Making time for the curriculum

28 Sep

Our patience will achieve more than our force – Edmund Burke

I have blogged in the past about the dangers of rushing curriculum reform.  I am a strong supporter of what Professor Donaldson put forward in his Successful Futures report.  In fact I am not sure I have ever met anyone that isn’t.  It built a platform for a mature discussion in Wales on what sort of education system we wanted to develop for our pupils.  The answer it seemed was one based on putting the pupil at the heart of the agenda.  A curriculum that gave power back to the practitioner, which allowed them the freedom and confidence to shape the curriculum that best suited their schools and pupils, and which once again put an emphasis on creativity, expression and well-being.  Along with that it has challenged us to think more broadly about the values of our education system, how we assess progress and how we hold education services accountable.  These of course are big questions to ask and they naturally take time to answer.

There has, thus far, been no real move to change the way we assess and have accountability in the system but it is pleasing to see there are moves afoot to look at those areas.  There is a sense, and I hope I am not being too naive and overly optimistic in saying it, that we are going to end up with measures that ensure schools are rightfully held accountable but that well-being, progress and development are judged on a more even and fair way, alongside data that is informative instead of simply casting pupils as black and white numbers on some spreadsheet.

The purpose of this blog however is to look at the question of timescales against delivering the curriculum.  As I stated at the start of this piece, I have been, and remain, a big supporter of the curriculum.  However, I have never been a supporter of what I saw as restrictive timescales.  What was set out originally was a scale of change quicker than what international evidence suggested was crucial to getting this reform right.  That original timescale looked even more ambitious when it became clear that there were mistakes being made along the way, such as individuals who had been assigned pioneer school status tasked with developing the curriculum not even being made aware that this was the case.  There was, and is, also the issue around capacity in the system.  We have to acknowledge that for over a decade we have had a highly prescriptive, top-down approach to teaching.  Classroom professionals have been told for years that “this is the curriculum – go and teach it.”  The drumming out of independent thought and the failure to create critical and innovative thinking in the initial teacher training system has left a generation of teachers without expertise in curriculum design.  We have had to build back in those skills, and while the ITT reforms are putting more emphasis on these areas as well as the research capacity of teachers, the immediate challenge still remains.

I was very pleased then to hear this weeks announcement from the Cabinet Secretary that the timescales, and critically the method, of delivery had been revised.  I think this shows a Welsh Government willing to listen.  Clearly the Cabinet Secretary and her team have been hearing the concerns raised by teaching unions representing their members, have heard the feedback from their own internal operations and have been having those all important honest discussions with other education systems who have been through this process.  Stubbornness has been a trait of the Welsh Government in the past and it has led to many poorly designed and implemented initiatives lasting beyond the merits of their results.  It is a testament to the Department of Education in this instant then that they have recognised the need to adapt the process to ensure delivery can be effective.

The new timescales will mean a longer process of development with the curriculum consultation now expected around April 2019.  The final curriculum will be delivered to schools to prepare from 2020 with it being rolled out on a statutory basis from 2022.  That seems a little more generous.  Most noteworthy is the fact it will now be rolled out statutorily from nursery through to year 7 and will follow that class through their education year by year until every pupil is learning in this way.  That has allowed us to avoid the danger of a big bang approach where everyone is forced over to the new system regardless of how they have been taught up until that point.  This is a much more sensible way of progressing and offers both pupils and teachers the chance to grow into the new curriculum.  Getting this reform right is crucial to our success as an education system and it is heartening to see a Government willing to listen and act accordingly on advice from the front-line as a way of making sure it does everything possible to be successful.

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Cause for optimism? – IWA Article

21 Sep

Last week there were two not-insignificant announcements relating to teacher’s workload.  Their importance was not only in the impact each could have but also in the recognition that action on this issue needs to be taken.

For years teaching unions have been banging the drum about unsustainable workload.  Warnings about how the burden being placed on teachers were hindering attainment levels, damaging teachers health and wellbeing and making the issues of staff recruitment and retention increasingly difficult were given sympathetic hearings, but ultimately little has been accomplished to address it.  It is fair to say successive Education Ministers and officials acknowledged that the existing demands on education professionals were excessive, but tangible proposals to get to grips with the concern were never forthcoming.  At the same time the initiatives, policies, pilots and upheavals that teachers, school leaders and support staff faced continued to mount.

Evidence of the problem, should it have been needed, was delivered in no uncertain terms with the publication of the education workforce survey.  The 10,000+ responses highlighted the problem with data showing that:

  • 78.1% of teachers felt workload was an issue.
  • 88.3% of school teachers disagreed or disagreed strongly that they were able to effectively manage their existing workloads.
  • Full-time school teachers revealed they regularly work an average of 50.7 hours during a working week.
  • 33.6% of school teachers indicated they intended to leave the profession in the next three years.

What we saw last week was the first tentative steps to tackling workload at both classroom and leadership level.  From a symbolic point of view this is important.  It shows the Welsh Government is not just agreeing we are at a tipping point, but are putting the wheels in motion to try and get it back under control.  Kirsty Williams AM and the Education Department deserve to be praised for that.

The first announcement centred on a pilot scheme to introduce business managers in schools.  For many headteachers the biggest frustration of the role is the administrative demands that it comes with.  School leaders are essentially the CEOs of a medium size business, organising everything from staffing and personal issues to building maintenance, from health and safety to fundraising and insurance cover.  These are all areas crucial to the day to day running of a school, but no matter how important and worthy they are, it doesn’t alter the fact it takes time away from a headteachers ability to best support their staff and pupils in securing the educational outcomes desired.

What’s being proposed is a pilot scheme targeted just towards the primary sector and only in a limited number of local authority areas.  It will be hugely important to monitor the outcomes of this pilot and determine if it is worth rolling out further across Wales.  If this has the outcomes the Welsh Government desire it certainly could take some of that workload burden off the shoulders of headteachers, allowing them to dedicate more time to delivering on their ethos and values for the school, which is the reason they got into the profession in the first instance.  A second positive consequence we could see is that it helps in the development of skills at leadership level.  We are often hearing of headteachers promoted into the role who do not feel equipped, trained or supported for the business administration that goes hand in hand with running a school.  They are very much left to their own devices in a new role, with new challenges and forced to learn on the job.  This investment may end up allowing headteachers to become better equipped for the position on a more reasonable and manageable learning curve.

Further to the above there was also last week the announcement of a guide for teachers and school leaders designed to reduce workload by busting some of the myths around what does and does not need to be done for pupil progress.  Unfortunately we are still seeing excessive workloads driven by expectations and demands put on schools due to the perception of what is required rather than what is actually the case.  More often than not, if indeed not at every turn, these perceptions do not add any value to school performance.  In fact they undermine it by taking time away from teaching and boosting workloads to levels that have consistently cost the teaching profession in Wales around 50,000 days a year through workload related ill-health.

Crucially there has been sector wide buy-in for these resources, backed not only by the Welsh Government and the four regional consortia, but also by the Education Workforce Council, local authorities in Wales, the trade unions and Estyn itself.  That universal approach should hopefully empower teachers and school leaders to resist undertaking work that does not need to be done and to finally be able to strip back responsibilities to a more manageable level, focusing on only those aspects of work which are having a positive impact on student development.

The Cabinet Secretary has stated at length that these initiatives are not the golden ticket to workload reform.  They will not resolve a problem that has developed over many years and has for so long been neglected by the different tiers of government in Wales.  It will take much more than this and we will have to continue to fight for better support.  However, this is action that has not been forthcoming in the past.  What is more, it is action that has, in part, been delivered in a cooperative and collective way.  That is not only hugely encouraging for the successes of these policies but also for the future of education in Wales.

The above article was originally published on the IWA blog.  You can view the original here.

PISA Targets

26 Jun

Yesterday I contributed to the Sunday Politics show discussion on the political fall out from the Cabinet Secretary for Education distancing herself from her predecessors PISA targets.  While it remains online you can view it here, starting around 40:04 in.

In terms of the political discussion what I said was that I don’t believe the ramifications extend to the classroom.  I don’t know of a single teacher who base their work on ensuring PISA results are improved.  Teachers are focused on simply doing their best for pupils, ensuring that socially and academically they reach their full potential, and that they attain the best qualifications possible.  Naturally if PISA measures the things it claims to in the way it claims to, and that remains a big and ever increasing if, then the work done in our classrooms should be captured.

However, where it does have an impact is on policy development.  We saw in 2010 how PISA results led to a huge upheaval in strategic direction.  Leighton Andrews put in place a raft of policy changes that often totally contradicted the previous approach in Wales, which were implemented in direct response to PISA.  Across the world Governments have changed their education policies to reflect aims and targets in PISA.  The big question that comes out of the apparent clash in PISA targets being set within the Welsh cabinet is, what are the implications for our policy approach in future?  Whose targets are we aiming for? What happens if we reach one but not the other? Why are we continuing to set targets for PISA and are they meaningless for a number of reasons? Or are we still expecting to see the possibility of our system turned upside down based on PISA?

For what it is worth I supported the position taken by Kirsty Williams.  When the original story broke I agreed that PISA targets had failed to focus policy and resources on the right elements to support our pupils and teachers.  Getting away from that is, ironically enough, the best way to ensure a better education system.

One other thing I wanted to touch on comes from the line that David Reynolds said in the piece, which is that PISA results are the driver of economic success.  His evidence for this is that Shanghai saw great inward investment following their rise to the top of the rankings.  I don’t dismiss any assumptions out of hand but I have continually been left cold by this argument.  For me it is a case of correlation without causation.  Just as you can find evidence to show one influencing the other, you can find the evidence that undermines that view.  For example Finland ranked top of PISA in 2000.  The year on year growth of the Finish economy for the next thirteen years following that was at a lower rate than in 2000.  There are a host of nations whose economic success exceed their PISA scores and vice versa.  Indeed in 2015 the Welsh Government announced historic record inward investment figures.  That alone contradicts the argument.

As I say, I don’t dismiss any thinking out of hand but it seems a reach to claim that PISA is make or break for inward investment when that isn’t necessarily born out by the facts.

Please don’t drown…..

19 Jun

Every year I try and take part in a charity sporting venture, although I don’t recall doing one last year.  Two years ago I did a triathlon of sorts where I accumulated 10,000m on the SkiErg followed by a 10,000m run before finishing with a 10,000m row.

This year I am taking on the real thing with a proper triathlon, this Sunday’s Cardiff Bay Tri.  Full disclosure I don’t own a bike and chose not to buy one just for this event and so I am doing the swim and run portion of the full Olympic triathlon distance (1,500m swim and 10,000m run) with a friend and training partner covering the bike section.

When I signed up I didn’t think much of it really.  A 10k run isn’t easy but it’s something I knew I’d be able to get done without changing my usual training patterns.  I didn’t swim outside of splashing around on weekends with my kids in the local leisure center but I can swim and am quite fit so never questioned how hard it could be.  Turns out, pretty god damn hard!

1

I quickly found out that being able to swim, and actually swimming any sort of distance, were very much two different things.  The first few times I went to the pool I was absolutely exhausted by swimming a 25m length.  I would regularly accumulate 500m-1,000m but through numerous 25m lengths with noticeable breaks in-between.  It took me a good few weeks to get to the 150m unbroken mark.  At which point I seriously started panicking that I would, at best, get fished out of the water on race day.

With this realization I dropped down to the sprint distance (750m swim) and started taking adult swimming lessons.  The relief of having a shorter distance, the guidance of improving my technique and the many lonely and tough hours spent chipping away at it started to make a different.  By the end of January I was still only getting to 300m but that was a major breakthrough.

2

Then one day, having never gone passed that 300m mark, things just clicked and suddenly I went straight through to the 1k marker.  The perseverance started paying off and while I found the first 300m were always tough, as I settled in things would always get better as my stroke slowed and breathing settled.

I was told that open water swimming in a wet-suit was an easier proposition than the pool and so, knowing mentally more than anything I would have to try it before the event, I was really pleased to find out that Cardiff International White Water Center do open water swimming sessions between 6:30am-8:30am on Thursday mornings.  These were a revelation to me.

3

Swimming in open water was not only easier and gave me more enthusiasm and confidence, but it was so much more fun and enjoyable than the slogs you have to endure in the pool.

6

I was lucky enough to have been joined by my regular crossfit coach Pete Rankin from Crossfit Boatshed as well, although he is genuinely a good swimmer.  Having someone come along with you on that first session was a big deal, even if just to know you can be towed to safety if required.  Thankfully I didn’t need him for that!

4

After this open water swim I bumped myself back up to the full Olympic distance and am really glad I did.  The weekend before last I put in a PB of 2,000m in the pool unbroken and really only stopped because of boredom.

5I followed that up with another strong open water swim last Thursday.  I’m pretty confident now that so long as I don’t drown within the first 300m I should survive.  That said it only dawned on me recently that I also have to run and so staggered out for an 8k test two weeks ago which focused the mind on that aspect of neglected training!FullSizeRender

So, with all this said, if you want to donate anything to the cause, and it is a fantastic cause in raising money for Ty Hafan, you can do so by clicking on this link.

Also if you are bored and want to know if I have drown you can track me on the day by clicking on this link.

Fingers crossed I’m still here Monday to reflect on the result.

 

 

 

Testing Times

2 May

There was a pretty significant announcement by the Welsh Government today about future changes to the testing regime in Welsh education.  I have to say this is a relatively positive story for the Welsh Government.  Discussing these tests in any format can make for uncomfortable media coverage for them.  Teachers, parents and pupils have been consistently and vocally opposed to them, and what has been proposed is certainly not going to address all the concerns, but it is fair to say they will be met more positively than anything else.  With that in mind I found it a little odd it was announced during the election period and will no doubt therefore get lost in other news agendas.  Maybe I’m thinking too Machiavellian about this but it could lead people to think that for some reason the Welsh Government saw it as a controversial climb down and didn’t want the focus that could be given outside this period?  Given these changes would come into effect for the May 2018 tests there’s no reason I can think of for delaying this news a few weeks.  In fairness, as I say, perhaps I am overthinking it.  It just seemed a missed opportunity to build a positive news story.

So what are the changes?

The main two things to note are that the tests will be moving online, with automatic marking taking place, and that the tests will be adaptive to the capabilities of students.  I’m going to look at these individually and assess why they are important.

Online

Moving the tests to an online system is something unions called for before the testing regime was even introduced.  This style of testing has the potential to significantly reduce the workload burden for teachers, both in the administration of the testing and certainly in terms of the many hours they are currently setting aside to mark the tests.  If the future model ensures that pupils are able to take the tests at a computer with the evaluation of results generated automatically that could make a noticeable difference to the pressure put on teachers, freeing up a lot of time for them to actually spend teaching and planning their lessons.  Of course it remains to be seen if this reduces the huge amount of time currently being set aside in schools to prepare pupils for these tests.

Another potential benefit is that we are moving pupils on to interactive and digital learning in another format.  Given the importance of IT in education and our society that is no bad thing, and reflects the focus this is being given through the digital framework.  Of course the flip side of this is the resources.  Many teachers will certainly be alarmed at the news as they will question the capacity of their school to be able to deliver online testing given the deficiency of IT equipment they have, or do not have, available to them.

Adaptive

Having a testing system which is adaptive is also a big step forward.  Perhaps the most worrying concern that I have heard from teachers in regards to these tests is that pupils have felt utterly demoralised by them.  Having an adaptive tests allows pupils of all capabilities to work through them at an appropriate level.  They will still test children but hopefully in a way that encourages, rather than belittles, their engagement with the learning process.  It could mean that instead of these tests leaving pupils emotionally upset and disengaged from school they are instead able to take some positives from them and progress.

Of course the above changes do not change my own skeptical view that these tests are ot needed.  I remain of the view that the tests do not provide teachers with any new information that they would not already have, or indeed be able to ascertain in a more natural and progressive learning environment.  However, I do believe these changes will improve the current system.  It remains to be seen if that expectation is met.  I have run annual surveys seeking teacher feedback since the tests were first introduced.  I will do so again next year and it will be interesting to find out if the changes have made an impact at a classroom level.

IWA Article

13 Apr

Last week the Education Workforce Council published the first ever National Education Survey.  For a number of years teaching unions, and indeed others interested in seeing a full picture of the state of the sector, have argued for such a survey to be conducted.  The Westminster Government, which has certainly not been seen as a friend to the teaching profession in recent years, has conducted these regularly, albeit at times only publishing the results when dragged kicking and screaming to do so.  Yet despite this, successive Welsh Education Ministers have held steadfast against conducting a similar piece of research in Wales.

With the appointment of Kirsty Williams, and the commitment to an annual workload survey in the Welsh Lib Dem manifesto, this has changed.  The current Cabinet Secretary for Education and the Welsh Government certainly do deserve credit for following through on that commitment.  Furthermore what was produced was ultimately a far more in-depth and substantive piece of work than that which was originally outlined.  In addition to the aforementioned parties the EWC itself also deserve praise for what we have brought forward.

That said there was not much of a fanfare from the Welsh Government around the launch.  One reason this has potentially been given, for want of a better description, a ‘soft launch’ is that much of it makes for uncomfortable, if perhaps unsurprising, reading.  From a school teacher’s perspective and by extension the perspectives of pupils and parents, there are some hugely concerning headline figures, such as:

  • 78.1% of teachers felt workload was an issue.
  • 88.3% of school teachers disagreed or disagreed strongly that they were able to effectively manage their existing workloads.
  • Full-time school teachers revealed they regularly work an average of 50.7 hours during a working week.
  • 33.6% of school teachers indicated they intended to leave the profession in the next three years.

These figures do not paint the picture of a sustainable workforce.  That a third of teachers are intending to leave the role within the next three years, and such a significant proportion of the entire profession feel unable to cope should set the alarm bells ringing within the DfE.  Quite clearly this can’t continue and a lack of action risks sending us to a crisis point.

Unions have been warning that the situation was unworkable for some time.  The anecdotal evidence and case studies could fill the shelves of Cardiff library.  We also know from research carried out by my own employer that this has had a dramatic and disturbing impact on the mental health of the teaching profession with an average of over 50,000 teaching days being lost every year due to stress related illnesses.  What we now have is the concrete baseline statistics that back up that view.  All of this of course is before we ask teachers to do even more with regards to the big changes they are facing.  So what of those changes, the survey also offers some insights there:

  • 45.5% of school teachers stated they were not very or not at all familiar with the new Welsh Government Digital Competency Framework.
  • 71.1% of supply teachers and 38.6% of school teachers indicated they were not very or not at all familiar with the content and recommendations in Professor Donaldson’s report which forms the basis of the new Welsh curriculum.

The above statistics should encourage everyone to pause for thought when considering the effectiveness of implementing policies in the education sector in Wales.  Too often in the past we have seen well-meaning and sometimes well-thought through ideas fall by the wayside because they have not been articulated to the profession properly; they have not taken into account the impact on other areas of work, they have not been adequately resourced, they have not gained the confidence of the teaching profession or they have simply not been given the time to show their worth.  The views expressed here suggest we are at risk of making the same mistakes with policies that have, by and large, received universal buy in from stakeholders.  There has been little dissent within the education sector about the principles and objectives of the Donaldson review.  The Successful Futures document was widely welcomed but a number of people have publicly and privately been raising the fear that the rush to deliver could mean the failure to do so successfully.  Getting this done right is more important than getting this done right now.  The existing holes in knowledge and understanding around these key issues, especially in relation to the Digital Competency Framework which is already in existence, should be given a lot of consideration.

I don’t write these words to berate the Welsh Government, the Department for Education and certainly not the Cabinet Secretary.  The workload burden and morale issues that are evident were not developed on her watch.  Nonetheless they now exist within her landscape.  The most important thing about this survey is not to carp on about the problems it has exposed.  The results are not something to use for blame but as a point at which we can all ask the big questions about how we react.  How can we encourage more professionals to want to remain in their teaching roles?  How can we reduce the workload burden, especially the administrative side which does little to improve standards?  How do we ensure the timing for delivery of the new curriculum is such that the sector is on board instead of attempting to shoe horn new ideas in blindly?  These are the debates the survey must spark but that can only happen if those who commissioned it put it at the heart of their thinking.  The responses tell us the home truths we least want to hear but perhaps the messages that must be given the most attention.

This piece first appeared on the IWA click on Wales website.  You can view the original here.

National Education Workforce Survey

5 Apr

Today the Education Workforce Council published the National Education Workforce Survey.  For a number of years there has been calls for just this sort of thing to be undertaken in Wales.  Across the boarder the Westminster Government have produced annual workload surveys and they have been illuminating in shinning a light on the workload pressures of the teaching profession.  While in Wales we have heard numerous examples of anecdotal evidence it has been frustrating to be unable to point to a comprehensive piece of work to back up the picture we are all very aware of.  We now do have that.

This piece of work, in full credit to Kirsty Williams, the Welsh Government and the EWC, goes far beyond what was originally called for.  Instead of a teachers workload survey we have an in-depth report looking at a whole range of areas covering different tiers of the sector.  With a total of over 10,000 responses this has been a wide-ranging survey that provides a depth of data to be explored.

There will be initial reactions in the media no doubt.  That makes sense and it is right.  That said, in addition to those first thoughts, over the next couple of weeks I hope to blog a few times to work through what evidence we’ve been presented with.  if there are any specific aspects you think should be explored and reviewed please do let me know.

Western Mail Article – The amalgamation of the ATL and NUT

4 Apr

The announcement on March 22nd that the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers had voted to amalgamate was a historic moment for the education sector in Wales and the UK.  Rightfully described by the NUT General Secretary Kevin Courtney as a ‘game changer in the education landscape’ the new union, the National Education Union (NEU) will be home to more than 450,000 members.  The NEU will come into existence on 1 September and will be the fourth largest trade union in Britain.  The union will represent the majority of teachers and education professionals and will comfortably be the biggest education union in Wales, Britain and indeed Europe.

It is a fantastic result for members of both unions and for education. For too long, education ministers have played divide and rule amongst teacher unions, particularly in a Westminster context where pay and conditions are involved. This landmark coming together marks the beginning of the end of that.  The NUT and ATL both have proud histories but, speaking with one voice, the new union will be a stronger force standing up for education, teachers, other school and further education staff and the children they teach.

Professional unity is a long-held aspiration of the NUT.  This amalgamation is a significant development in that aspiration.

For members of the ATL and NUT they will see a far greater level of support.  The combined expertise and commitment of the two unions will build better resources, improved access to continued professional development, allow for stronger guidance, advice and a level of representation that cannot be matched anywhere else and that has never previously existed within the sector.  Members of the National Education Union will have greater strength to tackle issues of workload and concern at their school or college while nationally the union will be a more important voice in representing the sector at large.

For pupils and parents they will see a more supported workforce that can build a better relationship with them in promoting the sort of education sector everyone wishes to see.  This presents a real opportunity to bring together everyone in their workplaces – teachers, lecturers, support staff, heads and managers – and empower them to improve their working lives.  That will only be a positive thing for the pupils that will always be at the heart of the agenda for NEU members.

This can also be a positive thing for policy makers, the Welsh Government, local government and other stakeholders.  They know in future that dealing with the NEU gives them a platform to speak directly to the vast majority of education professionals in Wales.  There will be no better resource for seeking the frontline feedback and expertise, there will be no better avenue for forging partnerships which can implement policies effectively or listen to the concerns of the sector.  The NEU will essentially be the primary go between those creating the political agenda and those tasked with delivering that vision in classrooms across the country.

At a time where teachers across the UK continue to fight for fair pay and pensions and here in Wales they face the significant challenge of rolling curriculum and qualifications reforms there has never been a more important time to make the sectors voice heard.  Pulling in different directions has often undermined the implementation of national priorities and has undermined the effectiveness of teachers, lecturers and wider school or college staff to ensure their legitimate concerns are acknowledged and acted upon.  Educational professionals need greater unity and the NEU will be there to provide it.

5 Hopes for Welsh Education in 2017

16 Jan

Class Sizes

As part of my look ahead to 2016 I put the issue of class sizes on the agenda.  It remains one of the issues that teachers and parents raise most with me but was largely absent from the political debate, despite class sizes slowly but surely increasing year on year.

With Kirsty Williams becoming the Cabinet Secretary for Education and class sizes being a central plank of the Lib Dem education offering at the election it seems we finally have this in the spotlight.

Hopefully we will have further announcements about how the policy will be developed in future and how it will be piloted.  It is important that if you are a critic of the proposals that you give them fair opportunity to show their worth.  This means not making rash judgments over short-periods of time but listening to the qualified feedback of the profession, looking at the wider impacts the policy has on pupil and teacher well-being and how it both directly and indirectly can contribute to standards.  For those of us that are supporters of the decision to make reducing class sizes a firm Welsh Government commitment it is also important we reflect honestly on the findings of the policy in the early stages.  That means recognizing both its successes and potential failures, assessing where changes and developments can be made to improve its delivery and working with the Welsh Government to ensure it succeeds.  It also means acknowledging if indeed it has been a success or not.

Supply

As with class sizes my 2016 blog was hopeful that we may finally get concrete action on supply.  As with class sizes we also made some real headway in regards to putting this issue front and center of the education debate.  The Children’s committee deserve a lot of credit for their report which, whilst potentially could have been more direct, made it quite clear that the current system failed pupils, parents and teachers and needed a radical overhaul.  The Welsh Government to their credit fully accepted the report and set up a task-force to make recommendations.

Those recommendations are in according to Kirsty Williams at the last education questions session in the Senedd.  We hope not to hear what the findings will be and that ultimately they lead to a system that is far fairer for those working in that sector, that offer a better provision for schools and lead to a more motivated and supported workforce.  If that can be achieved we have the potential to serious unlock a missing piece of the puzzle on education reform.

The Curriculum

This seems to me a never ending feature on these blogs but that just goes to show how crucial it is to get this reform right.  With the Diamond review findings having come and gone and the PISA rankings published, curriculum delivery remains the big hurdle for Kirsty Williams to maneuver.

Pioneer schools are still working on their proposals, with 25 new pioneer schools having joined the work in recent weeks highlighting that this is not easy to get right.  My big hope here is that without having seem any real framework thus far, and without seeing any firm plans to deliver the sort of sector wide professional development which will have to be undertaken to take a sector who have lived under prescriptive micromanagement in recent years to a freer more innovative workforce, time is given to getting this right.  I have always felt the timescales were short for proper delivery.  Being adaptable to change must be in the mind of everyone involved here.

Recruitment

This issue is one that must be viewed on several levels.  Firstly that we make the whole sector appealing.  Cuts to pay and pensions have undoubtedly forced many graduates to think twice about entering the profession.  The added workload concerns only exacerbate that problem.  The fact that we have failed to reach the target for secondary training places for each of the past five years, including falling a third short in the latest figures, shows that while this isn’t currently a crisis it is a growing concern.  We need to make teaching as a career and vocation viewed with the high standard of esteem that it has been in the past.  That means properly respecting the role and offering the sort of support throughout a career that reflects the importance it has in driving our education system, our economy and our communities.

It is also important we target the right type of recruitment.  As the recent science graduate story shows there are pockets of missing expertise.  Drawing more individuals with specific backgrounds into the profession is vital.  Naturally of course tackling many of the problems in part A of this conundrum will address those in part B also.  However, there must also be specific campaigns and measures considered for the unique challenges of making teaching an appealing choice for those from backgrounds that have not traditionally taken up the role.

Pay

With the Wales Bill comes the devolution of pay.  This has massive implications for the teaching workforce.  The Welsh Government have been very positive in their words and pledges around this issue.  That has, to an extent, appeased some concerns from a profession that has by and large been skeptical of such a move.  Getting this right may be both the biggest challenge and biggest success of education in the devolution era.  It presents the opportunity to stop the rot of declining terms and conditions.  It presents the opportunity to empower a profession and create a workforce and Government in dual commitment.  It presents the opportunity to put social partnership at the very heart of public sector delivery.  It presents the opportunity to make the Welsh teaching workforce the most attractive in the UK, drawing in the very best in talent and the most motivated and respected teachers.  Of course it also presents the risks of the alternate in every option should the Welsh Government fail to make it work.

4 Hopes for Education in 2016 Revisited

10 Jan

At the start of last year I posted a blog with my hopes for education in 2016.  I thought it would be worth revisiting that to see what progress was made.

1. Class Sizes.

When I originally wrote about this the issue it was largely being ignored.  I reflected at the time that Kirsty Williams AM had raised it in the chamber and I hoped it would lead to a wider discussion on the subject.  Little did I know that a few months later Kirsty Williams would be the new Cabinet Secretary for Education and this would be a central plank of her reforms.

We are awaiting the full details of how this policy is to be delivered but clearly it is going to be a significant policy for the Welsh Government in a way we haven’t seen for a number of years.  It is something teachers and parents alike will widely welcome.  Undoubtedly it faces challenges.  A number of Labour backbenches have already shown some dissent and opposition parties are skeptical, however I hope the pilot will be well designed and it will be given time to prove its value.

2. Election of Ideas.

My big hope for the Assembly election was that we would have an election of ideas in education rather than the often tribal and scaremongering rhetoric you see within the health debate.  As I reflected at the time I think for the most part we achieved that.  I ran a number of blogposts reviewing the manifesto commitments of each parties.  All of them had something within them that sparked debate.  That was certainly a positive outlook.

At the same time while the political parties put forward ideas worth debating that debate still did not really materialize, which was a shame.

3. The Supply Question.

I wanted supply to take a central stage in 2016 and it did.  We have more scrutiny and more action on the supply sector now than we have in the past decade.  The arguments against the existing system have been won and it is just a question of ensuring that we reform in a way that better supports individuals working in that sector and schools who rely on their provision.

The Supply Task Force was due to report their findings in December of last year but that remains outstanding.  It can only be hoped that the delay is due to a combination of the volume of evidence and a reflection of the importance of getting this right.  We should see the taskforce’s report in the immediate future and no doubt it will be a vitally important piece of work for Welsh education throughout the coming 12 months.

4. Pioneer Schools.

My hope for pioneer schools would be that they would be given the time and space to work effectively on the curriculum.  That, thus far, appears to be the case.  The fact that this week the Welsh Government announced that a further 25 schools or so would be joining the work perhaps reflects that this is a bigger job than originally anticipated.  We can take some positives of pioneer school work over the past 12 months but it remains vital that they are supported in the work they do in future months.

All in all I think the hopes have been positive to reflect on, which perhaps echoes the fact that the sector as a whole has a slightly more upbeat feeling in 2017 than it did at the start of 2016.  Over the next few days I will post the hopes for this coming year as has become an annual tradition.