THE CONSERVATIVE General Election Manifesto was characterised as woefully short on content but long on vague promises of jam today, jam tomorrow, and jam ever after. However, part of its text squirrelled away on page 37, has caused consternation among the UK’s universities.
A reference to the relatively obscure Augar Review into higher education and the Conservatives’ intention to review higher education in light of its content, masks – Universities say – a threat to arts and humanities courses across the UK. The Government’s subsequently announced intention to have Ofsted rank universities by graduate earnings is also under attack.
Among the recommendations of the Augar Review, one stands out above the others. The review makes the case that while subjects like business, the creative arts and social studies have value, the volume of students studying these subjects is more than the value created, while there is a relative lack of provision of courses in subjects like engineering and the physical sciences. In other words, there are too many ‘low value’ courses – the phrase used in the Conservative manifesto – and not enough courses offering a ‘high value’, either to graduates or the taxpayer for their respective investments.
The problem for opponents of the report’s recommendations in that respect is that its finding is undoubtedly true.
There are too many universities offering courses which offer little or no benefit to their graduates, certainly in terms of future earning potential and, too often, those courses are of no relevance to employers and the needs of UK industry. The question used to be how many angels dance on the head of a pin, now it is how many arts and humanities graduates work as baristas on little over minimum wage.
However, the issue of relying upon a solely monetary outcome to measure a course’s overall ‘value’ is problematic.
In a major speech on the topic of value in higher education, UUK President Professor Julia Buckingham called on the government to broaden its definition of ‘value’ beyond a student’s expected future salary alone and to recognise the less celebrated, yet vital benefits of studying for a degree. She also issued a rallying call to the sector to do more to address concerns around value and respond more effectively where there are legitimate concerns.
To support the government in adopting a new approach, UUK is outlining proposed new measures against which it believes universities can demonstrate the success and contribution of their courses. These include the proportion of graduates working in essential public services, the number taking positions in sectors and regions with skills shortages, or the likelihood of a graduate starting their own business.
Universities UK claims, in adopting a new approach, universities could assess and illustrate the wider benefits to students of university life; such as their life satisfaction, personal health, and opportunities to get involved in volunteer work.
Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, said: “While universities need to work collectively and respond more effectively to legitimate challenges around the value of some university degrees, the government also needs to broaden its current narrow definition of success based on salaries alone. This is a blunt tool which does a disservice to students and recent graduates while failing to consider the wider student experience.
“A much broader approach which takes account the other benefits of a university degree would better reflect what is important to students, parents, employers and society.
“We need to look beyond an individual’s P60 and think about the total package of what they have learned and achieved through their time at university.”
That is all well and good. However, Universities UK’s MadeatUni campaign – intended to show the value universities deliver back to society – contains barely a handful of examples, in over 100 offered, which directly reference value-added to communities by either creative arts or humanities graduates. Its focus is relentlessly upon science, medical, and other public service degree graduates.
Somewhere, it could have mentioned research published by the Centre for Economics and Business Research barely a month after the Augar Review. It reported the arts and culture sector contributes £10.8billion a year to the UK economy. The Treasury gains £2.8bn from the arts and culture sector through taxation. It generates a further £23billion a year and 363,700 jobs.
And, even during the depths of austerity, productivity in the arts and culture industry remains greater than that of the economy as a whole.
The impact on some Welsh Universities, should the UK Government proceed with its plan, could be grim. Not only do Welsh graduates generally earn less because wages in Wales are lower than in England, but also arts and humanities graduates from Welsh universities generally earn little more than had they not bothered to incur debt by going in the first place. Wales – particularly rural Wales – is already subject to a ‘brain drain’. If students see they can earn more by studying, for example, at a middle-ranking English University than a Welsh one, the ‘brain drain’ could accelerate.
Some long-standing courses and the viability of Welsh institutions would also be threatened. Even the most desperate of English-based students trying to find a University through clearing might baulk at paying tens of thousands of pounds to attend an arts or humanities course in Wales which would add little or no value to their prospects
On the other hand, Welsh Universities could exploit a significant difference between them and their English counterparts. Welsh Universities score well in a particular index which appeals to modern students: wellbeing.
According to a poll commissioned last year by Universities UK, only one-third of students and recent graduates decided to attend university to get a higher salary than they otherwise would have.
Modern students, it appears, are more interested in wellbeing and a good experience of being at University than netting a big paycheck once they’ve completed their courses.
Carmarthenshire Council offers career opportunities through new Care Academi
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
Funding for music education trebled to the tune of £13.5m
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.”
Carmarthen headteacher struck off for telling staff to falsify pupil attendance figures
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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