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Education

Government to act on early exam entry

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Adam Price: Welcomed Cabinet Secretary’s comments

SCHOOLS across Wales have been accused of ‘gaming’ the examination and qualification system at GCSE level and failing pupils in the process.

The issue has arisen following a report from Qualifications Wales, the regulator of non-degree qualifications and the qualification system in Wales, which has alerted the Welsh Government to the high risk that overall GCSE results will decline in Wales due to the widespread practice of entering children a year early into GCSE examinations in order to ‘bank’ results, with able pupils denied the chance to improve their grade at a later examination.

Almost two thirds of Year 10 pupils were entered for the English GCSE in the last exam cycle.

The same practice in England led to the UK Government intervening and making adjustments to school league tables, so that only the first attempt at examinations counted towards schools’ performance.

And Kirsty Williams, the Cabinet Secretary for Education in the Welsh Government, has said she may now intervene to prevent or curtail Welsh schools from putting Welsh pupils forward to sit GCSEs a year early.

In an interview on BBC Wales’ Sunday Politics, Kirsty Williams said: “What I’m concerned about is that children that, perhaps had the potential to get an A* and A or a B at the end of a two year course end up having to settle for a C because they do it early and they’re not re-entered again.

“I want children to fulfil their potential in school. I want early entry to be only for the children who will benefit from it.

“When I see such large numbers as are being reported as being entered, that’s something I am concerned about.”

Qualifications Wales said the problem is particularly acute this year due to a more rigorous curriculum and examination programme.

The body is scheduled to complete a review and report to the Welsh Government in September this year on the issue.

Welsh Government advice is that decisions about early entry into GCSE’s must be made ‘in the interests of the individual child’. In May, however, the Welsh Government’s Director of Education, Steven Davies, claimed in evidence to an Assembly Committee that schools have conducted early entry ‘to test the system’.

Mr Davies continued: ‘There are also those out there who are gaming.’

Mrs Williams’ stance on the subject has been welcomed by Adam Price AM.

Adam Price has been making representations regarding early exam entry to the Welsh Government since the start of the year having been contacted by a local maths tutor who had seen a dramatic rise in demand for private tutoring.

The Plaid Cymru AM also met with the Education Secretary in May to express concern that pupils may not be reaching their full potential.

Mr Price says he welcomes the willingness of the Education Secretary to intervene but said options for early entry should not be closed off to everyone.

Adam Price said: “I first made representations to the Education Secretary back in January having been contacted by a local maths tutor who had seen a dramatic rise in demand for private tutoring. His concern was that pupils were being entered for early examination but did not have time to actually finish the course before sitting the exams.

“Whilst it seems attractive for pupils to ‘bank’ a good grade early and take some pressure off a year later, many pupils will miss out on a better grade if they were to be given the opportunity to complete the course over the longer and traditional two year timescale.

“Early entry for exams is not a new phenomenon – this has always been a feature of GCSEs at the discretion of teachers and it should not be closed off entirely. But there does seem to be widespread change this year with almost two-thirds of all pupils in Wales being entered a year early.

“I welcome the Minister’s comments that she is prepared to intervene depending on the findings of her review, but the pressure on schools and teachers must be considered as part of this investigation.

“We all want what is best for our school pupils. The education system should support pupils who need the full two years of study, and allow teachers to make decisions on how pupils can best reach their individual potential.”

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Education

Funding for music education trebled to the tune of £13.5m

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EVERY child will have the opportunity to benefit from music education as part of the Welsh Government’s plans for a national music service, which will help ensure no child misses out due to a lack of means.

As the National Plan for Music Education is published, the Minister for Education has confirmed funding will be trebled, with £13.5m being invested over the next three years.

The plan will make access to music education fairer and more consistent across Wales, with a particular focus on learners from low-income households and those with Additional Learning Needs. Support will be available for children and young people to access and progress with music tuition, with learners from disadvantaged and under-represented groups supported to join music ensembles.

The plan includes a number of key work programmes such as:

A review on music tutors’ terms and conditions, to ensure they are treated equitably and are recognised properly.
A ‘First Experiences’ programme to offer children in primary schools a minimum of half a term of musical instrument taster sessions, delivered by trained and skilled music practitioners.
A ‘Making Music with Others’ initiative, including opportunities for children and young people in secondary schools to gain industry experience through working alongside musicians and creative industries
A new national instrument and equipment library to support access to a resource bank to be shared across Wales.
These programmes will be rolled out from September 2022, supporting schools and settings to give all children and young people from the ages of 3 to 16 the opportunity to learn to play an instrument as well as singing and making music in our schools and our communities.

The National Music Service will operate as a ‘hub’, with the Welsh Local Government Association co-ordinating the Music Service’s programmes with a wide range of organisations. It will help schools and settings in their delivery of the Curriculum for Wales and provide more diverse opportunities for children and young people to experience music outside schools and settings.

First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford and the Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, visited St Joseph’s Cathedral Primary School in Swansea to see a cluster of primary school children taking part in a ‘Play Along’ session led by Swansea Music Service.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said:

“The establishment of a National Music Service for Wales is an important commitment in our Programme for Government and I’m delighted that we are delivering on this pledge.

“Learning an instrument was a formative part of my upbringing and a lack of money should not be a barrier to any young person who wants to learn to play music. We are fortunate in Wales to have a strong tradition of school, county and national ensembles, and we want to make sure that our children and young people are able to play a full part in these. This funding will support music services in schools and within the community to help nurture our young musical talent.”

The Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles said:

“Our vision is for all children and young people across Wales, regardless of background, to have the chance to learn to play an instrument. The plan we are publishing today, backed by funding, will help deliver that vision.

“For too long, the chance to learn an instrument and develop musical skills has been for those few whose families and carers who can afford tuition. I want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to access music tuition, and that’s why we’re making this significant investment to deliver a range of activities for our children and young people to learn and experience the joy of music.

“The development of the National Music Service will ensure that we nurture our next generation and continue to produce new talent and showcase Wales to the world.”

WLGA Chief Executive Chris Llewelyn said:

“We are proud to work with the Welsh Government on delivering this vital service to children across Wales. Many families in Wales can’t afford an instrument, and this funding will go a long way to opening doors to children across Wales to have the opportunity of learning an instrument.

“Playing an instrument and reading music is a very important skill for a child, and music brings enormous joy to children. Local authorities believe that children across Wales will have better access to instruments, and this plan will develop many future talented musicians, and support pupils to develop their musical skills.”

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Education

Carmarthen headteacher struck off for telling staff to falsify pupil attendance figures

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A HEADTEACHER who told staff to fiddle his school’s attendance figures to log pupils as present when they were not in classes and then tried to influence an official investigation, has been banned from the classroom.
Peter Andrew Spencer began the five year long deception at Queen Elizabeth High in Carmarthen, after an Estyn inspection recommended attendance was improved, a professional standards hearing was told.

Schools get more funding and rank better on national performance measures the higher attendance is.
More than 28,000 pupil absences at the bilingual school were changed to showing as present between 2014 and 2019 before a member of staff reported it, an Education Workforce Council Wales panel heard.

Mr Spencer, who left the 1,500-pupil school with a financial settlement from Camarthenshire Council in 2020 after nine years in post, told members of staff to falsify attendance data on the School Information Management System, witnesses told the hearing.
Luke Lambourne, presenting officer for the EWC said one member of staff identified only as “Person A” was drawn into the head’s “web of deceit” out of misguided loyalty while others felt “under pressure” to join in the deception.
One senior member of staff told the committee he was among those asked by the headteacher to alter codes “n” for not present and “i” for ill to a symbol showing those pupils as present.

The man, who gave evidence to the remote hearing held on May 11 and 12, but was identified only as “Person D” said he had felt anxious the whole time he was involved.
He admitted he had been “weak” in doing so, but denied, when questioned, that he had instigated the deception which he said was masterminded by the head.

“Person D” told the panel he was asked by Mr Spencer to make “illegitimate amendments” to attendance data” to “show the school in a good light” and that this “dishonest practice” continued with other staff. “It was difficult to say no to the headteacher’s decision,” he told the panel.

Mr Spencer, who now works as head of an international school abroad, was not at the hearing or represented. He did not formally respond to the four allegations against him in person but did so in a written statement of mitigation to the hearing.
In his the statement, Mr Spencer denied ever instructing any staff to alter the absence data. Blaming “Person D” for the changing the attendance figures he admitted that he, as head, then failed to report it.
The headteacher said he kept quiet about the deception because he understood the pressure staff were under from agencies outside the school including Estyn, the local education authority and school consortia.
“I have never instructed any employee to falsely inflate attendance data,” Mr Spencer’s written statement said, “I accept fully that being aware of malpractice and in not acting I condoned the malpractice.”
And he went on: “I did not instigate the programme of attendance inflation. The action was started by my colleague (Person D) unbeknown (sic) to me.” Mr Spencer added that schools were under so much pressure at the time that “anecdotally it was believed data manipulation was widespread”.
The deception was finally reported to school governors by another member of staff in autumn 2018. The committee was told that the “whistle blower” reported being told by someone involved that data was being “fiddled”.

The allegations against Mr Spencer included:

That he was guilty of unacceptable professional conduct in that between, or around January 2014 and February 2019, he instructed employee(s) at Queen Elizabeth High School to amend pupil attendance data on the School’s School Management Information System (SIMS) in a way that falsely inflated the data.

That the conduct was dishonest and/or lacked integrity.

That he discussed details of the disciplinary investigation in respect of allegation 1 above with staff identified as Person A and/or Person D, when he knew that he should not discuss the investigation with school employees; and/or they were, or were likely to be witnesses to the investigation.

The conduct as outlined in allegation 3 was inappropriate in that it: a) breached confidentiality; and/or b) had the potential to influence the progress/outcome of the investigation; and/or c) was intended to influence the progress and/or outcome of the investigation.

In relation to allegation 1, Mr Spencer denied ever instructing any employee to falsify data, but admitted when he became aware did not report it, which he said was tantamount to condoning it. Mr Spencer accepted in writing allegations 2, 3a and 3b, 4a and 4b but not 4c.
Finding all allegations proved the committee found that taken together they amounted to unacceptable professional conduct.
“I fully accept my actions fall below the standards expected of a headteacher,” Mr Spencer admitted in his written statement.
Striking him off the teaching register in Wales, committee chair Peter Owen said: “In the committee’s view this was a protracted, serious instance of misconduct over many years.”
Mr Owen said Mr Spencer’s “extent of regret and remorse is limited and not where it should be.”

He added that when the deception came to light the headteacher had tried to influence, rather than accept the investigation. He said the committee took into account Mr Spencer’s former unblemished record and the good testimony from his current school employer overseas. But the matters were so serious, protracted and dishonest that there was no option but to strike him off.
Mr Spencer may not apply to re-join the register in less than five years. He has 28 days to appeal to the High Court.

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Education

Ysgol Bro Dinefwr strives to become the first carbon neutral school in Wales

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Cllr Ann Davies, Cabinet Member for climate change, with Ysgol Bro Dinefwr pupils

PUPILS at a Carmarthenshire secondary school vying to become the first carbon neutral school in Wales have met with Carmarthenshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for climate change.

Students at Ysgol Bro Dinefwr showed Cllr Ann Davies around their school building and grounds to highlight their efforts as part of the council’s Prosiect Zero Sir Gâr campaign.

The school is one of many the council is investing in to become more energy efficient with renewable and energy saving technology to minimise its impact on the environment.

Pupils have been wholly involved in their school’s bid to tackle climate change, not only coming up with their own ideas but helping to manage resources such as its outdoor learning area where they plant, tend to and pick fruit and vegetables to be used as part of school meals.

School leaders say giving the pupils practical tasks helps them ‘feel’ the change they are making, putting words into action and encouraging them to think more widely about the climate change agenda.

Cllr Ann Davies said she was impressed by the school’s dedication and enthusiasm.

“As a council we are committed to tackling climate change, indeed we were the first in Wales to declare our intention to become net zero carbon by 2030,” she said. “For us that means we have to get everybody involved, and most certainly our future generations on whom climate change will have the biggest impact.

“It was a pleasure to visit Ysgol Bro Dinefwr and speak with the pupils. We spoke about their concerns for the future, and why they feel they need to take action now to help make a change.

“As well as the practical things they are doing, like harvesting rainwater, growing food, and planting trees and flowers to attract wildlife and offset carbon emissions, they are talking about the issue too – not just in school, but out in their communities and even taking the cause to the Houses of Parliament.”

Assistant headteacher Ian Chriswick said pupils have fully embraced the school’s efforts, even giving up their free time during breaks to get involved in the outside spaces.

“They have been very passionate about this since day one,” he said. “They clearly have anxieties about what is happening to the climate and they feel that they want to be able to do something about it. This gives them a chance to do that.”

Through Prosiect Zero Sir Gâr Carmarthenshire County Council is shining a spotlight on efforts that are being made as the authority works towards being net zero carbon by 2030.

The campaign encourages everyone to play their part in tackling climate change by reducing Carmarthenshire’s carbon footprint, and by having conversations with people about reducing energy use.

In February 2019, Carmarthenshire County Council was one of the first local authorities to declare a climate emergency, and made a commitment to becoming a net zero carbon local authority by 2030. It has since been the first local authority in Wales to publish a net zero carbon action plan, which was endorsed by full council in February 2020.

Cllr Davies, said everyone should get involved.

“We must all take action now – climate change is already having an impact in Carmarthenshire,” she said. 

“Every one of us can make a difference. It could be as simple as turning our thermostats down a degree, switching off our lights when they’re not needed, or recycling as much as we possibly can.

“We want Prosiect Zero Sir Gâr to inspire collective action. The smallest of actions will build together to make a big difference.”

Carmarthenshire County Council’s action towards net carbon zero covers every area of its services.

It involves everything from ensuring that all new major build projects such as homes and schools are energy efficient and incorporate renewable energy, to retro-fitting older buildings with an extensive range of energy conservation measures, including solar PV panels, LED lighting replacement, lighting controls, pipework insulation, building fabric improvements, boiler upgrades and water and heat saving technology.

As well as procuring all its electricity from renewable energy sources, the council has made other efforts to reduce carbon emissions including converting street lights to low energy LED and upgrading its fleet to include electric cars and more energy efficient refuse and gritting vehicles.

The authority is also working with other public bodies to deliver wider change, and is exploring opportunities for tree planting and renewable energy generation on council-owned land.

Find out more by visiting www.carmarthenshire.gov.wales/prosiectzerosirgar

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