EVEN before schools find out what the new normal will be, the pressure is already on the education system to deliver significantly more.
Some talk about a ‘lost generation’ needing to ’catch-up’ amid concerns those comments stigmatise children. However, the reality is that children have missed months of face-to-face teaching, and that has inescapable consequences.
DISADVANTAGED SLIP FURTHER BEHIND
Wales’s learners have been part of the pandemic’s ‘collateral damage.’
Although, for now, there are more questions than answers, solutions to repair that ‘damage’ will need to be carefully considered and delivered during the Welsh Parliament’s sixth term.
Even before the pandemic, Wales already faced an uphill struggle to secure good educational outcomes for all its learners.
The most disadvantaged learners have extra challenges which can prevent them from achieving their full potential.
Even though the previous Welsh Government invested £585 million since 2012 through the Pupil Development Grant (PDG), the attainment gap it was seeking to close, didn’t narrow.
It also typically widens as learners get older.
There’s a stark difference between children eligible for free school meals and their peers at Key Stage 4, the two years where learners usually take GCSEs and other examinations.
Children and young people themselves are well placed to give their verdict.
A 2021 Children’s Commissioner survey of 20,000 children found that 35% didn’t feel confident about their learning, compared to 25% in May 2020.
63% of 12–18-year-olds were worried about falling behind.
There are countless reports setting out adults’ views about how missing more than half a year of ‘face-to-face’ schooling has affected learners.
One of the major concerns is the variation between what schools have delivered to pupils.
There’s a long list of potential impacts:
· ‘Lost learning’ meaning pupils could underperform academically and have their long-term prospects affected.
· A loss of confidence in the examination and assessment system.
· Long-term reductions in school attendance, a factor known to be key to educational outcomes.
· Difficult transitions between school years and from primary to secondary.
· Challenges in re-engaging learners and addressing low motivation.
· An unhelpful ‘catch up’ narrative about lost learning placing unnecessary psychological pressure on children and young people; and
· A negative effect on learners’ ability and confidence to communicate in Welsh where they haven’t been able to do so at home.
As well as these obvious educational issues, there are wider predicted effects.
Current learners could earn less, with one estimate of up to £40,000 in a lifetime.
The harm to children’s physical health and a higher prevalence of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, are also serious concerns.
The pandemic’s wider economic impact is also likely to increase the number of children living in low-income families.
Again, it’s the most disadvantaged learners who are predicted to bear the brunt in the longer term.
For example, in March 2021, the Child Poverty Action Group found that 35% of low-income families responding to its UK wide survey were still without essential resources for learning, with laptops and devices most commonly missing.
The Fifth Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education (CYPE) Committee heard that there is “plenty of evidence” that” there are striking differences between families in terms of their ability to support young people in their learning: the resources they have around them, the enthusiasm, the engagement, the commitment”.
There must be work to rebuild relationships that have been under significant strain during the past 12 months.
Those between teaching unions and the decision-makers within the education system; between parents/carers and schools; and perhaps, most importantly, re-establishing the relationship between learners and their teachers.
Some of the immediate solutions which are already on the table or up for discussion are: more money, including the ‘Recruit, Recover and Raise Standards funding’; more teachers and learning assistants on the ground; changing term times; and setting up summer schools, holiday clubs and home tuition.
However, the longer-term problems are far harder to solve.
One estimate puts the cost of Wales’s journey back from COVID-19 at £1.4 bn to meet the challenges to the education system alone.
The opportunity exists for major reform and an examination of the whole approach to and aim of education.
Children and young people’s return to the classroom has been heralded as a big chance to put their well-being at the heart of education. As well as having a positive impact on well-being, put, mentally healthy children are much more likely to learn.
Following pressure from the Fifth Senedd’s CYPE Committee and its stakeholders, Wales has already made a significant shift towards establishing a ‘Whole School Approach to Mental Health’. The challenge during the Sixth Senedd will be to deliver it.
The potential sting in the tail is that, at the same time, the education system is getting children back to school, it also contends with major legislative reform.
This is in the form of wholesale changes to both the school curriculum and support for learners with Additional Learning Needs.
Some may argue that there’s been no better time to have such significant changes.
If the education system can successfully implement these three major reforms, arguably Wales will complete significant leg work and be on a firmer footing to meet the challenges presented by Covid-19.
At this stage there may be many more questions than answers for the education system.
The world into which learners will move has changed forever.
Not only has the pandemic interrupted their schooling, but the future journeys they were expected to make into the workplace or further and higher education could be unrecognisable.
The skills and aptitudes needed in the ‘new normal’ are only now beginning to be identified and are likely to be different from those needed before the pandemic began.
Children become ‘Wild World Heroes’ in Summer Reading Challenge
BOOKWORMS across Carmarthenshire are being challenged to enjoy stories and help save the world over the school summer holidays.
Carmarthenshire libraries take part in the Reading Agency’s Summer Reading Challenge, and bookshelves and reading spaces are being transformed into jungles and rainforests as staff get on board with this year’s wildlife theme.
This year’s challenge is being run in partnership with WWF with award-winning writer and broadcaster Dara McAnulty and award-winning explorer, presenter, and writer Steve Backshall, as ambassadors for the scheme.
Children aged four to 11 can visit any of the Carmarthenshire County Council run libraries to become a ‘Wild World Hero’ for free.
They will be given a collector poster to keep a record of their Summer Reading Challenge journey and receive special stickers, games and more as they read more books.
Library teams are also hosting various activities, events and film shows throughout the summer.
By taking part children will not only improve their reading skills but gain knowledge about environmental issues, from plastic pollution and deforestation to wildlife decline and nature loss, joining story characters to help solve some of these threats.
Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, the council’s Executive Board Member for Culture, Sport and Tourism, said: “The Summer Reading Challenge is free and fun and will help inspire children to read over the holidays, making use of our fantastic libraries and mobile library vans that travel to rural parts of Carmarthenshire.
“We are committed to supporting children and families to improve their literacy, and this year’s theme ties in well with our mission to tackle climate change. We hope to see as many children as possible signing up and becoming ambassadors for environmental issues whilst enjoying books over the summer.”
Steve Backshall, Summer Reading Challenge ambassador, added: “Wild World Heroes will spark conversations about the issues facing our planet, from plastic pollution to wildlife decline, and will show how we can all work together to look after our world. By taking part in the challenge, children will unlock the benefits of reading for pleasure – it’s never been more important for young people to keep up their reading skills and confidence over the summer holidays.”
For more information on the Summer Reading Challenge and Carmarthenshire’s library services, visit www.carmarthenshire.gov.wales/libraries
Education Minister praises Llanelli school for pupil wellbeing
YSGOL Gymraeg Brynsierfel in Llanelli has been praised for putting pupil wellbeing at the heart of everything it does.
Minister for Education and the Welsh Language Jeremy Miles visited the school to observe good practice in healthy, positive relationships.
The visit coincided with RSE Day (which stands for Relationships and Sex Education), an annual event which encourages parents, teachers, carers and educators to talk openly about relationships with their children.
Pupils at Ysgol Gymraeg Brynsierfel are taught about the importance of kindness, empathy, respect, healthy relationships and boundaries from an early age in order to help them recognise the signs of unhealthy or abusive relationships later on.
During his visit, the Minister observed a yoga session in a Foundation Phase class and also visited a KS2 class where he observed the use of a new wellbeing app to reduce anxiety in learners. The school was recently invited to participate in efficacy trials for the Sleeping Lions app in partnership with Gwylan and the University of Wales.
He also heard all about the outstanding work that has been undertaken by the school’s Global Goalkeepers to promote peace and strong partnerships in the school’s peace garden ‘Hafan Heddychlon’.
The Minister said: “It was great to visit Ysgol Gymraeg Brynsierfel today and see all the activities the school is doing to keep the children here fit and healthy. I even learned a bit of yoga myself, so it’s done me some good too!
“It was really interesting to hear what the children are learning about relationships, ahead of the introduction of the new curriculum for Wales from next year.
“I’m really grateful to all the staff and pupils for showing me around the school. Diolch yn fawr pawb!”
Executive Board Member for Education and Children’s Services Cllr Glynog Davies, who was also in attendance, congratulated the school for the excellent work that is being carried out to support pupils’ wellbeing.
Cllr Davies said: “It has now become more important than ever for schools to focus on health and wellbeing as our children and young people will have probably experienced a lot of ups and downs and mixed emotions over the past year due to Covid-19.
“It ensures that children and young people develop the knowledge and understanding, skills, capabilities and attributes which they need for mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing now and in the future.”
Headteacher Jayne Davies said it was an honour for the school to receive a visit from the new Welsh Education Minister and local dignitaries on RSE Day.
She said: “The wellbeing and self-esteem of all staff and pupils is at the heart of everything undertaken at the school.
“By talking to learners about relationships, this gives them the opportunity to share any concerns they might have, and they are then given the appropriate support,” she added.
Carmarthen’s Canolfan Elfed honoured in UK teaching awards
A CARMARTHEN school has been honoured in the 2021 Pearson National Teaching Awards for its outstanding commitment to changing the lives of the children they work with every day.
The Canolfan Elfed Inclusion Centre at Queen Elizabeth High School has won the Silver Award in The Lockdown Hero Award for Learner and Community Support, and has been shortlisted to win one of just 15 Gold Awards later in the year, in a programme which will be broadcast on the BBC.
The Silver Award winners are being honoured as part of the wider celebrations for ‘Thank a Teacher Day’, a national campaign to honour and recognise school staff for their incredible work.
The Canolfan Elfed has a highly skilled and dedicated staff that provide a person-centred approach so that pupils and their parents/carers can be an integral part in planning their learning and school experiences. Pupils have an individualised programme of study that provides specialist teaching and access to mainstream teaching where appropriate. This allows pupils to benefit from the advantages of specialist and mainstream provision whilst working towards achieving their future aspirations.
To celebrate the fantastic achievement, Minister for Education and the Welsh Language Jeremy Miles visited the centre to congratulate staff and pupils and see first-hand the excellent work that is being carried out.
The Minister said: “I am delighted to see the efforts and commitment of teachers and staff at QE High School recognised by this award. I have been especially pleased to learn more about how the school have adapted to the challenges presented by the pandemic while continuing to provide incredible support to pupils, parents and the local community through the Canolfan Elfed.”
The Pearson National Teaching Awards is an annual celebration of excellence in education, founded in 1998 by Lord Puttnam to recognise the life-changing impact an inspirational teacher can have on the lives of the young people they work with.
Carmarthenshire County Council’s Executive Board Member for Education Cllr Glynog Davies said: “This award recognises the excellent work that is being carried out at the Canolfan Elfed by the staff, the learners and their families. There has never been a better time to appreciate our exceptional staff and the vital work they do, having worked so incredibly hard during an extraordinarily challenging time for us all.
“I would like to offer my congratulations to everyone involved, you really are an inspiration to us all and it has been a privilege to visit the centre and see for myself the wonderful work that is being carried out.”
Manager of the Canolfan Elfed Lisa Thomas said: “On behalf of Canolfan Elfed I’d like to thank Pearsons for this award. It is recognition of the work carried out during the last 16 months to support pupils, parents, families and each other as staff. We are delighted to accept this award on behalf of all other professionals in mainstream and ALN settings who have strived to maintain strong links within their communities. In our eyes, we are all stars.”
Headteacher Dave Williams said: “We were very privileged to have a visit to the school from the new Minister for Education and Welsh Language in Wales Jeremy Miles. This was his first visit to a school in Carmarthenshire, and one of his first visits to a secondary school in Wales.
“During the visit we were able to share with him some of our recent successes, including our orchestra winning first place in the Urdd Eisteddfod and Canolfan Elfed’s Silver Award in the Pearson National Teacher’s Awards.
“Mr Miles was able to meet with staff, pupils from Year 10 and students from Year 12. We shared with him our experiences of lockdown and the pupils and students were able to ask Mr Miles, often searching questions, regarding the future direction that education and qualifications would be taking in Wales, as well as asking about Mr Miles’ personal journey and career path and any advice that he could offer to them.
“Mr Miles concluded his visit with a tour of Canolfan Elfed to congratulate staff on their Pearson’s Teaching Award.
“Accompanying Mr Miles was Diane Pritchard, ALN Legislation Manager at Welsh Government, who took the opportunity to talk to staff in our ALN department and to tour Canolfan Elfed. She took a keen interest in the experiences of staff and pupils during lockdown and to discuss with members of the leadership as regards the forthcoming reforms in ALN education.
“This was a really rewarding day for all involved and we would like to thank the minister for taking a personal interest in our school and our community.”
Helen Starkey, Chair of Governors of Queen Elizabeth High School, said: “As Chair of Governors I am fortunate to have regular opportunity to witness first-hand the excellent practice within Canolfan Elfed, so I am not surprised by this prestigious acknowledgement of good work, however I am delighted for our learners, their families, the centre staff, QE High School and the community we serve.
“As a Governing Body we are proud of the inclusion centre and its contribution to establishment of the inclusive ethos and community spirit of our school. Many congratulations to our dedicated team!”
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