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ASCL union: New school ranking system 'promising'

Headteachers' union ASCL Cymru has welcomed the introduction of a new system for ranking schools in Wales to, saying "it has real promise."

It replaces the controversial 'banding' system for secondary schools.

Accountability is important and necessary. But poor accountability helps no one.

This new system has benefited from lengthy discussions and will take account of more of the things that matter. It has real promise. Implementing the model will need care and we will be looking closely at lessons learnt along the way.

The minister and his officials have been listening. He is acting decisively to find a more intelligent way to ensure our schools are accountable and we applaud him for it.

– Robin Hughes, ASCL Cymru General Secretary

New colour-coded school rating system replaces banding

A new school rating system has been outlined by the Welsh Government.

It will replace the controversial banding model for secondary schools.

Primary schools will also be ranked - including the smallest ones.

Schools will be placed into a colour-coded system: green for the best, yellow then amber, and red for those struggling. These ratings will be released each January, starting in 2015 - on the My Local School website.

Primary schools will now be included in school rating system. Credit: PA

Schools will be judged according to key performance measures but with a self-evaluation from schools, on their leadership, teaching and learning, taken into account after analysis from regional advisers.

Banding was heavily criticised by unions and opposition parties as too volatile, with some schools jumping several bands in a year, and crude, based on a small number of data methods.

The data that will be used for ranking secondary schools has not been revealed yet - it is now due in October.

For primary schools, pupils' performance in key subjects at age 7 and age 11 will now be used, alongside attendance rates - and the scores compared with other schools with a similar number of pupils from poorer backgrounds.

The performance data will be taken from over three years, rather than one under banding, in an attempt to stop volatility, and allow fair judgement of smaller primary schools.

Schools will be placed into the colour bands, but not given individual scores, and the system is no longer relative - they could all theoretically climb to the top.

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Welsh Government: Attendance report is 'encouraging'

The Welsh Government has described Estyn's report into school attendance as "encouraging."

It says it has targeted attendance with increased investment, and including attendance within the banding system for rating secondary schools gives parents "a clear picture of how schools are performing."

Estyn's report makes encouraging reading.

In the last two years the Welsh Government has invested £800,000 to support local authorities and schools in securing long-term improvements in school attendance. The inclusion of attendance data in the All Wales Core Data Sets for schools and local authorities is a key source of information for schools to use in self-evaluation and improvement processes.

In addition, we have introduced school banding, helping to give us and parents a clear picture of how our schools are performing. Attendance forms part of the banding process which provides us with a constructive evaluation process to improve school performance.

– Welsh Government spokesperson

Report author: Vulnerable pupils most often absent

Huw Davies, author of today's Estyn report on school attendance, says that vulnerable pupils and those eligible for free school meals are most likely to be persistently absent from school.

He told our reporter Tom Sheldrick that schools succeeding in battling absenteeism work well with parents, pupils, and other local support services.

Poor attendance a problem at third of secondary schools

Poor attendance is still a problem at nearly a third of secondary schools in Wales, according to a report published today by the education watchdog Estyn.

It says absenteeism has improved over the last five years, but more needs to be done.

The education watchdog says there is a direct link between attendance rates and attainment. Credit: PA

Key findings from Estyn's report include:

  • Pupils that are persistently absent now account for a quarter of all absence
  • Absence rates for pupils eligible for free school meals are nearly twice those of other pupils
  • Less than half of schools analyse well enough why pupils miss school

Among the watchdog's recommendations to schools are improving their use of attendance data, strengthening links with external groups that help support families, and engaging more with pupils.

Estyn also recommends local councils should provide schools with more training on attendance - and the Welsh Government should provide clarity on where responsibility for attendance lies between local authorities and regional consortia.

10-year plan for 'highly-skilled' early years workforce

Proposals to create a "highly-skilled" workforce for early years education, play and childcare have been outlined by the Welsh Government.

It has published a draft 10-year plan, which aims to have a workforce that is bilingual and "proactive learners in their own right" through a range of career development opportunities.

The 10-year plan aims to raise the status of early years workers. Credit: PA

It encompasses workers with children aged 0-7, including childminders, play workers and teachers.

Education Minister Huw Lewis said: "We’re determined to raise the status of careers in early years, childcare and play to a level which better reflects the vital role these practitioners play in supporting children’s development.”

Proposals include:

  • Raising minimum qualification standards for childcare workers
  • Developing early years learning hubs to support collaboration and workforce development
  • Relaxing adult-to-child ratios for school reception classes, from 1:8 to 1:10

The draft plan is now open for consultation until 15 December, with final proposals due next April.

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New lane to be opened on busy M4 intersection

Credit: David Jones/PA Wire

A new lane on the M4 will be officially opened today by Transport Minister Edwina Hart.

The lane at junction 32 will aim to improve traffic flow and safety on the busy intersection of the M4 in Cardiff.

A new dedicated lane for the A470 northbound at M4 junction 32 westbound, has been built in the hope of improving congestion around the Welsh capital and south Wales.

A dedicated lane for the A4232 southbound at M4 junction 33 westbound is under construction.

This is a very busy part of the road network in Cardiff which provides important economic links for south east Wales. The new lanes will greatly ease congestion at these two busy intersections, improving journey times and safety.

The Welsh Government is investing in the road network throughout Wales to improve access to jobs and services and strengthen our economy.

– Edwina Hart AM, Transport Minister

Funding cuts to halve apprenticeships opportunities

The cuts will result in 49 per cent fewer apprentices in Wales in the next year. Credit: PA

Cuts to the Welsh Government's flagship apprenticeship programme will halve the number of apprentices across the country in the next year, according to the National Training Federation for Wales.

A study carried out by the organisation also revealed that £10.7 million has been cut from next year's apprenticeship budget and that there has been a 32 per cent drop in opportunities for learners aged 16-24.

We have been open about the scale of the financial challenges we face. By 2015-16, the Welsh budget will be 10% lower in real terms than it was in 2010-11.

However reductions in the funding for Apprenticeships are not across the board. We will direct our funding towards Apprenticeships for those aged 16-24 as well as to Higher Level Apprenticeships and Traineeships.

We will continue to do all we can to provide opportunities for young people via our Apprenticeship Matching Service and via our network of Training Providers.

We will also continue to encourage our employers to invest in apprenticeships as part of their own workforce development plans

– Welsh Government spokesperson

Student 'hardship' fund reinstated for 2014-15

A £2m student 'hardship' fund has been reinstated for this academic year by the Welsh Government, after plans to scrap it proved highly controversial.

The Financial Contingency Fund aims to help students who can't access higher education due to financial difficulties, or experience financial problems while at university.

We have listened to stakeholders, and we have decided to reinstate the Fund for this year only.

I think it is appropriate that from academic year 2015-16 universities should establish their own discretionary hardship funds, and we will be discussing options with students and institutions.

– Huw Lewis, Education Minister
The 'hardship' fund will be reinstated for one year only. Credit: PA

The National Union of Students Wales has been campaigning to save the fund, after it was announced it would be withdrawn last month.

It today welcomed the Welsh Government's decision to protect the fund, which it says provides students in need with support averaging £400.

This hardship fund has been a vital lifeline of support for students, and the decision to scrap it just weeks before the start of the academic term risked leaving many in dire financial straits.

The strength of feeling since last month’s announcement, particularly from those who could not have stayed the course without it, shows why hardship funds are vital and must be protected, not just next year, but in the long term too if we are to have a fair and sustainable higher education system in Wales.

– Beth Button, NUS Wales President
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