Archive | June, 2014

Soundbite Policies

24 Jun

There have been some pie in the sky education policies floated over the past few years but this, from yesterday’s Telegraph, has to be up there with the worst.

I can only assume that either this is a spoof or a Minister flying the kite, for a policy that they never expect to come into being, just to generate some headlines?

According to the plans David Cameron is considering the idea of getting pensioners to come out of retirement to retrain as teachers.  I suppose given the Westminster Government’s drive towards unqualified teachers in the classroom we should at least be thankful that they want them to be trained.  Then again this will be fast-tracked training.  No doubt a diploma in teaching gained with the legitimacy of becoming an internet Lord via Ebay.

The Government, through their pay and pensions changes, are forcing teachers to have to work until 65/66/67+  The sad fact is most will get nowhere near that age.  They will be far too physically and mentally exhausted to do so.  We are seeing far too many individuals burn out with worryingly high levels of stress related mental health problems in the profession.  More and more young teachers are leaving after only a few years as they are driven out of a career they got into for all the right reasons by all the wrong ones.  Workload, lack of respect and accountability regimes based on challenge but no support.

The idea that a retired pensioner can undertake fast-track training and seamlessly slip into the role of a teacher is nothing short of ludicrous.  To fast track any individual into teaching is a huge ask given the pressures and unique skills it demands of its workforce.  To expect someone who has spent their entire working life in a different environment and who has come to the end of their professional career to take it on is nothing short of idiotic.

The very first years in teaching are very often the most difficult.  They are the years that pressure is potentially at its highest, undertaking a brand new challenge, while working towards full NQT status.  Workloads are at a maximum.  Are we really saying we feel it is possible for a pensioner to come in brand new and take that on having never taught before?

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not aiming to be ageist.  I am sure there will be a select, and small, group that can teach at that age, although I am not sure if there will be any who can do so without having previous classroom experience.  I have seen inspiring teachers of such an age myself.  However, these are few and far between.  Ask any teacher if they believe they can cope with the mental and physical aspects of teaching into their early sixties, let alone late sixties, and I would be surprised if many have confidence that they could.

Clearly this is a policy that have been dreamt up by someone who has had no teaching experience themselves.  We can but be thankful that education is devolved and this will not be happening here in Wales!

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Is it time to put an end to school reports?

23 Jun

“Working hard and working smart sometimes can be two different things.” – Byron Dorgan

It is reports season for teachers across Wales once again. As well as their usual working week, which figures show is around 56-60 hours long on average depending if you work in a primary or secondary school, teachers have the task of writing detail summaries of performances for all the pupils that they teach, across all subjects. You can quite comfortably assume that for a primary school teacher with a class of around 30 this will equate to a labour cost of anything between 50-80 additional hours. When you consider that those teachers still have to complete their marking and planning is this really the best use of our school teachers time? For those unlucky enough to also be going through lesson observations or Estyn inspections at this time it is little wonder that there is such a high percentage of teachers suffering from stress related mental health issues in Wales.

This is just not a workload issue for teachers, albeit it is a significant one for them. A headteacher will have to read through each of the reports and add their own comments. That is hundreds upon hundreds of reports to wade through. Is that the most important task for a headteacher to be undertaking when we are consistently calling for a greater capacity for leadership and innovation within our schools?

The almost depressing reality is that the majority of parents will simply not read these reports. They may scan over the core subjects or teacher/headteacher summaries but the main detail will be ignored. Those parents that do read the entire report word for word are arguably parents that are already very well engaged with their children’s school work and have good existing relationships with teachers and schools. These reports are increasingly things that need to be seen to be written but not necessarily written to be seen.

In this day and age, of modern technology and interactive approaches, are these reports an archaic throwback to a different era? At a time of unsustainable workloads are they part of a system that has lost its relevance?

I am not suggesting that we scrap the important link with parents. Far from it. Firstly there would continue to be the parents evenings for teachers to provide face to face feedback on the progress of their pupils. Teacher will, as a matter of course, also always speak to parents on an informal basis to encourage them to support their children’s learning and to raise any potential concerns as well as offering praise for achievements. I am however suggesting that we do things differently to benefit everyone.

We are developing new systems all the time. The INCERTS model is attempting to reduce the bureaucracy of report writing but why do we not go further? Why not use modern technology to create a more instant and individual approach to parental feedback? A system that would allow parents to review the progress of their children online as an ongoing practice throughout the year rather than through one-off end of year documents. Combined with a marking system this could reduce duplication of workload, help identify potential concerns with parents at an earlier and easier stage and create better relationships between schools and families. It would establish a more consistent picture across the school year and, while teachers may be updating it on a more regular basis, it would put an end to that huge workload drain at the end of the year when teachers are mentally exhausted and when there are a range of other priorities being thrown at them. Such a system could also empower parents and guardians to access interactive approaches for how to support attainment in subjects and aspects of learning that individual pupils may be struggling with.

We are forever asking teachers to work harder.  For once lets look at how we can help them work smarter.

Father’s Day Carrot Cake

16 Jun

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I didn’t have any carrot cake for Father’s Day. We were going to go for afternoon tea and have some but with it being such a lovely hot day we went for food and a long walk instead. I did however have carrot cake in the form of this home made card from the Gryffalo. Marvellous

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The boy makes me very proud. I doubt he’ll be quite as proud of me mind when he grows up and realises we seem to have made his clothes from the leftover wallpaper we had

A New Deal

13 Jun

“All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual.” – Albert Einstein

This week the Education Minister announced his plans for a “new deal” for teachers in Wales.  The main thrust of the plan was to guarantee all teachers would have access to high quality continued professional development (CPD) from their first day on the job until their last day before retirement.

It is right that the Welsh Government have recognised the need for a new deal on professional development.  In his keynote speech, ‘Reform, Rigour and Respect’ the Education Minister openly acknowledged that the Welsh Government had got this wrong in the past and had neglected this critical aspect of developing the education system.  Indeed, one of the main criticisms that came out in the OECD report was that there needs to be a greater focus on CPD to help build the human capacity of the sector.  Both the Welsh Government and the OECD see this as a way to increase the standing and respect of the role of teaching.  Something that desperately needs to happen.

Part of the plan is to ensure that schools, through their school development plans, have to identity how they are providing CPD for their staff.  In one sense this is a positive step.  It creates, through legislation, a written commitment from schools that their staff will have that access to training.  Crucially it will also be aligning that training to the needs of the school and its pupils.  However, on the other side of the argument for too long schools have felt as though they are operating a DIY approach to CPD.  It is hard to really see how once again placing the emphasis on those schools changes that.  At the very least that needs to be matched by a commitment from regional consortia and local authorities, both financially and through expertise.

For all the support and good will for this announcement there will inevitably of course be cynics.  The Welsh Government’s track record in education of delivering the practical elements of its theoretical commitments has not been good.  The sector is almost switched off to new announcements because they are not confident they will be implemented as promised.  The fact that the 2007 Daugherty report pressed the need for improved training for professionals, and nothing came of it, is tribute enough to how teachers have been left empty-handed in the past.  What is more, world-class professional development does not come cheap.  There has to be an investment in the system to deliver it effectively.  That no new money will be earmarked for this new deal is somewhat worrying.  Funding will be allocated but through existing sources.  The natural questions that arise then are; is the money that will be available enough and what other aspect of education will miss out as a result?

Those are questions that will continue to hang in the air.  No doubt teachers and schools will monitor how the plans pan out in reality.  In the meantime most will approach the commitment with an open mind.  Getting this right could be the key to unlocking the true potential of our system and our pupils.  On that basis it is worth getting behind.  Let’s just hope that the concerns of the cynics amongst us are not proved correct.

Parker’s Cafe Bar – Newtown

4 Jun

The Place

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Me, my good wife and the Gryffalo were travelling to North Wales for a christening and decided to take a break when we reached Newtown. It was a extremely wet and miserable day and this was a much need needed break, if only to get away from the nursery rhymes of Peppa pig that had been on repeat for some time.

The welcome was great with very accommodating staff who made a special effort with Gryff. The interior was smart and clean.

The Hot Chocolate

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I was offered a large-sized drink and cream and marshmallows. This is an offer often overlooked when buying a hot chocolate. I held on the marshmallows as I just don’t think they work.

The cream was a real treat, silky and smooth. Arguably the best cream I’ve had to date with hot chocolates on the blog. The powdered chocolate dusted on top was rich and added texture.

The taste of drink was a strong Cadbury style chocolate flavour and was all in all a very well turned out hot chocolate.

The Carrot Cake

There was no carrot cake available unfortunately but I did have this Victoria sponge.

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Sadly this was a tad dry and didn’t live up to the appearance. A small blip in an otherwise highly worthwhile stop to break up the A470 hell that is South to North Wales transport links.