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Education

Student finance ‘discriminates against women and mature students’

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Very friendly and supportive: Neil Hamilton

A WEST Wales mature student has alleged that Student Finance Wales discriminates against mature female students who have changed their name through marriage or divorce.

Tricia (not her real name) contacted The Herald after she experienced protracted delays in receiving student finance to which she was entitled having been made ‘to jump through hoops’ to prove she was who she said she was.

She encountered difficulties after applying for a one year top up from a HND to a BA.

The situation was rendered all the more frustrating as, Student Finance Wales had all of Tricia’s proof of identity from the previous year, when she completed her HND, access to all of the information submitted in connection with that award, and repeatedly told her that there was no information required from her before telling her on a number of occasions, and only when she rang to query the continuing delay, that further information was needed.

Tricia applied for student finance on June 14 and supporting information for her financial status was provided immediately to Student Finance Wales. Tricia had the same customer reference number, same email, same telephone contact number that she had used for her previous application.

Tricia was particularly exasperated as she had been through precisely the same rigmarole in proving her identity in her initial application two years before.

She told us: “Despite the fact that I applied early for student finance, after that earlier bad experience, I kept on being pushed from pillar to post. Even though ALL of my information was already held by Student Finance and they were writing to me at my home address, which I had already provided and proved, it was not until mid-August that Student Finance Wales asked for proof that I actually lived in Wales.

“Having sent that proof, I rang up to check everything was okay and was told that Student Finance Wales had all the information they needed to process my application.”

She continued: “Having waited for a few weeks and with the start of term already near, I rang to find out what was happening. I was then told that before my application could proceed that they wanted information for an application for a childcare grant, which I have never sought and had not asked for. I had to write a letter telling them this – unbelievably six weeks after acknowledging they had received that letter, the information is still shown as required.

“Anyway, I confirmed again that they now had all the material they needed. And was told they did. A few weeks passed and I had heard nothing. I rang again. This time they wanted me to provide both my birth certificate and a form signed by a third party confirming that I was me!

“I raised an immediate complaint and was told I would be sent a copy of that for my own information.”

On October 26, Tricia rang to confirm that all information had been received and make sure that nothing else was needed.

Tricia’s experience then entered the realms of the surreal. A friend verified her identity. The same person had verified her partner’s identity for their application for student finance and been accepted.

The proof of identity was rejected and during the phone call a claim was made that a letter to that effect had been sent out on October 20, which was remarkable in itself as the identity form had only been posted on October 19. Not only was there no sign of that letter’s arrival, there was no sign of it in the record of correspondence.

Tricia then raised the question of her previous complaint, only to be told there was no record of it. She was then told by a manager at Student Finance Wales that she was not entitled to see the content of any complaint raised by the company on her behalf, although that manager told her that she would now raise a complaint for her and notify her it had been raised.

After waiting a few days, and with no sign of a complaint being made, Tricia emailed a full complaint to Student Finance Wales and copied her constituency and regional AMs in along with Cabinet Secretary for Education Kirsty Williams and the Assembly parties’ education spokespersons.

Response was swift. First to respond was Labour’s Joyce Watson who promised to raise the matter with the Cabinet Secretary. That was followed by responses from Paul Davies – who helped resolve Tricia’s previous complaint – Simon Thomas, and UKIP’s Neil Hamilton who provided a very full and sympathetic response to Tricia’s plight; then, the Welsh Government contacted Tricia and asked for her permission to deal with Student Finance Wales on her behalf.

Finally, a day or so later, Tricia was emailed by Student Finance Wales to say that they were now acting on her complaint.

Mysteriously, the letter telling her that her identity proof was unacceptable arrived postmarked October 31, the same day as her complaint.

Within seven days of contacting her local AMs, Tricia was told that her student finance had been approved and that payments would be made shortly. She does not think that is a coincidence.

Tricia is, however, still frustrated by the whole experience.

“The situation had become ridiculous. I was being discriminated against for being an older woman, who had been married before. They not only had all my information already, they told me they could see it on the computer system and yet still said they needed it again. It’s bureaucracy for the sake of it. And as for not allowing customers to see complaints raised on their behalf, I bet their complaints clear up rate is stellar.

“Again, it was only when I complained and copied in AMs that there was any movement at all. That is not right and just makes me wonder how many students who have not contacted their own AMs have been forced out of higher education by Student Finance Wales incompetence.”

She concluded: “When I initially raised issues about the process way back in August I was told that I should blame the Welsh Government! To make matters worse, it had been suggested to me that I could get my parents to confirm my name change. I could, I suppose, have got a shovel or Ouija board, but neither of those options was very appealing!”

Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education Llyr Gruffydd said: “Plaid Cymru believes education is a right not a privilege so we want to make sure there is fair play when it comes to Student Finance Wales regardless of age or gender.”

Mid and West AM Simon Thomas added: “A constituent has informed me of a formal complaint they have made regarding the way in which their application for student finance has been handled by Student Finance Wales. Their application for student finance has still not been processed – almost five months after the initial application was made.

“My constituent feels that Student Finance Wales indirectly discriminate on the grounds of age and gender.”

Simon Thomas has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Education requesting the following information.

  • An outline of Student Finance Wales’ complaints procedure
  • The number of complaints received by Student Finance Wales each year in the last five years
  • A breakdown of the nature of the complaints received
  • An outline of the evidence of income and identity Student Finance Wales asks for in order to process a student’s application for student finance

Tricia’s constituency AM, Paul Davies told The Herald: “The experiences that Tricia has had with Student Finance Wales are deeply disappointing and caused her unnecessary distress, at a time when she should be focusing on her studies. It’s clear that there are failings in the system, which continue to be unaddressed and the Welsh Government should now commit to seriously reviewing Student Finance Wales’ operations.

“Sadly, this is not the first worrying experience that Tricia has faced throughout her studies and it’s simply unacceptable. Lessons clearly haven’t been learnt from previous occasions and therefore it’s important that the Welsh Government urgently addresses these problems to ensure that other students are not faced with similar problems in the future.”

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Education

Council’s plan to expand bilingual education will be a gradual journey over 10 years

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Carmarthenshire County Council

CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council’s vision to increase bilingual education in Carmarthenshire will be a gradual journey over 10 years.

The Cabinet met yesterday (Monday, July 4) to discuss the Welsh in Education Strategic Plan (WESP), and emphasised that it was important to give all children and young people the opportunity to develop their Welsh language skills.

However, members stressed that families will still have a choice on the language in which their children will be taught over the next decade and after 2032.

The plan sets out how the council will develop Welsh language provision in schools based on the outcomes and targets set by the Welsh Government.

All councils across Wales have to submit 10-year Welsh language education plans to the Welsh Government in order to meet its target of one million Welsh speakers by 2050.

The outcomes include more nursery and reception children being taught through the medium of Welsh; more young people studying for qualifications in Welsh as a subject, and subjects through the medium of Welsh; increasing provision for learners with Additional Learning Needs; and increasing the number of teachers able to teach Welsh and through the medium of Welsh – with continuing support to develop staff through a comprehensive and flexible training programme.

The Cabinet said it was important for the council to provide more opportunities to be bilingual and referred to the various benefits it brings – from educational attainment to employability and health.

Cabinet Member for Education and Welsh Language, Cllr Glynog Davies said the aim was to meet and exceed the target set by Welsh Government on the percentage of Carmarthenshire pupils receiving their education through the medium of Welsh by 3032 (10-14%).

It included changing the language provision at 10 schools over the next 10 years creating an opportunity for a further 300 learners to be educated in Welsh.

He said: “We want to build on the progress made in early years education provision, and my ambition is clear – equal opportunities across the county.

“It is worth noting that we have the largest percentage 57.5 percent of nursery age children taught through the medium of Welsh. Immersion education is key to the strategy, and it is important that we continue to see an increase in the percentage of children transferring from the Meithrin groups to Welsh-medium education in the Foundation Phase.

“These early years are so important, the children are like sponges, absorbing information and absorbing a new language.

“We must then continue to see an increase in numbers in our reception classes, we say this even though we are the authority with the largest percentage (62.5 percent) of children receiving their education through the medium of Welsh.

“Children must continue to improve their Welsh when going from one school phase to another, and we need to make sure all children have the opportunity to pursue their secondary education through the medium of Welsh.

“At the same time, we need to give children and young people the confidence to use Welsh, in school and in the community. That’s what we want to see isn’t it, more and more using Welsh, hearing Welsh on the street. We need to develop and build on skills and confidence.”

Cabinet Member for Rural Affairs and Planning Policy, Cllr Ann Davies said: “I am extremely pleased to see this document and have a pleasure in supporting it. Working with young children, that is children under three-years-old, I can say that children pick up language very quickly, they absorb it, and the process is very different to learning a language. As they get older the process in the brain is completely different. I am pleased to see that there is an emphasis on early years, that is when we need to start.”

Cabinet Member for Resources, Cllr Alun Lenny said: “It is very important to state that there are many advantages to learning a language, obviously for careers, especially in health and social care where patients and clients must have a choice of language, it’s important particularly for older people, and young children, and people with dementia.

“The Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys Police has stated he is keen for all his staff to speak a certain level of Welsh, so we have a duty here to support that.

“The advantages of being bilingual are multiple, socially and in the world of work, and this strategy is very much welcomed.”

The WESP has come back to the cabinet for discussion following feedback from the Welsh Government, mainly to include some additional data and detail. It will now be submitted to the Welsh Government for final approval. A public consultation was held last year.

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Education

Carmarthenshire Council offers career opportunities through new Care Academi 

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Cllr Jane Tremlett, Cabinet Member for Social Care

CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council has launched a new Care Academi which offers exciting opportunities to those looking for a career in social work or social care.

Open to all ages, the Academi will provide training, support and guidance to successful applicants, enabling them to earn while they learn and choose a career path that suits them best.

With a blend of on-the-job training and education, there are various opportunities to explore the variety of social care and social work roles on offer.

All applicants must have a minimum of two GCSEs (grade A* – D) or equivalent in English, Welsh or Maths.

Cllr Jane Tremlett, Cabinet Member for Social Care said: “Our new Care Academi offers fantastic opportunities to those looking for a career in social work or care.

“Successful applicants could achieve a degree in social work or a level five management qualification, but there are also opportunities throughout the programme to find an alternative role that suits you best if completing a degree isn’t for you.

“If you are motivated, have a positive attitude and are looking for the first exciting step in a new career then we want to hear from you and welcome your application.”

For more information or to apply please visit www.Carmarthenshire.gov.wales/careacademi 

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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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