Minister: School hours “should be decided locally”

(Title Image: via Senedd TV)

Here’s a round-up of this afternoon’s Education Questions.

Quality Controlling the new National Curriculum

Following the publication of the draft Curriculum for Wales yesterday, Shadow Education Minister, Suzy Davies AM’s (Con, South Wales West) impression was that this was going to be a wholesale change of philosophy, with less emphasis on course content and more freedom for teachers. Naturally, this comes with quality control concerns:

“I will support the aims of a curriculum, which helps raise young people who are resilient, compassionate problem solvers who recognise the imperative to contribute their talents to society…. But they will also need a depth of subject knowledge based not just on their own experiences and choices. This is not a content-based curriculum that was repeated a number of times yesterday, but it will have content-based to a significant degree on staff and pupil choice. How will this proliferation of content be quality controlled?”
– Shadow Education Minister, Suzy Davies AM

The Education Minister believes the new curriculum wasn’t devoid of knowledge but builds upon it. There are still expectations of where a child should be at the different progression points (which will replace Key Stages) and Estyn will be undertaking more inspections to ensure the curriculum is being properly implemented – though the changes will be phased in gradually to prevent overburdening schools and learners.

Suzy is also an outspoken campaigner for life-saving skills to be taught in schools and was disappointed by the Minister’s decision not to make CPR lessons compulsory; the Minister said it was ultimately for schools themselves to decide how and when to provide first aid training.

No Welsh Government position yet on EU national tuition fees after 2021

Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West) raised the issue of tuition fees for EU students after Brexit. It’s been reported that England intends to raise fees for EU nationals from 2021. While the Welsh Government has committed to maintaining the current fees until then, what was their position afterwards?

The Minister confirmed the Welsh Government will maintain current fees for EU national until 2020-21, but she was unable to confirm anything beyond then, saying it was down to UK Treasury rules on loans which could otherwise leave the Welsh Government with a hefty bill:

“Firstly, let me be clear that I want as many students from the EU….to to come and study at our universities….if I can just clarify to the Member, it is not our own budgets that are pertinent to this point, we need to have confirmation from the Westminster Government about the provision of loans. If that does not come forward, the Welsh Government would have to guarantee around £45 million of support to EU students to ensure that they will have the funding in place for the entirety of their study.”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor)

School hours “should be decided locally”

There were two questions on school hours. Caroline Jones AM (Ind, South Wales West) raised the matter of several schools in the Bridgend area giving consideration to cutting school hours (and subsequently break times). Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) said a number of schools in her region now close early on Fridays for additional teacher training. In both cases, there were concerns over the impact this will have on working parents and pupil welfare in terms of playtime and physical activity.

The Minister said it was ultimately a local decision:

“The organisation of the school day, indeed, the school week, is a matter for individual head teachers and their governing bodies. But any changes to the organisation of the school day should be undertaken in full consultation with parents, and clearly, the health and well-being needs of children should be duly considered in those changes.”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams

In response to a follow-up question from Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales), the Minister cited research which suggests that “asymmetrical school weeks” with reduced break times can have a positive impact by reducing opportunities for bullying and horseplay.

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