School exclusion “should be a last resort”

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Here’s a summary of this afternoon’s Education Questions.

The Augar Review & Wales

In the last week, a major review of higher education in England (similar to Wales’ Diamond Review) was published. Shadow Education Minister, Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West), said that as 40% of Welsh students study in England, what were the Minister’s initial thoughts on the review’s impact on Welsh universities and colleges?

Education Minister, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), said her officials weren’t briefed prior to the Augar Review’s publication, but:

“I am aware of the contents of the report, and in my letter to The Times earlier this week, I was very clear that any proposal for reform in England will inform, but not dictate, the choices made by the Welsh Government. I am proud that Wales will continue to have the fairest, most progressive and the most sustainable student support system in the UK, even if the Augar recommendations are implemented fully in England….”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams

This didn’t answer Suzy’s question to her satisfaction, and she continued to press for specifics in terms of the potential impact on Wales. While there were policy differences, one thing that remains the same is student loan repayment terms. There was a particular problem with loans being written off (effectively becoming grants) that the Augar Review was trying to address.

The Minister said that even if Augar was implemented in full, Wales would offer a wider range of non-repayable grants to students than England.

New curriculum: Opportunities to teach Welsh history “will be missed”

Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) recently met with campaigners arguing for greater teaching of Welsh history, but the new curriculum talks “in general terms and conceptual terms” about the Welsh experience.

“…..when one looks at the guidance under the heading ‘history’, there’s no mention of Wales or the Welsh experience or Welsh history. So, I’d like to know how you intend to amend the draft curriculum in order to reflect the aspiration that every pupil in Wales should know about the history of our own nation.”
– Sian Gwenllian AM

The Minister told AMs the curriculum is still in a draft form and is available for feedback. The principle of “cynefin” (“habitat”) runs throughout the curriculum and shouldn’t be confined to a single subject or area of learning.

However, Sian Gwenllian didn’t understand the rationale of making some elements mandatory – like digital skills or sex and relationship education – whilst exempting other important elements such as mental health. To that, the Minister said she’ll work to ensure the curriculum is properly balanced, while an entire area of learning was dedicated to health and well-being.

Exclusion “should be a last resort”

Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) raised a letter from a constituent – whose autistic son was excluded from school for several months – saying that a tribunal ruled that the school failed to make reasonable adjustments in that case. The school was forced to admit the exclusion was discriminatory and also to apologise on multiple grounds.

Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) accepted that exclusion might be necessary – even conversion to homeschooling – but it had a negative impact on social development. Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn) praised a reduction in exclusions overall.

The Minister didn’t mince words and repeated several times that exclusion should always be a last resort. A proportion of £20million is being invested in additional learning needs training and skills following the 2018 Act. Nonetheless, there was more to be done to ensure schools and teachers are supported to understand the underlying causes of poor behaviour.

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