Reform, Rigour and Respect

16 Oct

“The sector will get my absolute respect. In return I expect a sense of absolute responsibility.” – Huw Lewis

Last night Huw Lewis delivered his first real keynote speech since becoming Education Minister. I have to say the tone was one that has been very well received by teachers on the frontline in Wales.

It was very heartening to read such a collaborative approach to education being set from the top. Many of the policies of the Welsh Government, such as the lead / emerging schools programme, are based on ensuring peer-to-peer support. A collaborative agenda is at the heart of the improvement services but that has to be lead from the front. The Minister’s speech last night was certainly a good packaging of that ambition.

“I want to say at the outset that I am always open to dialogue – I do not think that I, or the Department for Education & Skills, or even the Labour Party – can claim a monopoly on good ideas.”

The Minister also stated how dialogue with the unions, which averted a strike here in Wales, was based not on capitulation, or horse-trading – but through negotiation.

This whole emphasis on an open door policy of discussion is one that will make for a healthy debate within the education sector. No doubt there will be disagreements between local authorities, unions, the Welsh Government, academics, schools and so forth but having an opportunity to share those discussions helps foster an environment where all parties can take ownership for delivery.

It was particularly pleasing to see the Minister’s comments on the respect of the profession. There were positive comments on the Master’s programme and Professional Learning Communities. Teachers will be delighted that continued professional development, or the lack of it, was placed firmly on the agenda. Huw Lewis AM was exactly right when he said;

“if we want to instil more respect in the profession, then we must take the issue of teacher training – and continual professional development – more seriously than we have to date.”

The recognition that CPD has not been given enough focus is important. It will be equally critical that these words are backed up with action and greater access to CPD is forthcoming as it is a constant complain from within the profession.

A further important element of the speech was the focus on reforming Key Stage 3 and examining the curriculum. This is a really vital consultation and hopefully will help tie in the already innovative approaches that have been taken at the foundation phase and with Welsh qualifications at GCSE and A Levels.

The final point I want to touch on is perhaps the headline of the piece of moving tackling the gap between poverty and attainment to the central focus. There will be questions about what impact this will have for the priorities of literacy and numeracy. I have to say I do have some initial concerns about how teachers who will have had the importance of literacy and numeracy as the main priorities drilled into them over the past few years will find the transition. More of a worry is will this promotion of the attainment gap to the main priority allow local authorities and regional consortia to take their eye off the ball in relation to the support that is offered to schools for literacy and numeracy. That would be a major step backwards.

That being said the increased focus on the issues of poverty and attainment are very welcome and in no way should conflict with the focus on literacy and numeracy. In fact tackling the former certainly helps dramatically with the latter. Getting the very early years, including prior to children starting school, right is essential to closing the attainment gap and setting pupils on the right path.

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