Can schools work harder so that everyone’s a winner?

27 Nov

A common theme we see across all high performing schools is that they inevitably have community support. Where schools are truly seen as the centre of their societies, where parents and teachers work in collaboration, and where a child’s development is seen as something which extends beyond the school timetable, attainment and well-being is maximised.

One way in which the education sector can ensure better relationships are built between schools and communities is to establish our institutions as a community resource. A school building as an incubator for academic curiosity by day, and a house of extra-curricular exploration outside of those hours.

Too often over recent years the consequences, unintentional or otherwise, of Welsh Government initiatives such as the literacy and numeracy framework, school banding and categorisation or standardised testing, have been a narrowing of the curriculum. Those creative subjects such as art, music, drama and physical education have become marginalised, and with them the emphasis on key aspects of pupil well-being and child development. It is right that we build on the opportunities presented by reforms, such as the design of the new curriculum for Wales, to once again embed their importance within the school day. However, we should also explore the extended avenues available.

Working with community groups, sports clubs, volunteers and third sector organisations, schools can create a resource in their areas that not only enhances the quality of our education sector but can also meet the challenges posed by deep cuts to our leisure services brought about by year on year austerity budget settlements.

In calling for a greater utilisation of school buildings it is important to acknowledge two key points.  Firstly, this level of cooperation is undoubtedly taking place in some parts of Wales already. More likely than not it is teachers going above and beyond the call of duty to run these after school clubs.  Secondly, I am very aware of the existing demands on the teaching profession. The Education Workforce Council’s survey of the sector provided some alarming detail about the pressures currently put on the shoulders of classroom practitioners:

  • 78.1% of teachers felt workload was an issue.
  • Full-time school teachers revealed they regularly work an average of 50.7 hours during the working week.
  • 33.6% of school teachers indicated they intended to leave the profession in the next three years.

As tempting as it may be to want and expect teachers to take on additional roles and responsibilities, the truth is it is an unsustainable prospect. To achieve the aim of school buildings as community hubs we will have to see a greater investment at national and local level. That may come in the form of a child-care offer to parents or employing individuals in specific roles to run these facilities and put on activities and clubs. Making that argument at a time where essentially every sector is seeing their budgets absorbed into the health portfolio is a difficult prospect, yet this is an invest to save proposal.

We have an opportunity to create an environment where everyone is a winner. For children there are clear educational and physical benefits and can be a driver in engaging those often disenfranchised by traditional academic pursuits. For parents it offers the security of constructive care around their working day, adding to the economic viability of our nation, particularly if the resources are available throughout weekend and school holiday periods also. For teachers, taking those extra-curricular activities off their agenda’s helps tackle the stubborn workload problems that are blighting the sector. Finally, for policy makers it improves our educational, health and economic outlooks with the potential for immediate and long-term success in these fields.

There will be barriers in the way to delivering this ambition.  The big question is if those with the will, and more importantly access to the purse strings, can see beyond the problems with delivery today and look towards the solutions it will provide tomorrow.

This blog was originally published by Sport Wales.  You can find it here

Advertisements

Regrets

13 Nov

I’ve been thinking a lot about the issue of sexual harassment of late.  In truth I’ve thought about it for a number of years but the Harvey Weinstein story was what really focused my mind.  My thoughts were centred on my own time in politics having worked for Plaid Cymru in various guises between 2005-2011.  It was somewhat timely then that this subject inevitably started becoming an issue that engulfed that world, both at Westminster and in Cardiff Bay.  The notion that it is confined to those national institutions by the way is extremely naïve and I am sure women across all tiers of all industries in Wales will have experiences they have for too long considered simply part and parcel of their working lives.

I never saw directly any incidents of sexual harassment while working in politics. I’d like to believe I’d have stepped in immediately if so. Also, no incidents were reported to me while in a position of responsibility to act, towards the end of my career at the Assembly. However, I carry a lot of guilt hearing the flood of accusations and experiences that have been voiced in the past few weeks and months. I regret that I was not more proactive in recognising the culture that existed.  I regret that when in more junior positions and hearing of the rumours and experiences of others that I wasn’t confident enough take a more authoritative approach to responding to the things I was told or heard.  I regret that I wasn’t emotionally mature enough to have been more supportive.  I also regret that when in a senior position I should have done more to make myself accessible to complainants.  I question if there were women feeling intimidated, violated and harassed that did not consider me a viable confidant to vocalise their situations?

There are degrees of responsibilities and I can try and justify how or why I didn’t do more in many ways. I was junior to those who have been victims let alone the perpetrators; I was young in age and professional experience; I suffered similar concerns as to how it would impact on my own career etc. All that being said, it is clear to me today that I and others didn’t support colleagues enough, both in individual instances and in changing the wider culture. My ignorance to the realities facing my female colleagues and friends serves as no excuse. I wasn’t aware of the truth perhaps because I wasn’t willing or able to see beyond my own personal environment. It was this lack of awareness that helped allow sexual harassment to thrive within the political sphere in Wales.

Recently, I’ve spoken to a number of women I worked with over the years to voice these regrets and to apologize.  The magnanimous attitude they have adopted in response serves only to emphasis how much I didn’t play my part and how important it is that I, along with other men who have and do work in Welsh politics, have a duty to ensure victims, past; present and future, deserve action.

The whole Carl Sargeant story is tragic. I’ve no inside track as to the legitimacy of allegations against him. I don’t know any of the details. I feel horrendous for what his friends and family must be going through in the aftermath of his death.  I also feel huge sympathy for those individuals who felt compelled to register allegations against him. The victim blaming they have endured on social media is an utter disgrace.

However, what I do know is that the genie is out of the bottle on this issue. Carl Sargeant may or may not have had a case to answer.  I stress again I have no knowledge of those allegations.  Regardless, there will be many women in Welsh politics, Welsh public life and across different industries and professions in Wales who will have encountered sexual harassment. We can’t change the fact this is now in the public consciousness, nor should we ever want to. The time is right to set the agenda and change the way politics is conducted to safeguard those at all levels within it.  I don’t want any regrets about trying to help that cause now.

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.

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.