News in brief: Examinations regulator warns learners face lower grades next summer
Students are being warned they could face lower exam grades next year as the Welsh examinations regulator confirmed it will take action to realign results to pre-pandemic levels.
Qualification Wales says it will follow the approach of its English counterpart after the UK government called for inflated grade levels to be reduced to pre-Covid levels over the next two years.
A level and GCSE grades in Wales have shown big increases over the last two summers with results based on teachers’ assessments due to the disruption caused by the pandemic.
“We want to make sure that their assessments next summer are as fair as possible,”Qualifications Wales chief executive, Philip Blaker told BBC Wales.
“Next year we will see a return to normal assessments which provide a fair and consistent approach for learners.
“We have considered the fairest way to award grades, taking views from stakeholders across Wales and working with other qualifications regulators across the UK.
“Our approach will align with that taken in England. This means that results in 2022 will reflect broadly a midway point between 2021 and 2019 and provides a level playing field for Welsh learners, particularly those applying for admission to universities across the UK.”
Mr Blaker also confirmed arrangements were being put in place if there was a worsening of the situation in the coming months.
“If circumstances change, and the exam series is cancelled we are putting contingency plans in place that will allow schools and colleges to award grades in an approach based upon that used in summer 2021,” he added.
This summer over 48% of A level students in Wales achieved A or A* grades, up from 41.8% in 2020, when exams were first cancelled.
In 2019, before the pandemic struck and when grades were based on exam results, just 27% of learners were awarded the top grades.
Minister confirms new guidelines for Covid testing in schools and colleges
From next Monday the government is recommending all learners under 18, from a household where someone has tested positive for Covid, should undertake daily lateral flow tests every day for seven days.
This is in addition to PCR tests on Day two and Day eight as currently recommended.
Parents are also being advised that the new testing regime should be started from the day the household contact tests positive.
Education Minister Jeremy Miles also confirmed it is no longer recommend that children under five years of age take Covid-19 tests without symptoms.
“I want to do all I can to minimise disruption to education and childcare. I recognise that some schools and parents have been confused and concerned that pupils can attend school or college if they are a household contact as long as they are asymptomatic. I have listened to these concerns and considered what additional assurance can be provided while also enabling learners to continue to attend school,” Mr Miles said in a written statement.
“In considering the merits of testing, asymptomatic testing in particular, it is important to consider the potential harms. I have been concerned at the level of PCR testing being undertaken of children under five years of age which has increased fivefold since the beginning of August.
“Testing can be distressing for the child, it can be difficult to obtain an appropriate sample and of course children of this age are much less likely to pass on the virus to others,” he added.
“Following advice from our testing advisory group I have agreed that we will no longer recommend that children under five years of age take Covid-19 tests without symptoms. Where children under five do have symptoms, we would not routinely recommend tests unless directed to do so by a doctor or if parents believe a test is absolutely necessary and in the best interests of the child.”
The number of Covid cases has surged in the younger age groups in recent weeks and figures released by Public Health Wales have revealed over 40% of new cases recorded last week were in children and adults under the age of 19.
Meanwhile, the Covid case rate in Wales has fallen for the seventh day in a row according to the latest figures released by PHW.
Since yesterday’s report the weekly rate in is down 23.2 points – from 530.5 to 507.3 per 100,000 people – and just three local authorities currently have rates above 600.
Torfaen’s rate remains still the highest in Wales at 688.6 but is down from 691.8 over the last 24 hours.
Eight further deaths due to the virus have also been confirmed since yesterday’s report, taking the total number since the start of the pandemic in March 2020 to 5,934.
Three of the newly recorded deaths were in the Hywel Dda health board area, Cwn Taf Morgannwg and Swansea Bay each recorded two deaths and there was one in Aneurin Bevan.
Welsh Government announces £36.6m to support families and children
The government has announced a further £36.6 million is being made available to support children and families recover from the impact of the Covid pandemic.
£20m of the funding will support access to play, sporting, creative and expressive, and cultural activities and experiences in Welsh and English for children and young people up to the age of 25.
In addition, 11.6m of capital funding will be used to increase capacity in childcare, play and Flying Start settings and the remaining £5m will go towards local authority projects.
“I am pleased to announce the funding to provide a package of support for the well-being of our young people and families in Wales.
“The impacts of the last year have been felt by all of us, and particularly by our children and young people emotionally and physically. This funding will provide them with continued support and more opportunities to strengthen their social, emotional and physical well-being,” Deputy Minister for Social Services, Julie Morgan said.
“This is our future generation, and this package of well-being support is for all young people from every community and provide the opportunity for them to develop their social, emotional and physical well-being for now and for the future.”
Government challenged over climate change record
Government ministers have been accused of being “all talk and no action” when it comes to tackling climate change
Welsh Conservative Shadow Economy Minister Paul Davies, challenged Mark Drakeford over the government’s record since declaring a climate emergency in 2019, during First Minister’s Questions yesterday and told the Senedd: “The reality is that not enough has been done since that declaration to seriously address climate change in Wales.
“Progress to date has not been fast enough to ensure Wales will have net zero carbon emissions by 2050. And, let me remind you, that a report by the committee on climate change told us that Wales was not on track for its previous 80% target, let alone net zero.”
Mr Davies told the First Minister: “There are towns and cities in Wales that have reported illegal and dangerous levels of air pollution in recent years, and air pollution is thought to contribute to over 2,000 premature deaths.
“But we are yet to see a Clean Air Act, despite it being one of your own leadership manifesto commitments back in 2018. And on top of that, one of your own ministers has admitted we’re way behind where we need to be on tree planting targets, with only 80 hectares of new woodland planted in 2019-20. The lowest number for a decade.”
Speaking outside the chamber, Mr Davies, added: “It is abundantly clear that Labour ministers have done very little to tackle climate change since declaring an emergency more than two years ago.
“We need to see the First Minister and his ministerial colleagues take serious decisions, which matches the severity of the situation we are facing in Wales and the rest of the world.
“They are all talk and no action. We are facing a climate catastrophe and it’s high time ministers get serious and set out specific actions on how we are going to address the climate crisis in Wales.”
Wrexham hoping for levelling up cash boost
Liam Randall, local democracy reporter
Hopes have been raised that an announcement will soon be made on whether two multi-million pound bids to regenerate parts of Wrexham have been successful.
Senior councillors approved a request for a combined total of £28.5m from the UK Government’s Levelling Up Fund in June.
A bid of £18.3m was put forward as part of plans to transform the Mold Road gateway into the town, which could see a new 5,000-seat stand built at the Kop end of Wrexham AFC’s Racecourse Ground.
A four-star hotel, multi-storey car park and conferencing and hospitality facility have also been suggested as part of efforts to boost the area’s economy.
A separate application was made for £10.2m from the same pot to improve the area around the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in Trevor.
The scheme includes proposals to alleviate parking problems at the World Heritage Site, along with the creation of a visitor centre, treetops walk and campsite.
Wrexham Council’s chief executive Ian Bancroft said the local authority had recently requested an update on the bids and was hopeful of an announcement before the end of autumn.
Speaking at a media briefing held on Tuesday, he said: “I had correspondence on Friday as we chased the UK Government just in terms of their timings.
“Their answer was: ‘We’d always said the autumn and anticipate it will be shortly’.
“The feedback we’re getting is that they’re very good project submissions, in terms of having all the detail that’s required.
“What we’ve learned is a lot of bids were put in, so it is going to be quite a competitive process.”
If the applications are approved, money will be provided via a £4.8 billion capital fund announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in March to invest in local infrastructure across the UK.
Wrexham has been identified as one of three priority areas in north Wales and the bids have been backed by Wrexham MP Sarah Atherton and Clwyd South MP Simon Baynes.
All money provided through the fund must be spent by March 31, 2024, which means the projects are likely to move forward quickly if successful.