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.
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.
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.
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.
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.