For 2014 see 2007

24 Apr

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The BBC are running an interesting story today about a confidential report in 2007 that makes similar warnings to this years OECD report.  Namely, that the Welsh Government has failed to establish a long-term vision for education in Wales.  There are some key findings in the report, authored by Professor Richard Daugherty, which while written in 2007 are very much still relevant today.  These include:

  • the lack of “a consistent set of messages” about the governing principles of the curriculum

This is a major issue still for teachers in Wales.  Even at a policy level there are some very confused messages being put forward.  We have the lead-emerging schools programme and the Schools Challenge Cymru initiative which both aim to foster a sense of collaboration amongst schools.  At the same time we have the School Banding system pitting schools against one another in competition.  These two aims are quite clearly contradictory and have left headteachers in a state of limbo trying to understand how best to work the system.

We also have confusion on a pedagogical level.  The Foundation Phase empowers children to learn through play, developing their critical thinking and problem solving abilities in an open and creative setting.  However, the very first year they are out of that setting, despite not having even sat at a desk previously, the standardised testing regime places them in a sterile environment under strict exam conditions.  The whole clash is counterproductive and has fundamentally threatened the nature of the Foundation Phase.  With such competing agendas teachers are left to question if the Welsh Government has a fully coherent vision for what it wants teaching to look like in Wales on a long-term basis.

  • no full evaluation of the effectiveness of education strategies in terms of pupils’ results

It is the case in recent years that we have seen policies put in place without the foresight to examine how they will be implemented; the impact on teachers and pupils of that implementation and how they will impact on other strands of education policies. Often it has only been when policies have been rolled out have the pitfalls been recognised. That needs to be addressed to reinstall future confidence in new initiatives.

In terms of the long-term approach to evaluating the effectiveness of education strategies you need only look at what is happening to the Foundation Phase.  Not only are standardised testing narrowing the culture of the policy the Welsh Government is to introduce annual expectations from the LNF into the Foundation Phase, further eroding its objectives.  It genuinely feels to many practitioners as if Wales is loosing its nerve with the Foundation Phase despite the fact that the very first cohort of Foundation Phase pupils are yet to complete their path through the school system.  This is no doubt a reflection that education policy has been developed, perhaps understandably from a political perspective, on election cycles rather than a 10, 15 or even 20 year cycle like it should.

  • aspirational language of policies not accompanied by clear targets for improvement

It is still the case that the aspirational language of the Welsh Government on policy formation is not always interpreted in the same way by local authorities, regional consortia, Estyn inspectors or support partners at an implementation level.  Too often the picture painted by the Welsh Government as to their expectations for policy outcomes are markedly different to what teachers are told by those that come into their schools to challenge them.  That does create a great deal of problems, which are not necessarily the Welsh Government’s failing, but more the failing of people further down the chain to follow that message consistently.

In terms of targets I do think that the Welsh Government has began to match the aspirational language with more clearly defined targets.  What the more important question we must ask now is if those are the right targets and what will meeting them actually mean for learners if and when they are achieved.

  • outdated teacher training not designed to meet the needs of a “rapidly changing school system”

I could wax lyrical about the failings to provide continued professional development all day long but I’ll aim to be a little more concise.  The fact is we have seen a perpetual revolution in education policy over the past Assembly term.  A whole new stream of policies and initiatives have been introduced into the system but the support and training for it has been almost non-existent.  The regional consortia developed to provide this support are still far from being able or willing to deliver it, almost three years after they should have been ready.  If you truly want a new system with a new focus and new ideas then you have to accept that the profession need training and support to implement it to the desired standards.  Cutting the number of INSET days available to schools to provide CPD at a time of rapid change in itself shows how badly the training element of the workforce has been managed.  The Education Minister has recognised publicly that his predecessors got this part of education policy wrong in the past.  Now is the crucial time to get it right.

It does appear that some of the recommendations from this leaked report seem to have either not have been acted on at all or at least not with any particular degree of urgency.  What we cannot allow to happen is that a similar complacency is seen in regards to the OECD report published this year.  There is a lot of concern that the criticisms the OECD have made in regards to issues such as the Welsh Government’s approach to standardised tests; school banding; policy implementation and CPD provisions will go unheeded.  These recommendations have to be given priority and worked through in partnership with the profession.  Hopefully any inaction from the 2007 report will act as a learning curve for dealing with these most recent recommendations.

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