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University lecturers to strike

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Strike: Lecturers to walk out over enforced pension changes

FOUR Welsh universities are among 61 institutions across the UK that will be hit with 14 days of strike action, the University and College Union (UCU) announced on Monday (Jan 29).

Aberystwyth University, Bangor University, Cardiff University and the University of Wales will all be affected by the action that begins on Thursday, February 22. UCU members at Swansea University are being balloted to see if they will also take action.

The union confirmed an escalating wave of strikes over an initial four week period that will begin with a five-day walkout either side of a weekend. The universities will then be hit with four days of strikes from March 5-8 and a full five-day walkout the following week​ (Mar 12-16).​

The strike dates are:

  • Week one – Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February (two days)
  • Week two – Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days)
  • Week three – Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Friday 8 March (four days)
  • Week four – Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days)

Last week talks between UCU and the employers’ representative Universities UK (UUK) ended without agreement and UUK’s plans to transform the scheme were forced through by the chair’s casting vote.

The dispute centres on UUK’s proposals to end the defined benefit element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme. UCU says this would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement than under the current set-up.

In the recent strike ballot UCU members overwhelmingly backed industrial action. Overall, 88% of members who voted backed strike action and 93% backed action short of a strike. The turnout was 58%.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “Staff who have delivered the international excellence vice-chancellors use to justify their own lavish pay and perks are understandably angry at efforts to slash their pensions. They feel let down by leaders who seem to care more about defending their own perks than the rights of their staff.

“Strike action on this scale has not been seen before on UK campuses, but universities need to know the full scale of the disruption they will be hit with if they refuse to sort this mess out.”

Swansea University was one of seven universities’ that failed to meet the government’s new 50% turnout threshold that must be met. Although 88.5% of members who voted backed strike action, the 49.7% turnout figure was not high enough.

A fresh ballot will close on Friday​, ​February​ 16​. If UCU members at the Swansea University back strikes again, and at least 50% participate in the vote, they would be able to join the action from Monda​y, ​March​ 5​.

Commenting on the results of the UCU ballot on possible strike action, a Universities UK (UUK) spokesperson said: “The prospect of industrial action at 61 out of the 68 higher education institutions balloted by UCU is disappointing as talks between employers and the union on USS pension reform continue. A solution to the significant funding challenges facing USS needs to be found. UUK’s priority is to put USS on a secure and sustainable footing while offering attractive, market-leading pensions – the very best that can be afforded by both employers and employees.

“We should be under no illusion, this is not a problem that will go away if ignored. To retain the status quo would only serve interests in the short term. Without reform now, universities will likely be forced to divert funding allocated from research and teaching to fill a pensions funding gap. The option of no reform is a dangerous gamble. It is a risk that employers cannot take.

“If industrial action takes place it could cause disruption to students at some universities. We hope that this can be avoided through further talks with UCU and that union members carefully consider the possible impact on students of taking industrial action.”

One of the key issues for the pension scheme is the size of its deficit. Against just over £60bn in assets, are accrued pension benefits of over £72bn.

That £12bn deficit represents an increase of around £7bn since the last formal valuation of the fund. Among the factors blamed in the actuaries’ report are undefined ‘economic changes’ that were not foreseen in 2014 and are claimed by Universities UK to be have been unforeseeable.

Universities UK claims that in order to address the pension fund deficit, it will have to reform the pension scheme. A reduction in pension benefits scheduled to be paid to members will have the mechanical effect of reducing the deficit – unless, of course, further unforeseeable economic circumstances arise.

Against that, the Union claims that the current deficit is over-stated and that the scheme’s potential liabilities are significantly lower than claimed. With Universities’ future income from tuition fees likely to remain static – if not fall – in the short to medium term, resolving the issue before the deadline of June this year, is likely to be difficult – if not impossible.

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Education

Improving the behaviour of Carmarthenshire Secondary School pupils

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“IT’S almost uncool to want to learn as vaping and bad language is like the new thing”

“It’s very, very, heart-breaking to see a child vaping at age 11”

“I’m genuinely really scared for the generation coming through”

These are some of the comments Carmarthenshire pupils and teachers voice in a campaign which aims to improve behaviour in the authority’s Secondary Schools.

The campaign is a joint effort between the County Council and C.A.S.H – Carmarthenshire Association of Secondary Headteachers.

Across Wales, many teachers have shared experiences of witnessing a deterioration in some pupils’ behaviour since returning to formal education after covid lockdowns. Examples of such behaviour include using offensive language with classmates and teachers, being rude in lessons and vaping in toilets during lessons.

For the benefit of pupils and teachers, Carmarthenshire Council supports their Headteachers in their attempt to act to remedy the situation.

Pupils and teachers from ALL the County’s schools attended an experience-sharing session at the County Hall in July. A cross-section of comments was recorded and used to create a video that is part of the campaign. The video will be shown in all Carmarthenshire Secondary Schools in September and will be shared through social media. Information on the campaign posters and banners will direct pupils to sources where they can get further advice about the importance of improving behaviour.

On behalf of C.A.S.H, James Durbridge said: “As teachers, we understand that there are sometimes complex reasons behind pupils’ misbehaviour and, without a doubt, we want to support those pupils.

“But as the title of the campaign video explains – Our behaviour affects everyone and everything. A teacher cannot teach and a pupil cannot learn in a class when a minority behaves offensively and without respect.

“The behaviour of our pupils today influences their tomorrow.”

Noting that the campaign is an opportunity to press the reset button on behaviour and establish better habits, Councillor Glynog Davies, Cabinet Member for Education and the Welsh Language, said: “Our aim in Carmarthenshire is to create young people who, after being educated here, create a life here and contribute to our community.

“Offering them the best possible guidance on how to behave in a way that gives them the best chance to succeed in life is our duty as an authority.”

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Education

Teacher drink-driving on way back from camping trip smelled ‘strongly of intoxicants’

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A TEACHER “stupidly stopped for a drink” on his way home from a family camping holiday before getting behind the wheel, a professional panel has heard. Huw Davies, a former English teacher at Ysgol Bro Teifi in Llandysul, Ceredigion, was more than three times above the legal alcohol limit for driving when he was stopped by police, a professional conduct committee has been told.

The Herald understands that the incident took place on the A40 St Clears to Carmarthen Road on July 30, 2021.

Witnesses were apparently called police after he pulled into a garage and appeared drunk with red eyes and dilated pupils, the Education Workforce Council (EWC) committee was told. Then the teacher came out of the garage. and went “all over the road”, EWC implementation officer Clare Hastie told the Fitness to Practice Committee.

He said police were alerted to a vehicle possibly being driven by a drunk driver on the A40 from St Clears to Carmarthen just before 3pm. Brother Teifi’s police eventually caught up with Davies at the Tesco car park in Carmarthen, where he was seen sitting in the vehicle with the keys in the ignition. When they opened the door, it smelled “strongly of intoxicants”.
breath tests showed he was more than three times the legal alcohol limit for driving and he was charged the next day.

Davies, who appeared at the September 2 virtual hearing, said he was ashamed of his actions and relieved that no one was hurt. But his actions have the “potential to put others at risk,” Hastie said. he told the panel.

The English teacher admitted he “stupidly” stopped for a drink on his way home from a camping holiday while the rest of his family returned separately. Davies told the committee that he has received help from Anonymous and the DDAS Adult Substance Abuse Service.

“I am very ashamed of what I did on July 30 and I am very happy that no one was harmed as a result of my actions,” he told the panel.

Davies described camping with his family in St Davids, Pembrokeshire before the incident.

The weather was rainy so he broke down the tent while the rest of the family left, he told the panel.

Ms Hastie said Davies began teaching English at Ysgol Bro Teifi in 2016 but has had spells of absence and left by mutual agreement with the official departure date at the end of the summer break of 31 August 2021.

Most recently he has been working as a substitute English teacher through an agency at Queen Elizabeth High School in Carmarthen. Davies told the hearing that he felt supported in his part-time job and fortunate to be receiving help from Alcoholics Anonymous and that he has yet to return to driving due to health issues.

Colin Adkins, a NASUWT teachers’ union official representing Davies, described him as a recovering alcoholic and said he was getting the help he needed. The committee had received good character references from Queen Elizabeth High School and Davies had no previous failures in his teaching career.

“We accept that driving a motor vehicle exceeding the limit three times is potentially dangerous for Mr Davies and other road users. Nevertheless, there were no accidents,” Mr Adkins told the panel. “While I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of the crime, I do want to put it in the context of it taking place entirely in his personal life.” and no other person was harmed by his conduct.”

Mr Adkins added: “Here you have someone who is a recovering alcoholic who is receiving medical support. Davies was faced with two allegations, both of which he admitted and which the EWC Committee found to be substantiated.”

The allegations were that he was found guilty of driving under the influence on August 19 last year after a breathalyzer measured 120mg in 100ml of breath, resulting in a council order and a nine-month driving ban held a license and that the conviction constituted an “offence” relevant to his eligibility as a registered teacher.

In issuing a reprimand, the committee considered his open admission and remorse at both the trial and the professional hearing. Committee chair Michelle McBreeze said Davies took steps to address the personal and health issues that led to her. She said the teacher provided positive testimonials and character references, including from her last manager at Queen High School, Elizabeth, and although there was a risk of recurrence, it was small.

McBreeze called it “a serious incident.” conduct,” but Davies “took full responsibility for his actions and has shown clear remorse and remorse.” An asset to the profession, he added.

“The purpose of a warning is not a punishment. Mr. Davies’ behavior was unacceptable and must not happen again. The warning lasts two years and will be disclosed to employers,” said Ms McBreeze.

Mr Davies has the right to appeal to the High Court within 28 days

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Education

Carmarthenshire GCSE students celebrate results

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CARMARTHENSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL is congratulating all of the county’s students that are receiving their GCSE results today, Thursday 25th August 2022.

This year’s assessment and qualification process have returned to the pre-COVID-19 pandemic format of examinations which included adaptations to accommodate the ongoing effects of the pandemic that leaners and teachers have had to contend with. After two years without exams, students have had the opportunity to show what they’ve learned and what they can do through exams and assessments.

Whilst this year’s results are not directly comparable with any other year, overall in Wales, outcomes are higher than when exams were last sat in 2019 , but lower than 2021 when there was a different method of assessment.

In Carmarthenshire 72.1% of all entries have been awarded an A*-C grade representing an increase of 1.2% since examinations were last sat in 2019. This is higher than the national average of 68.6%.

27.2% of entries achieved an A*-A grade representing a significant increase of 5.9% in comparison to 2019 and again higher than the national average of 25.1%.  91.6 % of entries achieved an A* – E grade.

Speaking on behalf of Carmarthenshire County Council, Cllr. Glynog Davies, Cabinet Member for Education and Welsh Language said:

“We are so happy for those young people who are receiving their well-earned GCSE grades, congratulations to you all.”

“Carmarthenshire County Council is very proud of our young people’s achievements, as are we of the support and commitment given by their teachers, support staff, families and friends. Thank you all for your hard work in what has been a challenging couple of years, due to the COVDI-19 pandemic. We wish you all well in your future endeavours.”

In a joint statement, Carmarthenshire County Council’s Chief Executive, Wendy Walters and Director of Education and Children’s Services, Gareth Morgans added:

“We are extremely proud what of has been achieved by our learners and they fully deserve these results. This year, for the first time since the outbreak of COVID-19, our GCSE learners have sat examinations. The pandemic, however, has loomed large over their preparations and they, along with their teachers, support staff, families and friends, have had to display resilience and dedication to achieve these fantastic results. We are grateful to you all.”

“We would also like to thank our schools and their staff for their continued hard work and commitment to providing our learners with the very best opportunities to succeed.”

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