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Leighton Andrews defends GCSE decision

Welsh Education Minister Leighton Andrews will be questioned by MPs this morning about why he ordered a regrade last summer of the GCSE English exam set by the Welsh exam board, the WJEC. His decision overturned a change in grade boundaries backed by the Education Secretary at Westminster.

It meant that hundreds of Welsh school pupils were moved up a grade from the results they were initially given. That's led to claims that Welsh and English exam candidates were marked to different standards as there was no regrade in England, even for pupils who sat the WJEC exam.

Mr Andrews has written to the Chair of the Education Select Committee before he gives evidence to MPs and answers their questions. He blames Education Secretary Michael Gove for any damage to the link between Welsh, English and Northern Irish examinations. (Scotland has always had its own system).

GCSEs and A levels are three-country qualifications ... owned jointly by the CCEA (the examinations body in Northern Ireland), Ofqual [who regulate exams in England] and the Welsh Government. You may be interested to know that John O'Dowd, the Minister for Education in Northern Ireland, and I wrote to the Secretary of State for Education on 1 August last year asking for a meeting with him ... he rejected that request, which is unfortunate.

The GCSE English Language grading last year has raised issues that go to the heart of GCSEs as three-country qualifications, including the use of Key Stage 2 indicators -not historically used in either Northern Ireland or Wales- as factors bearing on the setting of grades in GCSEs. [There is also] the question of achieving 'comparable outcomes' ... which Ofqual now appears to see as a year-on-year device to prevent what is sometimes called 'grade inflation'.

– Education Minister Leighton Andrews AM

£800,000 of funding 'to boost school attendance'

Education Minister Leighton Andrews has announced £800,000 of funding to improve school attendance levels across Wales.

Figures for 2011/12 show that primary school attendance stood at 93.8% – an improvement of 0.5% on the previous year.

Figures for secondary school attendance in Wales showed a similar improvement, with overall attendance rate in Wales’ secondary schools in 2011/12 standing at 92.2% – a rise of 0.8% on the previous year.

But the Education Minister says there is 'still work to be done' to tackle absenteeism.

“It’s clear that the actions we are taking to reduce absenteeism from schools in Wales are having a positive impact.

However, whilst it is encouraging to see an upturn in attendance rates this year there is still work to be done. We need to ensure local authorities and schools have the skills, confidence and capacity to sustain and build on these improvements.

Persistent absenteeism has a detrimental effect on a child’s education. Put simply, when a child is not in school that child is not learning.

– Leighton Andrews AM

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Visiting authors inspire youngsters

A North Wales school is marking the success of its reading scheme with a visit from Education Minister Leighton Andrews.

Ysgol Esgob Morgan in St Asaph launched its Patron of Reading project last May in a bid to get more youngsters reading with the help of children's author Helena Pielichaty.

Headteacher Tim Redgrave says the scheme has been so successful they've had to buy extra books for the school library.

Mr Redgrave came up with the scheme after seeing how author JK Rowling inspired children to read, and wanted Ysgol Esgob Morgan to have its own visiting author.

Now Ms Pielichaty visits the school regularly to work with pupils. When she's not able to visit, she writes a poem on her blog for the children to read and discuss and then write their own poems.

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'I gave Labour the councils it wanted' says John Redwood

The former Welsh Secretary Redwood says the system of 22 Welsh local councils, each with its own education authority, was created in response to calls from Welsh MPs and local councils, who were mostly Labour. Mr Redwood was responding to a speech by the Education Minister, Leighton Andrews.

I would not have invented 22 local education authorities for a nation of 3 million people. No-one sensible would. John Redwood did.

– Education Minister Leighton Andrews AM

I was asked to create the new councils and Welsh local government wanted more, not fewer of them. The only serious criticism was over Powys.

– Former Welsh Secretary John Redwood MP

Mr Redwood says he was told that smaller councils would co-operate and not run everything themselves when they took over in 1996. He had inherited from his predecessor, David Hunt, plans to scrap the existing eight counties (which were local education authorities) and 37 districts

Mr Redwood spit up Mr Hunt's Heads of the Valleys authority and created the two county boroughs with the smallest populations, Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent. But he refused to divide Powys into three smaller authorities, although Labour and the local Tory MP both backed the idea.

Local education authorities are 'a historical mistake' - Minister

The Education Minister is giving the strongest signal yet that radical change lies ahead in the way schools are run. In a speech tonight, Leighton Andrews is expected to described the system of 22 Local Education Authorities as 'a historical mistake made by a Conservative government.'

He's commissioned a review which is looking at several options. But these comments suggest that the Welsh Government is already considering making radical changes. He's expected to say that:

Devolution has given us stronger accountability in Wales. We now need to ask whether all of the pre-devolution structures that we inherited remain fit for purpose. I would not have invented 22 local education authorities for a nation of 3 million people. No-one sensible would. John Redwood did.

The fragmentation of education authorities in the mid-1990s was one of the contributing factors for the downturn in educational performance a decade later, as effective challenge and support was lost in many parts of the system and time, energy and resource was dissipated.

The truth is that the Tory-imposed structure of 22 local education authorities is failing our children and it is not fit for purpose.

In pictures: Glyndwr University 'Big Bang' project

Engineers at Glyndwr University St. Asaph are working on the world's largest telescope, which aims to help mankind see to within a millisecond of the 'Big Bang'.

A team of 15 engineers are polishing seven prototype mirrors using advanced technology.

Glyndwr University St Asaph, home to engineers working on the telescope Credit: Working Word PR
An artist's impression of the finished telescope, also known as ‘the world’s largest eye on the sky’ Credit: Working Word PR
A 10m test tower set up in the lab to test the mirrors Credit: Working Word PR
Engineers polish the mirrors using advanced machines Credit: Working Word PR
Precision polishing of a glass mirror for the telescope Credit: Working Word PR

Glyndwr University St Asaph's 'Big Bang' engineers

Engineers at Glyndwr University St. Asaph are working on a €5m project aiming to help mankind see to within a millisecond of the 'Big Bang'.

A team of 15 engineers are working on prototype mirrors for the 39m telescope, which will be the largest optical and nera-infrared telescope in the world.

The telescope, due to be built in Chile in 2023, will eventually need over 900 specialist mirrors.

Glyndwr University says it is determined to secure the manufacturing of the mirrors in north-east Wales. It's claimed the move could create over 60 jobs and contribute €150m to the local economy.

Education Minister Leighton Andrews will visit the university this afternoon to view its work.

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