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Policy Report: Literacy In Wales

Policy Report: Literacy in Wales


Throughout Wales, education has made itself to be a prevalent problem and it is concerning to see the low literacy rates of college-age students in Wales. GCSE results in 2015-2016 exhibited that only 57.2% of Welsh students achieved the core subject indicator in that year, meaning 42.8% of students did not meet the standards. The PISA results in 2012 also indicated that one out of every five Welsh students did not achieve level 2 proficiency in reading with the statistic being 30% higher in math; the level 2 proficiency is the basic skills required for a student to engage in every day activities. Low literacy rates pertain to students exhibiting less than adequate results in math and reading. When the test results of students entering collegiate years are brought into question, there is a severe problem in the amount of students incapable of receiving the basic grade to move onto the next level in their studies. These tests have proven students to receive low marks in their first years of college with room towards improvement, but questions the reasons behind the poor levels of performance and low diagnostic results prior to entering college. The primary role of these tests is a diagnostic to see where the students are at, but when considered, any individual is able to see the low literacy rates depicted. Lack of funding, teacher related concerns, and poor distribution of finances can be considered responsible for this concerning statistic but, nonetheless this case of lacking literacy in learners entering college is a concerning problem throughout all of Wales. Background

When considering the problem at hand, one of the key focuses becomes funding which contributes to the fact that learners are displaying poor performance in reading, math and science as a result of resource shortage. The level of funding makes a difference for literacy in the sense that it is directly related to the amount of teachers available in a school and the resources provided, both of which are factors that contribute to the overall literacy rate because they tie into the assets that a student is able to reference. Almost all of a school’s income comes from local authorities which receive funding for pre-16 provision in schools from the Revenue Support Grant that delivers the services for which they are responsible using a commonly agreed formula. These settlements are largely un-hypothecated meaning that the local authorities retain the discretion regarding how much money they wish to allot schools. The basis of this decision is primarily decided on how many pupils exist within the schools and reflect upon performance and non-performance related factors.

Funding for pre-16 provision in schools is allocated by specific grants from the Welsh Government including the Revenue Support Grant which delegates the range of services that a local authority provides and is directly related to funding school subjects including reading, math and science. The provisions of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 sets frameworks for allocating the different types of budgets. The first is the Non-Schools Education Budget which relates to strategic management, school improvement and that type of activity. The second is the Schools Budget specifically for supporting central items such as special needs education, meals, and the like. Finally, the Individual Schools Budget is a funding for activities that are the school’s own prerogative. Regulations regarding the Individual Schools Budget require that 70 percent of the funding must be distributed on the basis of pupil numbers taking into consideration factors such as age, hours of attendance, special education needs, etc. Special needs mainly refer to students with disabilities being provided unique platforms to succeed. This also includes teacher salaries. Local authorities can appropriate the remaining 30 percent as it may pertain to the needs of the school such as cleaning, expanding, etc.

The allocations for post-16 education includes a grant which is part of core funding for schools and should be in the local authority’s allocated budget. When researching the allocations over the past few years there was approximately a 6% decrease in funding overall granted to the local authorities in Wales. For some colleges such as St. David’s Catholic College this meant only a £134,574 decrease, whereas for others such as Bridgend College this reduction in funding amounted to a loss of £1,358,240. In Newport funding cuts result in the loss of over 200 teaching assistants or 79 teachers resulting in negative effects to pupil standards because class sizes increase.

Estyn is an independent entity currently in place which serves the purpose of inspecting quality and standards in education. The funding for this authority comes from the Welsh Government under Section 104 of the Government of Wales Act 1998. They utilize the Common Inspection Framework (CIF) to rank schools on a basis of excellent to unsatisfactory. Schools rating unsatisfactorily are then put into special measures or significant improvement programs.

A large sum of the Welsh Government’s education budget also gets focused on the professional development of teachers and shows that of graduating teachers, 76 percent actually begin to teach in Wales, which amounts to 695 out of 915 people who obtained qualified teacher status; of these teachers, 345 enrolled on primary phase courses and 275 on secondary phase courses. The Welsh Government’s Draft Budget paper presents funding for initial teacher training and the continued professional development for teaching professionals. In the final budget, the total amount for this specific purpose was £20,731,000. The current teaching incentives in place are not effective in retaining teachers resulting in a £1.75 million reduction to this budget. Of the overall budget, £5.65 million is allocated to further professional development, while the other almost £15 million is directed towards teacher training. When this is divided amongst the 24, 236 full-time teachers in Wales, it amounts to £856 per teacher focused on training and professional development.

For most primary schools in the last year, the student to teacher ratio was 1:22 with a class size average of 26 pupils. However, in 2008 a new initiative was launched, starting with the youngest school-age students (ages 3 and 4), attempting to reduce class sizes and increase teacher attention to each individual student. A study by Estyn proved that classrooms with 15-20 students had more passing results than a classroom with 25-30 students. It was decided that the main reason behind this is because smaller classroom sizes make it easier to entice participation from more students in a variety of enquiries. The study also showed that classrooms with same age students fared better than those with mixed age students.

(The graphs)

Issues within the Current Policies

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a collection of the education capabilities of college entering students around the world. The report published in 2010 displayed results that exhibited Wales’ performance as deteriorating in relation to other countries in reading, mathematics and science. 132 Welsh schools and 3270 Welsh pupils were involved in this survey demonstrating reading skills that were less than the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) average. The math score was also less than the OECD average, as was the science score. The reading and math scores were both significantly lower than the averages set out by the OECD, while the science scores were not as different. Not only is this prevalent in students entering college, but also is a statistic that is present in students aged 7 indicating lower levels of literacy than their counterparts in England. This is also a characteristic in GCSE performance for English language and Mathematics because Welsh students are performing far more poorly than English students.

Although PISA is primarily a diagnostic survey taking place to monitor reading, math and science assessments in students all of the world, it can also depict issues in schooling in various ways. For Wales, one of the problems noticed within the current policies is a need for more support personnel per pupil. Furthermore, there appeared to be technological resource problems such as a shortage of computers and computer software. Schools also reported that besides coursework, one of the best ways to test students actually falls in teacher created exams. PISA also uncovered the pupils in Wales excelled in non-education related hobbies such as spending time chatting online, amongst other activities. They also preferred reading magazines to actual novels. Despite the negatives in Wales depicted by the latest PISA survey, students did indicate high improvement when put in advancement programs.

Another problem that is in place with the current policies was found out by Estyn. They scrutinized the non-statutory Skills Framework as being feeble in regards to instilling skills within the coursework. This results in the entire program not being as effective as desired and puts it all under scrutiny. The entire objective of the Skills Framework was to negate future employers that believed college-age students to be lacking the required abilities to succeed in a prospective career field. In response to these recruiters, the National Curriculum was revised to include the Skills Framework implementing transferrable skills in students. However, after a year of being utilized, Estyn described the Skills framework to be inadequate in terms of acceleration, and recognized that few schools were actually executing ways to teach these transferrable skills, including reading, math and sciences. Seeing as these programs were not required, it is understandable that schools were not quick to invoke them, yet leaves the students impaired when entering the workforce.

Policy Options

The following policy options assess the majority of the issues prevalent in the current policies and attempt to revise these problems in a fiscally moderate and executable manner. The concerns they aim to alleviate include teacher retention, better allocation of the budget, and the implementation of more permanent programs. Combined with incentives and volunteer involvement, the options strive to convalesce the statistics for learners in regards to reading, mathematics and science.

1. There should be incentivized learner improvement for schools able to rise from the unsatisfactory Estyn category to good or excellent within one year.

Currently there are penalties that exist for low performance, but there should be monetary or authoritative incentives provided for high performance. Penalties include intervention when it has been decided that there is a breakdown in the way the school is governed, the principle has failed to comply with their duties outlined in the Education acts, or acted unreasonably. Intervention can also occur if a local authority fails to comply with their duties as outlined by the Education acts to provide adequate funding and resources. When a school performs under the required standard level, the teachers and executives are put under scrutiny and aspects of the school environment including executive and teaching staff, lesson plans, and presentations must be rearranged to correct the problems. Just as there is high attention placed to the improvement process, there should be attention to the results. These incentives may be fiscally arranged by a portion of the excess budget by the local authorities, or even arranged by the Welsh government. They can also be non-financial related and organized individually by the school. This can pertain to Nonetheless, the main purpose is to encourage progressive development in a concentrated period of time to lessen the time spent in the unsatisfactory Estyn category.

2. Use funding from the ISB towards better and more teacher retention rather than training.

The budget for teacher training and professional development for the 2017/2018 school year is £20,731,000. That amounts to approximately £856 per teacher, per year in regards to career advancement. The proposal is to utilize half of this fund per year, per teacher to continue with their development, but reward the other half as a bonus that they can utilize however they wish should they decide to stay at the same school the following year. Every two years, the educator may be allowed to receive the full £856 as a bonus. This allows the funds to actually be appropriated in a way that will convince teachers to remain within a teaching position for longer than one year. As a result, they can further their skills as an educator and also build relationships with students that can extend to tutoring individuals for better results. This plan also allows teachers to advocate advancement within their own classrooms from year to year.

3. Focus on combining after school volunteering with tutoring sessions as a merger between community service and better learning.

As a maneuver to embolden students struggling with literacy and numeracy alongside students not facing these problems, there should be a plan in place to organize voluntary tutoring sessions facilitated by students succeeding in reading, mathematics and sciences. This would be a non-monetary based program in the schools that would encourage students to help other students approximately 2-3 days a week after school. Often times volunteering hours can reflect community service for a student and one of the ways a student can achieve this is by staying behind after school and aiding other students. A program like this can be set up at the school or the local library depending on their closing hours and would be purely volunteer based. The program would require one single teacher to e the supervisor each week with alternating weeks so that any given teacher only gives up a couple of afternoons for one week.

4. Utilize half of the remaining 30% of the budget that is up to the local authority’s discretion to fund summer programs for reading and mathematics for students that are not performing up to standard.

In 2016-17, the Welsh Government granted local authorities a total of £4.102 billion (£4,101,551,000) of un-hypothecated funding through the Revenue Support Grant. This is a 1.3% decrease (£54 million) from 2015-16, after adjusting for transfers into the settlement, meaning local authorities have less money to provide their services. Of this 30% of the funding is up to a local authority’s own discretion which amounts to approximately £1,230,465,300. This policy option calls for regaining the decrease in the overall budget (£54 million) to be regained by manners of public to political agenda setting where local authorities would band together and request to retain the financials once more. The money can then be utilized to fund summer programs for schools that are considered to have unsatisfactory standing from Estyn’s common inspection framework. This is a beneficial program designed to focus on students requiring more time to understand the curriculum. These students would also be placed in a much slower-paced classroom setting with other students also struggling. With fixated deliberation placed onto problem areas in the three primary subjects, students are more likely to succeed in the following year after finally comprehending the base material from the prior year.

5. The Welsh Government should make Literacy and Numeracy Framework a statutory part of the National Curriculum.

The Skills Framework is currently a non-statutory program and allows individual schools to decide its importance and implementation into their curriculum. However, the Welsh Government should make the framework for reading, math and science skills mandatory within the National Curriculum and set out a standard proposal for how schools should actualize the proposition within their core modules. Many schools choose not to apply the Skills Framework, yet without any other option they will have to and thereby require skill focused training within classrooms and better prepare learners for the workplace and getting jobs after graduation. Recommendations

Policy Option #1: There should be incentivized learner improvement for schools able to rise from the unsatisfactory Estyn category to good or excellent within one year.

In regards to incentivizing learner improvement, the recommendation stands that there should be goals and rewards for any school district, under scrutiny, that is able to present a significant improvement in the allotted correction time. Under Estyn’s scrutiny, a school categorized with the need for special measures must develop an action plan in order to address the recommendations provided by Estyn and then is monitored termly until it improves enough to be taken out of the category. Significant improvement is a slightly different category because the schools should be succeeding based off of their factors and numbers, yet are not. These schools are also monitored for a few days in order to note any potential progress. The concepts for enacting improvement are fairly cut and dry, yet schools continue to hesitate in actually improving. (sanctions)

To encourage more schools to take the significant improvement and special measures programs seriously, it is recommended to provide incentives for learner improvement depicted over a short period of time. There are existing penalties for schools unable to prove a difference, yet a contrasting incentive for schools able to prove a difference should exist. These incentives can range in a variety of ways. Some might be up to the schools’ individual discretion such as holding a dance or a carnival to reward students and teachers for a job well done. The incentives can also be directly provided by the government. There is a remaining 30% of the education budget that is up to a local authority’s regulation, and a fraction of this percentage can be withheld to reward to schools in the unsatisfactory category that prove a change to good or excellent within a year’s time. Often times certain schools in the lower categories need funds for expansion or other school needs and by initiating this form of a progression stimulant, some schools may be more likely to enforce special measures to result in significant improvement.

Policy Option #2: Use funding from the ISB towards better and more teacher retention rather than training.

The people that have the most influence on the status of a student is their teacher. There is significant focus placed on teacher training and development, yet unfortunately there is not necessarily the highest rates of retention to ensure consistency with learning styles and habits throughout primary, secondary, and college age students. In the response of the National Union of Teachers to the House of Commons’ Education and Skills Committee inquiry into secondary education teacher retention, the four main reasons that educators leave their profession are results of excessive workload, unacceptable pupil behavior, low salaries, and government initiatives. The fact of the matter is, many graduated teachers decide that teaching isn’t the best foundation to set for their lifestyle once they actually enter the work force and realize that there isn’t the best funding utilized from the government to pay their salaries. In the draft budget paper for 2017-2018 the Welsh Government noted that the teaching incentives may attract student teachers, but do not seem to fulfill the needs for graduated teachers. The budget includes funds totaling approximately £20 million pounds for teacher related training. Of this the recommendation stands that half of these funds be utilized to develop some sort of professional workforce offer that can benefit graduated teachers working their first jobs and incentivize them to continue in that field of work. This would increase consistency overall in a learning environment and provide students with a much more stable education system. This also provides teachers with the time to create relationships with students that go deeper and can cause them to take personalized interests in the well-being of their students during college years and even after well into the job placement. This type of dedicated interests in the people who have the most influence over students can potentially increase literacy rates throughout all of Wales in the long run. (think more about the setting)

Policy Option #5: The Welsh Government should make Literacy and Numeracy Framework a statutory part of the National Curriculum.

According to Estyn, the decision to make the Skills Framework a non-statutory program was a mistake because it allowed schools to overlook the important benefits that it presents for students and continue utilizing their previous modules as long as they fit into the requirements as outlined by the National Curriculum. As a result, graduated pupils are still considered to be lacking attributes that employers seek. Due to this, the recommendation is for the Welsh Government to make the Literacy and Numeracy Framework a statutory part of the National Curriculum.

Counterargument/do nothing/limitation with budget constraints consv gov

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