HLl welcomed everyone, particularly new faces, noting that the Autumn Term had been very difficult due to Covid and hoping that things would improve from now on. He introduced the agenda.
HLl said that WG funding for the next research projects has reached the Forum – £100,000 for 2021/2 and £100,000 for 2022/3.HLl referred to the Forum’s summer meeting where attending schools agreed on the new research project groups.
HLl Introduced Alex Southern from Swansea University and said that the meeting with the WG Education Minister to provide feedback on the operational research of the last two years had been postponed until the summer. AS has also been involved in the research at Swansea University which runs parallel with AASF action research prior to Covid. There are three strands of interest, namely Leadership, Pedagogy and Wellbeing. AS and SU have looked at responses to the AASF questionnaire to gain a general picture of AASs. It highlights the diversity of AA schools. It is important that WG is a distant partner to retain objectivity in SU findings and enables researchers to provide positives and recommendations for WG. The data which has been pulled from the questionnaires is very interesting. The research has looked at how leadership is different in AASs and has included interviews in Spanish and Icelandic schools which helps to see AASs in Wales in the wider setting. The interviews have been transcribed and are very useful and interesting and provide a great deal of data for WG. Next steps are appointing a Welsh medium researcher – interviews this week. The first tranche of research must be finalised with a small number of schools.
AS hopes to visit schools/wider colleagues to look at Pedagogy in schools, some of which have offered to host research days which will involve an interview or case study. AS provided her email address ([email protected]) in chat for questions or requests to be involved. She also congratulated HLl on obtaining the funding from WG and added that this is entirely separate from SU research, though SU has offered its support as a critical friend.
HLl said that there was a lot going on in the background and that SU is doing a good job in the ongoing and new research. He asked if there were any emerging themes in SU’s research. AS said that it is early days and some need unpicking, e.g., Leadership in schools which have been established for varied reasons and with massive variation in their nature. The question of whether there is an AASs Leader arises, and it can be argued that this is so, but it must be recognised by the system, as AA leadership needs a wider and additional skill set than other schools, requires different practices and giving colleagues the freedom to be experts. Feedback to WG will be given e.g., on financial management which should be dependent on the area/pupil needs and so should be different for different schools. This would help new AASs when they are being set up.
The focus on Pedagogy has also highlighted some interesting points re. the AAS teacher as there are specialisms i.e., the few AAS teachers need to understand pedagogy as well as their specialism and ALN. The AAS teacher is a particular individual who needs to be trained and supported. Expertise is needed in house for broad pedagogy as well as detailed needs. AS asked who was supporting this currently. At present it is colleagues and the professional network, but this needs to be recognised and supported more widely.
The focus on Wellbeing has highlighted the possibility that AASs limit transition, as some events such as end of KS2 events do not take place in some AASs. It is more complex in AASs as it involves cluster and non-cluster schools and primary and secondary phases all at once. There is potential for transition to be far more positive than in an ordinary school and schools give a massive amount of work and resources to it in AASs, which has a positive effect on wellbeing.
HLl said that these findings were fascinating, and in line with AASs’ experience and have come about without support or training. The research will help WG to act, particularly regarding gaps in finance – M. Echevery (Abertillery) and HLl are currently battling with the LA to increase funding for the additional costs of AAE as currently budgets are separate for primary and secondary and provide no extra resources. They hope that Blaenau Gwent will adjust the funding formula, providing possibly £30,000 – £40,000 extra. It would have been easier if the scholarly research findings had been available before hand to provide the LA with evidence. AS said that her findings were not revelatory and confirmed what schools were saying.
Dafydd Hughes asked if AS, in feeding back on outcomes of the research, will state that≈there are different approaches in different schools or recommend best practice. AS stated that it is difficult to have a general view because of the very diverse nature of AASs but she will state what effective practice is. She will recommend what could and should be applied but it is hard to do so as regards pedagogy because of differing pupil needs. Her research will highlight the benefits and challenges for new AASs.
HLl said that there are 3 more AASs in the pipeline. One in Powys showed a great deal of interest in the work of the Forum, especially the website. HLl has sent the website to each Director of Education in Wales, as phone calls come in regarding the research through information on the grapevine, which shows its value already. The research will provide an evidence base to enable WG to decide e.g. on a funding formula. HLl said that an excellent job had been done under difficult circumstances and said that AS would be very welcome to Ebbw Fawr. He stated that SU work is particularly important and that without it, it would be difficult to convince WG that there is a need for additional funding and support. The AASF has given SU funding to collaborate with it, and research outcomes should be complete by the end of the year. ESTYN will also be reporting
HLl reported that, after several meetings, the funding (£200,000) 2021-2023 Has been released and is in AASF’s account. Covid has restricted what schools could do, therefore the money is allocated for two years. Working with SU is insightful and beneficial, but the Forum could also develop its own more open-ended research as discussed in the summer and this has been agreed by WG. The fact that the Forum is successful in providing support, particularly via the website, about which WG is very complimentary, especially the comprehensive nature of the questionnaire responses, has been very useful. There will hopefully be a face-to-face meeting soon regarding the research.
The second phase has been organised around themes discussed in the summer. The £4,000 funding per school can be claimed in January.
Eighteen schools have volunteered thus far but others can participate also. The £4000 funding can be used to facilitate whatever is possible in January, e.g. creating a TLR for a colleague undertaking research.
The WG Education Department is keen for the money to be seen as a bloc, i.e., £12000 for a piece of research done collectively.
DO volunteered for b) and d)
DH asked if numeracy were included in c). It was agreed that Caer Elen would lead on Numeracy and contribute to c). Ystalyfera to participate.
HLl said that there is no requirement to report at the end of 2022 – research groups will complete at the end of the second year. He expressed gratitude for the WG funding and hopes for positive outcomes.
DH asked if there could be a conversation about the data LAs require, as South Central Advisory Service ask for separate primary and secondary data. HLl said that Blaenau Gwent asks for little data but has previously asked for separate data.
DP said that attendance data is separate and that he has been battling to be dealt with as one school. Challenge advisors also undertake separate visits.
JO has not sent data since Covid but said that there is a need for AA schools to be treated as one. Her school refuses separate challenge advisors.
LD said that her school is treated as two separate schools with separate challenge advisors. There are four schools which need to be treated as one.
RP said that there have been no separate advisors since 2013 and a forthcoming meeting with the LA will discuss the need for data to be provided as one school.
AJ did not know what data situation was but there is one challenge advisor.
RO said that he has one challenge advisor (a primary specialist) who looks at the primary and secondary phases separately. No data has been submitted since Covid.
RR agreed with RO and said that there is a system issue not just a data issue. There needs to be a change in the approach of challenge advisors. Although there are three AAS in the county, there is little understanding of them and their different needs in LAs. He felt that the distance between LAs and AASs has become greater.
MC said that his situation was the same as RR. Systems have not been set up, but he is trying to do so. Data is submitted separately.
LC said that the school has separate challenge advisors but has always been a 3-19 school so is different from newer AASs
CP said that Abertillery has had a secondary challenge advisor and had to request primary help.
HLl said that he would discuss this with AS but that as soon as the research is published, the message that AASs need to be treated as one needs to be loud and clear. HLl will ensure that this is in the report.
DO said that the school knew much more about the school than the challenge advisor. A third AAS is coming through and when planning is done it is separate. He will go back to the LA after this meeting with this message. He said that the Forum is capturing data on value added for AASs but Covid has made it difficult to get this out. HLl said that, in terms of value added, the pre-Covid research provides compelling evidence that this is so.
CLl worked with Tonyrefail and Cwm Brombil and the group is close to publishing. Re Transition, year 6 into 7 interviews showed that AASs have a different approach from feeder schools and there is a marked difference. There is a positive picture of the impact on mitigating negatives of transition. Yr 6 pupils have interesting points of view on buildings. There was some question as to whether Yr 6 pupils in AASs missed out on some transition activities, e.g. proms due to being through schools
DH stated that his school had a positive experience of a challenge advisor. He said that a perfect storm is brewing re. data in the new curriculum – there is a move from quantitative to qualitative data and that there will be legacy issues from the old NC.
HLl said that assessment data is very difficult in the school and the LA and that training courses are still centred on the old NC and that national models are needed. Ebbw Fawr is struggling with assessment for the new NC. RR agreed with this.
HLl reiterated the importance of meeting, and that the Forum is continuing and moving forward. A list of schools participating in the second phase of research will be sent out as a priority so that other schools can participate if they wish. He wished everyone a Merry Christmas after a hard term.