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Education

Professor highlights achievement gap

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AN EDUCATION advisor has accused Welsh Government education initiatives of failing, as he says a huge gap has developed between poor and well off areas in Wales.

The issue was investigated in a BBC programme this week, with Professor Egan saying: “There is a huge gap between those parts of Wales where deprivation is at a high level and those parts of Wales where that’s not the case. There’s a significant gap and we’re not narrowing that gap at the moment. It’s a particular concern in some areas of Wales – not just the Valleys. We’ve just kept on bolting on one initiative after another and we’re now beginning to see that that’s been a significant problem. We didn’t have an implementation plan that avoided just having another initiative, another policy, something else. And so the clarity, as it were, was lost.”

The programme exposed 5 areas of Wales that consistently scored the lowest results in last year’s english language reading and numeracy tests: Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Torfaen. In a 2010 in a National Survey of Adult Skills in Wales it was shown that in excess of 900,000 people have maths skills equivalent to year 5 and 6 primary school pupils. Indeed, in Blaenau Gwent, Wales’ worst performing area, more than 27% of the adult population were shown in a UK Government 2011 census to have no qualifications whatsoever.

Commenting on this was a Welsh Government spokesperson, who said: “We are making important progress in closing the attainment gap between those young people from deprived backgrounds and the rest of the school population. The latest figures show that the performance of Free School Meal pupils has improved at all levels and we have reduced the gap in attainment between these pupils and their counterparts at the Foundation Phase as well as, Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3. Whilst we very much welcome this progress, we have more work to do. Our National Literacy and Numeracy Framework is designed to help teachers embed literacy and numeracy into all subjects for learners aged 5 to 14; our Schools Challenge Cymru programme is seeing 40 of our most challenged schools being supported by up to £20m of additional funding and the Pupil Deprivation Grant is being raised to £1,150 by 2016. We have also recently published Professor Graham Donaldson’s ‘Successful Futures’ report which proposes a set of radical and exciting proposals for a new curriculum in Wales.”

From the leading teaching union, Owen Hathway, NUT Cymru Policy Officer, said: “We know that there has been historic challenges facing schools in the most deprived communities in Wales, none more so than the funding problems they face. There are serious issues in education attainment there that are increasingly more difficult to tackle at a time of shrinking budgets. It is possibly a case that there has been numerous initiatives, many of which are well meaning and important, but perhaps do not work as part of an overarching vision. That was one criticism of the education system in Wales that came out of the OECD report. Closing the attainment gap between our most deprived areas and others is a complex issue that simply won’t have a magic bullet solution. It is very much the case that this is a community and society issue not simply and education one. However there is no doubt that teachers working in those schools are working above and beyond expectations to try and ensure that all pupils, regardless of their backgrounds, have the best opportunity to fulfil their potentials.”

Also commenting on these statistics was Mid and West AM, and Shadow Minister for Education, Simon Thomas, who stated: “Plaid believes closing the gap between economically disadvantaged children and the better-off should be a priority for the Welsh Government. The gap at GCSE increased between 2013 and 2014 and now stands at 33.8 percentage points. International reports have identified the problems and it is now up to the Welsh Government to deliver on solutions. The Labour party has failed in its attempts to raise educational standards in Wales.”

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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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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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