and Joshua on their brilliant achievements and wish them the best of luck in the next stage of the competition and I look forward to seeing them prosper in their future careers.”

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Education

Sky high opportunities with RAF

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Reaching for the sky: Students find out about RAF careers

PUBLIC services students at Coleg Sir Gâr have seen how their careers can take off with the help of the Royal Air Force.

A corporal and a warrant officer, who have served as far as Afghanistan, Copenhagen, Germany and Norway, visited the college, highlighting the global opportunities of the RAF.

Careers span from air traffic and fighter controllers, logistics, police, medicine and dentistry to survival equipment specialist.

Amanda Morgan, public services course leader at Coleg Sir Gâr said: “Visits such as these are vital for students to see for themselves what the opportunities are working for British forces and the team gave an excellent insight into RAF life and what opportunities and qualifications can be gained.

“They also offered an insight into its range of fighter aircraft used to protect the UK’s airspace, their combat air capability and how some models can gather airborne intelligence, it was an interesting and inspiring insight.”

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