Education attainment gap widens
THESE days a huge amount depends on how well a young person does at school in year 11.
Whether they can go on to study A levels or even do an apprenticeship often depends on getting the golden ticket of 5 A*-C GCSEs. Yet the latest 2016/17 GCSE Examination results show that a huge proportion of our young people are not getting to this level, with those who are eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) doing much worse.
The cohort sitting their GCSE exams last year were the first to take the new versions of GCSE Maths and English. The overall proportions of year 11’s achieving 5 A*-C GCSEs including maths and English/Welsh first language have dropped from 60.3% in 2015/16 to 54.6% in 2016/17. There is also a dramatic drop in students achieving any 5 GCSEs A*-C, from 84% to 67%.
Free School Meals
Many more young people who are eligible for FSM are leaving school without the qualifications they need. The proportion of year 11’s that were eligible for FSM who achieved 5 A*-C GCSEs including maths and English/Welsh language dropped by 7 percentage points since 2015/16, and more worryingly have dropped by 30.3 percentage points for any 5 A*-C GCSEs, compared to 5.8 and 15.4 percentage points for those who were not eligible.
The attainment gap between students eligible for FSM and those not eligible for FSM is nothing new in Wales. There have been numerous statements and educational strategies centred around closing this gap and increasing the achievements of students eligible for FSM. However, as the data shows – the gap between those eligible for FSM and those who are not has increased.
Last year the gap between the two was 32.4 percentage points for 5 A*-C GCSEs including maths and English/Welsh language, compared to 31.2 in 2015/16, and 32.3 percentage points for any 5 A*-C GCSEs, compared to 17.4 the year before.
Reasons for the changes
Maybe students had not adjusted well to the changes to GCSE exams last year; early entry into exams might also have played a role. The Welsh Government advises that comparisons to previous years should not be made due to several changes to performance measures data. However, do these changes explain why the drop in achievement between last year and the year before is larger for those eligible for FSM and why the attainment gap is still not shrinking?
Effect it could have on young people
Many opportunities for young people are reliant on them achieving 5 A*-C GCSEs. Taking A-levels and most further education courses and even some apprenticeships require young people to have those crucial GCSEs. So, what about young people who leave school without those qualifications, which this year has increased?
We are working on a project looking at this, asking that exact question. We know that opportunities are limited and that the lack of them can seriously impact a young person’s life. The lack of good opportunities can increase their chances of earning low wages and in turn, increasing their chances of living in poverty.
The Bevan Foundation’s project is currently ongoing with findings due out early next Spring. To find out more on the better opportunities for young people project, please go to http://bit.ly/2CerDNH
Examination crisis: teacher’s predicted grades to be given to students
THE Welsh Government has announced today (Mon, Aug 17) that AS, A level, GCSE, Skills Challenge Certificate and Welsh Baccalaureate grades in Wales will now be awarded on the basis of Centre Assessment Grades.
This occurred after the outrage of students, causing protests outside the Senedd after hearing that a total of 42% of A-level grades predicted by their teachers had been lowered when the Welsh results were published last week. This was due to the decision to process these grades through an algorithm.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams said she took the decision to maintain confidence in the system.
Speaking on the decision, Kirsty Williams said: “Working with Qualifications Wales and WJEC we have sought an approach which provides fairness and balances out differences in the standards applied to judgments in schools.
“Given decisions elsewhere, the balance of fairness now lies with awarding Centre Assessment grades to students, despite the strengths of the system in Wales.
“I am taking this decision now ahead of results being released this week, so that there is time for the necessary work to take place.
“For grades issued last week, I have decided that all awards in Wales, will also be made on the basis of teacher assessment.
“For those young people, for whom our system produced higher grades than those predicted by teachers, the higher grades will stand.
“Maintaining standards is not new for 2020, it is a feature of awarding qualifications every year in Wales, and across the UK.
“However, it is clear that maintaining confidence in our qualifications whilst being fair to students requires this difficult decision.
“These have been exceptional circumstances, and in due course I will be making a further statement on an independent review of events following the cancellation of this year’s exams.
“Other Awarding Bodies across the UK are involved in determining the approach to vocational qualifications. This continues to be the case but it is important that I give assurance to GCSE, AS and A level student at the earliest opportunity.”
This was a decision welcomed by Suzy Davies, Shadow Education Minister.
Commenting on the Decision, Suzy Davies said: “This has been an exceptional time, and this news will come as a very welcome relief for the thousands of A-Level students who last week were looking at grades lower than they were predicted to receive. It will also be a relief to pupils expecting results this week as well as an acknowledgement of quite how much effort teachers put into this.
“It is reassuring that the Minister has listened to the Welsh Conservatives and other parties in the Welsh Parliament, but especially pleasing that she heard the voices of young people up and down the country.
“These students – at A, AS, GCSE, Skills Challenge Certificate, and Welsh Baccalaureate level – will now have the confidence to plan their future education or career aspirations, and reach their potential.”
The Education Minister also promised an independent review of the events “following the cancellation of this year’s exams”.
Students who received higher grades than those predicted by teachers will keep them.
Swansea University appoints new governing body Chair
Swansea University is pleased to announce that Bleddyn Phillips has been appointed as its new Chair of Council.
Mr Phillips, who joined the University’s governing body in May 2017, has been appointed Chair for a four-year term replacing Sir Roger Jones, whose term of office came to an end in September 2019.
Mr Phillips said: “It is a great honour to be appointed Swansea University’s Chair of Council. As a Welsh-speaker, with strong roots in Llanelli and Gower, and with both parents having studied at Swansea, I have long felt an affinity with the University and have been delighted to serve on the Council.
“I want to acknowledge the contribution made to the University by Sir Roger Jones over almost 14 years and I very much look forward to working with, and serving, the University as it celebrates its centenary in 2020 and beyond.”
Professor Paul Boyle, Vice-Chancellor of the University, said “It will be a privilege to work with Bleddyn as we develop our new strategic plan and look forward to beginning our second century in 2020.”
Mr Phillips is a lawyer by profession, a former commercial director at oil companies BP and Total, and later Global Head of the Oil and Gas practice at the international law firm, Clifford Chance LLP. He is Director of Llanelli Scarlets RFC and was a trustee of the Wales Millennium Centre from 2012-2018.
The Council is the University’s governing body, which approves the mission and strategic vision of the University, long-term academic and business plans, key performance indicators and overall standards. The Council assures that the University discharges its duties in accordance with the Welsh Quality Assessment Framework.
Experts attack Welsh Government’s proposed smacking ban plan
PROMINENT academics have criticised the Welsh Government’s bill to criminalise parental smacking during a public debate at Swansea University.
Tonight, experts from the fields of sociology and criminology and parenting studies poured scorn on the plan during an Academy of Ideas debate on state intervention in the family.
A panel of three academics discussed the merits or otherwise of the smacking legislation, which is due to be debated by AMs for a third time in January next year.
Dr Stuart Waiton, a senior lecturer in sociology and criminology at Abertay University and outspoken critic of the Scottish smacking Bill, said: “No longer treated like citizens, as adults who have an opinion and a basic level of autonomy to raise our children, we have culture change imposed from on high – we are made ‘aware’ by the new authoritarians holding the stick above us.
“The smacking act is a disgrace. It is a form of brutality that undermines parents, weakens the meaning of freedom, and will go on to destroy many loving families who dare to think and act differently to the modern elitists.”
Dr Waiton added: “The brutality of the smacking act will mean that a light smack on the hand or bottom of a child will be a criminal offence. Hard smacking is already illegal, but to the middle-class anti-smacking zealots that was not enough. Children, they argue, need equal protection from assault. The very language they use is alien to the millions of parents who occasionally smack rather than assault their children.
“Parents know that smacking a child is a form of discipline often done out of love and concern rather than something that is abusive and criminal.”
Criticising the way politicians at the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have engaged with parents on the smacking legislation, he said: “The new elite think a lot about consultation and inclusion. The reality is a process run by a small section of society, politicians and professionals, who exist in their own bubble and are distant and disconnected from ordinary people.”
Ellie Lee, Professor of Parenting Research at the University of Kent also spoke out on the Welsh Government’s plans.
“Within the context of an authoritative child rearing relationship, aversive discipline including smacking is well accepted by the young child, effective in managing short-term misbehaviour and has no documented harmful long-term effects.”
She added: “It should be the concern of professionals who work with parents to respectfully offer them alternative disciplinary strategies rather than to condemn parents for using methods consonant with their own, but not the counsellors beliefs and values.”
The Professor accused the Welsh Government of using the “full force of the criminal law to attack people who disagree on the comparative merits of using smacking rather than something like timeout”, saying it is a “bureaucratic imposition on parents”.
Only one academic – Dr Gideon Calder, Associate Professor in Sociology and Social Policy at Swansea University – spoke in favour of Government interventions like the smacking ban.
Dr Calder argued that intervention is justifiable in some instances and said something like the smacking ban is not necessarily authoritarian. He said: “the point of the legislation is to safeguard children from potentially harmful interactions.”
Commenting on the debate, Jamie Gillies, spokesman for the Be Reasonable Wales campaign, said:
“The criticism levelled at the Government’s smacking plans tonight by experts in the fields of sociology, criminology and parenting studies should be a wakeup call to Ministers.
“Experts are not convinced that the plan to outlaw parental smacking is viable, needful or helpful in terms of improving child protection.
“I hope AMs hear the concerns of these academics as well as their constituents and scrap the smacking ban bill when it’s voted on in January.”
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