A PROGRESS report shows how a £36m Welsh Government grant to reduce infant class sizes is ‘making a real difference’ to schools across Wales.
The report also sounds a warning note on the risk of losing gains made when the grant ends in 2021.
The report reveals progress in reducing infant class sizes in targeted schools since the grant was launched in April 2017.
Reducing infant class sizes was a key part of the Progressive Agreement reached between Kirsty Williams and the First Minister.
In line with international evidence, the policy targets schools that would most benefit from smaller classes, such as those with high levels of deprivation, additional learning needs, and/or where teaching and learning need to improve.
Evidence suggests that reducing class sizes is not necessarily the best use of educational resources either for all schools or all pupils. The OECD, the body which administers the controversial PISA tests given much weight by the UK’s governments, says that reducing class sizes should not detract from making systemic improvements in education’s delivery for pupils. The OECD says that cutting class sizes will not deliver improvements in education’s outcomes on its own.
Some key findings of the report are as follows:
• The grant is funding 110 additional teachers, 42 additional learning assistants and 52 additional classrooms and improved facilities in 115 schools across Wales;
• the percentage of all infant classes and learners in classes over 30 has reduced since the introduction of the grant, with a reduction in class sizes across all targeted schools;
• the number of schools which were in the red or amber category of the school categorisation system has decreased during the grant period.
• Since its introduction 388 infant classes have benefited from the policy, resulting in there being 770 more learners in classes below 20, and 2,592 fewer learners in classes of 29 learners or more.
To coincide with the publication of the report Education Minister Kirsty Williams visited Penyrheol Primary in Swansea – a school that has benefitted from two additional teachers, two new learning assistants and £162,812 of capital funding for additional classrooms through the project.
The school now has an average infant class size of 23.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams said: “I want teachers to have the time to teach and children to have the space to learn and this is why I am committed to delivering smaller class sizes in our schools.
“Reducing class sizes is a key strand of our national mission to raise standards and extend opportunities for all our young people so that every young person has an equal opportunity to reach the highest standards and achieve their full potential.
“Reducing teacher workload is a key priority for the Welsh Government – smaller class sizes lessen the workload while improving both the quality and quantity of time teachers spend with pupils. I am delighted with the progress shown in today’s report.”
Penyrheol Primary School Headteacher Alison Williams added: “The additional funding that has been made available by the Education Minister has made a tremendous difference to the children at Penyrheol Primary School.
“It has supported the deployment of additional staff within lovely refurbished accommodation which has made a real difference.”
The Welsh Government scheme targeted a limited number of schools in each of Wales’ local authorities.
The grant was split into revenue funding, ie paying for extra staff, and capital funding for investment in schools’ physical infrastructure.
The majority of schools that received the revenue element of the grant said they will not be able to maintain an additional teacher beyond the grant.
Schools report that budgets are becoming more challenging each year and maintaining the additional teachers would put them in a deficit budget.
A very small number of schools said that they would consider the possibility of maintaining these classes through raiding their Pupil Development Grant (PDG) or making savings elsewhere in their budgets.
The way in which capital funding was allocated to different councils shows some large variations.
For example, Carmarthenshire gained £1.6m in funding allocated to buildings at four schools, and Ceredigion gained £1m, used at only one school.
Vital support for job seekers and employers in West Wales
TO MATCH job seekers with employers and career agencies across West Wales, a virtual jobs fair is taking place on Wednesday 9 September.
The free online event will be hosted by Working Wales, which is delivered by Careers Wales, and is in partnership with Job Centre Plus teams across West Wales and the south west and mid Wales Regional Learning and Skills Partnership.
Now, more than ever, job seekers and employers are relying on online support to find jobs and fill vacancies.
The event will run through Working Wales’ Facebook channels and will be split into two regional events covering West Wales mid and south. 10am-11am is for job seekers and employers in Bridgend, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Powys and Neath Port Talbot. 2pm-3pm will focus on Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Swansea.
Attendees for the free event will have access to a wide variety of job vacancies from many sectors across West Wales as well as expert careers advice to support with job applications.
Working Wales is funded by the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund and was launched by the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, Ken Skates in May 2019.
Within the first year the service has directly assisted over 37,000 people across Wales.
Careers Wales chief executive, Nikki Lawrence said “We are delighted to be working with our partners in the west to deliver a virtual jobs fair. Our careers advice and guidance is a vital part of supporting the economy during this pandemic, and these online events allow us to effectively and safely continue reaching and supporting our customers during these challenging times.”
To register your interest in these events, follow Working Wales on Facebook @WorkingWales. If you are an employer with vacancies to fill please also get in touch.
Available to anyone over the age of 16, Working Wales provides a one-to-one, tailored employability advice and guidance service, supporting people across Wales with job searching, CV writing, interview preparation, training and upskilling as well as with redundancy support.
For more information on Working Wales visit: www.workingwales.gov.wales or call 0800 028 4844.
Virtual graduation for Class of 2020
UWTSD is looking forward to hosting a series of online events to celebrate the academic success of the ‘Class of 2020’.
With formal degree ceremonies due to be held at a later date, UWTSD organised a series of digital celebrations that will take place on Tuesday, July 21, Wednesday, July 22, and Thursday, July 2.
Providing students with an opportinuty to celebrate their academic and personal achievements, the digital events included video messages from the Vice Chancellor, the Provosts, Universty Fellows as well as staff and fellow students.
“The Class of 2020 digital celebrations allowed us to come together – as family, friends and members of the University community – to mark our students’ academic achievements,” says Professor Medwin Hughes DL, UWTSD Vice Chancellor.
“These have been very difficult times for us all and yet students have succeeded, and these digital events help us to celebrate that academic achievement. Indeed, I would like to thank our students for the way in which they’ve responded to this pandemic and the way in which they’ve worked with the University. These celebrations were an opportunity for us to wish our students well for the future and to celebrate their hard work and success.”
Gwilym Dyfri Jones, Provost of the University’s Carmarthen and Lampeter campuses, said: “These virtual celebrations were an opportunity for the University to congratulate its Class of 2020 and to show that it is thinking of each and every one of the graduates at these unprecedented time,.
“It is also an opportunity for us to share our gratitude with the students for their valued contributions to the life of the university and its various campuses during these last few years,” he adds.
“We are proud of our graduates’ achievements and relished celebrating their successes with them in a virtual environment next week.”
Professor Ian Walsh, Provost of UWTSD’s Swansea and Cardiff campuses is immensely proud of the graduates’ achievements.
“During this difficult final term, the students of UWTSD have demonstrated the true meaning of the phrase ‘the best of us’,” says Professor Walsh. “It is fitting that the University takes a moment to celebrate the striking success of the class of 2020.
“Their hard won achievements demonstrate that this generation of UWTSD graduates possess all the necessary resourcefulness, resilience and determination to overcome the most challenging circumstances. In the process they have made their families, friends and lecturers extremely proud.”
James Mills, Group President of the Students’ Union at UWTSD also acknowledges the unprecedented challenges faced by the Class of 2020 and echoes the pride felt by all at UWTSD: “On behalf of everyone here at your Students’ Union we are incredibly proud of the hard work and success of our students over the past few months under incredibly difficult and challenging circumstances and adapted well to online learning.
“We also look forward to welcoming our students back in the next year for their graduation ceremonies on their respective campuses,” he adds.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, UWTSD – like all other Universities – had to respond swiftly to the lockdown restrictions with teaching moving on-line and celebrations such as graduation, being postponed.
However, UWTSD has already announced that its campuses will be open and ready to start teaching at the beginning of the new academic year, subject to government guidelines. The University is planning a blended delivery pattern for its programmes in Wales which means a combination of online delivery and on-campus teaching, when it is appropriate to do so.
The University is working to a detailed plan which anticipates various scenarios around the coronavirus context and government directives, much in keeping with the Welsh Government’s traffic light system.
It aims to ensure the safe return of students and staff to the campuses whilst also enabling as much face-to-face teaching as possible in order to ensure that students can enjoy an academic and social programme.
BAME advisor appointed to education post
PROFESSOR Charlotte Williams OBE has been appointed by the Welsh Government to lead a new working group to advise on and improve the teaching of themes relating to Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and experiences across all parts of the school curriculum.
Professor Williams accepted an invitation from the Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, to chair the new ‘Communities, contributions and cynefin: BAME experiences and the new curriculum’ working group.
In 2007, Professor Williams was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List for services to ethnic minorities and equal opportunities in Wales.
Professor Williams said: “I’m delighted and honoured to be leading the working group in advancing this step-change towards integrating Black and minority ethnic history, identity and culture into the everyday learning of every child in Wales. The goal is that the new curriculum will become a shining example of resourcing and enabling broad engagement in learning and teaching with BAME contributions past and present.
“The challenge is to ensure that Black and minority ethnic peoples have a presence across the new Welsh curriculum so that within all of the Areas of Learning and Experience we can hear the sound of their voices, know of their experience, history and contributions, past and present.
“This requires appropriate resourcing because we want all teachers in Wales to be able to rethink their materials and feel confident in the ways of delivering them to reflect this presence. It’s a very exciting prospect. In this way, our curriculum in Wales will ultimately be reflective of our common experience of a vibrant, inclusive, multicultural society.
“We have a rich history in Wales, built on difference and diversity.
“This isn’t about adding an element of Black and minority ethnic history here and there in the new curriculum, but about reimagining learning and teaching across all the elements of the curriculum so that it reflects a Wales that is, and always has been, ethnically diverse, internationalist in its outlook and progressive in its aspirations.”
The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, said: “Our diversity is one of our strengths as a nation and our many histories have combined to shape Wales today.
“I’m delighted Professor Williams will be leading this important piece of work and I look forward to seeing the group’s recommendations.
“The working group will complete a review of learning resources currently available to support the teaching of themes relating to BAME communities and ‘cynefin’ across all parts of the curriculum. The group will also review associated professional learning opportunities and resources. The group will be closely aligned to the review of Welsh history by Estyn, the education inspectorate.
“The Welsh word ‘cynefin’ loosely translates as ‘habitat’ or ‘place’, but also conveys a sense that all human interactions are strongly influenced and determined by both personal and collective experiences, such as through stories or music.”
The group will present their initial findings in the autumn, and a full report in the spring.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams said: “I’m very pleased Professor Williams has agreed to chair the working group.
“I look forward to receiving the group’s recommendations on learning resources to support the teaching of themes relating to BAME communities.
“Wales is made up of a multitude of stories. We must understand and analyse our own cynefin, and make those connections across our communities, nation and the world. It isn’t just about history as a subject, it’s language, literature, geography, and so much more.”
The group will oversee the development of new learning resources in advance of the phased introduction of the new Curriculum for Wales in 2022.
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