6 hopes for Welsh education in 2014 (amongst many others)

10 Jan

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” – John Lennon

1.  The Banding Review:

The Education Minister’s commitment to reviewing the banding system is one that has been welcomed across the sector.  After three years the flaws of the policy are all too apparent.  You can count on one hand the amount of people who really have any faith left in it.  Descriptions of it being a useless and misguided tool that create more problems than solutions are standard rhetoric come publication day, and from pretty much all corners of the education lobby, be they teachers, headteachers, parents, pupils or politicians.  Few people remain confident that the current banding approach works.

In addition to the review of secondary banding bringing about a system that can work it would be great if the sensible approach was taken and the implementation for primary school banding went from being delayed to being scrapped.

2.  Stop Testing Children Who Are Not Ready:

When NUT Cymru conducted a survey of its members last year into the impact of the standardised literacy and numeracy tests one of the main concerns, amongst many, was that the tests targeted children who were far too young.  I spoke last year about the impacts of these tests on the ethos of the Foundation Phase at a Policy Forum for Wales Conference.  Some of the children sitting these tests, coming out of the Foundation Phase, are not even familiar with the idea of sitting at a desk let alone the sterile conditions of a testing scenario.  Some of the anecdotal feedback the NUT Cymru survey heard about the impact on children, especially the very young pupils undertaking these tests, was horrifying and there is no telling how far it could have put their development back.

The tests as a rule are something I oppose.  My thoughts on standardised testing can be found here.  Hopefully, for the very youngest at least, the evaluation of the last round of testing will offer some progressive changes.

3.  Consortia Start Working

It seems an awfully long time ago now that teachers were promised that the four regional consortia would be up and running and support was on its way.  Indeed, this was supposed to go hand in hand with the first round of school banding in 2011.  We are now at the start of 2014 and I doubt there are many people out there content with the current consortia picture in Wales.  It is beyond time to sort this issue out once and for all.

4.  Professional Development Is Taken Seriously

Teachers Continued Professional Development (CPD) has almost become a myth for many schools.  The funding and access to good quality training has been denied to teachers for too long with most schools expected to implement a DIY approach to professional development.  This has a major impact on the ongoing abilities of teachers to keep pace with new initiatives and improve their skills.  It also hits morale for those teachers who are left to stagnate rather than grow with the role.  There are obvious knock on effects for pupils as well.  It is pointless talking about the quality of teaching being the primary driver in pupil performance unless you are committed to ensuring that quality is maintained and improved.

The Education Minister has already made some positive comments on this issue and does seem to be very aware of the need to address the issue.  In his keynote speech last year the Minister 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.”

He has also made an early announcement following that up this year.  Hopefully this is a theme that will develop further over time.

5.  Time To Tackle Supply:

The issues facing supply teachers are numerous and are well documented.  While they have been well-known to the teaching profession for some time they were brought into mainstream consciousness with the publication of the Estyn and National Audit Office Reports last year.  I’m pleased the Minister has indicated that he wants to get to grips with the continuing concerns about the current supply system.  The existing supply model is a huge problem which disenfranchises teachers and negatively impacts on pupils.  It is a key issue in creating a fairer profession and improving standards.

6.  Pause For Thought:

Over the past few years the education playbook in Wales has been completely ripped up and replaced.  There may, in some cases, be positives in that.  Some of the measures that have been introduced may be beneficial to teachers and pupils.  However, so much has been introduced in such a short period of time that there has been utter chaos in schools.  Teachers have been left in a state of constant revolution with the need to get to grips with such a dramatic and intense level of new consultations, initiatives, programmes and policies.  So many in fact that it will be almost impossible to determine in isolation what has been a success and what has been a failure.

What has been even more disheartening about these policies is that in many cases the funding and support have been non-existent.  I’ve already touched on Regional Consortia above.  Further to this presentations on the introduction and training for the Literacy and Numeracy Framework (LNF) we so badly botched that huge numbers of teachers lost confidence in it as a learning tool.  The associated support package has not done much to recovery that credibility.

What the profession, and indeed pupils, really need is for a year where everyone catches their breath.  We need to play catch up with the policies that have not been implemented properly; to allow those that are taking place to bed in and a proper evaluation of their impact to see what works, what doesn’t and how they can be improved.  More knee-jerk reactions will only lead to more people left in limbo.


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