Archive | September, 2014

A hard days work

30 Sep

I’ve written a few times on the blog about workload.  I know I sound like a bit of a broken record but the reality is that this is a problem that Government’s at both ends of the M4 have failed drastically to acknowledge let alone begin to address. Worryingly the financial, educational and health impact of this issue cannot be overstated.

A recent survey conducted by the NUT, which received over 16,000 responses, highlighted just how much of a concern this is.

  • 90% of teachers said they had considered giving up teaching during the last two years because of workload.
  • 87% said they know one or more colleagues who had given up during the last two years because of workload.
  • 96.5% said their workload had negative consequences for their family or personal life.

Quite clearly we are at a crossroads with action to tackle this issue absolutly crucial.  Ever increasing teacher workloads are leaving many in the role physically and mentally exhausted while others have left, or are considering leaving, the profession altogether.

We all want the best education system possible. However, the sort of demands that are currently, and increasingly, being placed on the shoulders of teachers is acting as a barrier to achieving that. What is most frustrating is that much of the demands on teacher’s time are not actually directly to do with art of teaching but rather the bureaucracy that goes hand in hand with the job.

Teachers are desperate to help nurture students to fulfil their potentials. For teachers, parents and pupils it is time we created the right environment in our school system to allow that to happen.


Banding Abandoned

26 Sep

Anyone who has read this blog will know that I have never been a big fan of school banding.  It has caused a great deal of problems for schools; has added little in terms of genuine accountability and has put huge barriers between parents and schools while simultaneously reducing the collaboration that goes on in our sector.  When I wrote my ‘6 hopes for Welsh education’ at the start of the year reforming banding was at number one.

It was not only me of course that had a real hang up with this system.  It had lost all credibility with the public and was an embarrassment to the Welsh Government.  It has been hard to find anyone that truly believes that it was a system that was working.  In their report on Welsh education the OECD were very critical arguing that banding needed an overhaul to make it more transparent; more coherent and with more mutually agreed criteria.

Given the above I’m sure no one will be surprised that I am very pleased the Welsh Government have taken the decision to finally do away with this policy.  At one point it did appear as if we were going to see the new ‘categorisation’ model brought in alongside banding.  Yet another performance indicator creating an even more confusing picture for parents while the discredited banding model limped on.  I’m very thankful that this is not the case.

We will of course have to hold our judgement on banding’s successor.  After seeing just how badly devised and implemented school banding was it is understandable that the education sector will have a fair amount of scepticism that the Welsh Government have got it right this time around.  It will be important that teachers on the ground have the confidence that if there are negative impacts as a result of categorisation, or unintended consequences, they can raise this with the Government and it will be looked at.  Equally, if there are any flaws in how the system comes together or is working the Welsh Government, in a way that they were not for banding, are open to working with the profession to resolve them.

On the face of it, while I am not convinced that any ranking system is really a positive thing, categorisation has at least looked at resolving one of the main issues with banding.  Under the banding system schools could only show improvement and move up the bands if another were to fall down.  It placed schools in direct competition with one another which ultimately has hindered the collaboration agenda.  By creating a new system in which all schools may be in the highest green zone or the lowest red zone it at least leads to a situation where school performance, as it is perceived by this model at least, is not dependent on illogical comparisons elsewhere.  This has the potential to start repairing the damage banding did to school-to-school support.  No doubt I will revisit categorisation as the system is presented in depth in future.

Of course what we really need, the holy grail of performance evaluation if you will, is a system that charts the progress at individual level, where recognition is given to how far a child develops their personal potential.  This would be a system that reflects not just where a child has ended up but the distance they have gone from where they started.  We live in hope on that one.


Devolution: Not just what we want but why we want it

22 Sep

There’s been a significant amount of debate about further powers being devolved from Westminster to various parts of the UK since the Scottish referendum result.  Personally I am a firm supporter of devolution and think the Welsh Government should have far more responsibility for the policies that shape the lives of the people of Wales.  I also think there needs to be radical reform to the number of representatives at local authority; Welsh Assembly and Westminster to reflect that change in power but that is a debate for another day.

One thing I have felt while hearing the debate on devolution recently is that the case for why devolution needs to take place is not really being made to the public.  There is obviously and inherent argument that fairness and equality should be at the heart of devolution, especially in comparison to what is on offer to other areas of the UK.  However, the technical and political jargon that many, including myself, are guilty of using when having these discussions means nothing to the average person.  Very often we will talk about what powers are needed and when but I’m not sure we necessarily bridge the gap between explaining why and how they will change the everyday lives of the Welsh public on a day-to-day level.

I made this point in reference to the devolution of teachers pay and conditions on last nights ‘The Wales Report’ debate on BBC. (You can watch the whole programme here while it is still available.  My specific point is around 29:15 in).  On this issue there is a relatively strong political consensus in Wales, although not amongst the teaching representatives, to see this power devolved.  It has long been Plaid Cymru’s policy; the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have signed up to it through the acceptance of the Silk Commissions recommendations and more recently the Welsh Government have changed their position to state that they would want it devolved.  There are of course caveats on that consensus around the way in which it would be devolved; how much funding would be attached and timescales etc.  Still, the general agreement is roughly there.  It is a little alarming therefore that there is potentially a huge change to the way teachers are paid and by whom on the horizon and yet the workforce either do not know this could happen, and if they do have little to no understanding as to what the benefits or concerns will be.

This may seem like politician bashing but it certainly is not.  I do believe that when politicians discuss the devolution of powers they must have a clearer narrative around why those powers are needed and what difference they will make in the short, medium and long-term.  However, I also think that job is for everyone.  The education sector for example has to take up the responsibility for explaining what impact the devolution of pay and conditions could have.  In other sectors there must also be a commitment and urgency to have a wider dialogue about how changes will make a difference.

The public in Wales have a desire for further devolution that goes beyond what most of the political parties are arguing for.  There is support for more responsibility to be devolved to Cardiff Bay but that will only be maintained if there is clarity about the implications of what that means.  It is also crucial for holding any future governments to account that we know what devolution will deliver.


Death by a thousand cuts

17 Sep

“The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations” – Jack Lew

Just a couple of weeks back I was blogging on how we needed to start praising the teaching profession after a series of good news stories around GCSE and A Level results.  A view that the media shared.  Not long after we saw some more positive progress, this time on our ever improving attendance figures and standards at Foundation Phase.

However, all this good work is at risk due to the recent announcements of staggering in year funding cuts.  There is little doubt that the fact £5m is to be taken out of education budgets to plug the black hole in health spending will lead to almost certainly unmanageable pressures at school level.  This is a serious financial concern for schools who are already severely underfunded.  It is hard to imagine how teachers operating in dilapidated buildings, having to use their own money to buy basic materials such as pens and paper, are going to be able to reach the ambitious PISA targets set for them by the Welsh Government when they are facing even more austere times.  There are already too many schools operating with deficit budgets, just about keeping their heads above water.  Finding substantial savings from in-year budgets that will already have been allocated without having a noticeable and negative impact on standards is going to be an impossible task.  It is hard to see how we are not going to see resources withdrawn, teachers made redundant and lessons disrupted.  All of these things having a direct impact on the ability of students to reach their potential.

This funding cut is not isolated of course.  It was previously rumoured that there would be a £5m cut to education through changes to the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant; the School Effectiveness Grant and the 14-19 Network Grant to fill the hole in the £20m that has been committed to the Schools Challenge Cymru programme.  Assuming these are two different sets of £5m cut, and given one is to pay for health spending and one for the SCC initiative that is a fair assumption, we are now looking at £10m to be found at a time where schools are running on empty.

Further to this the Welsh Government has now done a u-turn on the £2m cut to the Financial Contingency Fund.  Now I don’t disagree with that change of mind.  This is a fund that makes a huge difference to the ability of students to stay in higher education.  However, if it had been cut for a reason then in reinstalling it that £2m that had been ‘saved’ is now needed to be found elsewhere.  Will we see another part of the education budget sacrificed to make up the shortfall?

This is not just a money issue but one of time managment.  Hours and hours of work will have gone into establishing budgets for a school.  Those headteachers are expected to create 3 year budget plans yet the Welsh Government’s allocation of funding has been ripped up after barely 6 months putting all schools back at square one.

The Welsh Government are perfectly entitled to distribute their budgets as they see fit of course.  They are the democratically elected body that determines such spending.  If health spending is prioritised above education that is a decision they can, and have made, and one that they will no doubt aim to justify to the electorate in the future.  Equally, I support the Schools Challenge Cymru programme and so if money is to be found for that then it is a priority decision the Welsh Government must justify by making that initiative the success it potentially can be.  What we must all appreciate at the same time is that when you have a system already at breaking point due to chronic underfunding cutting millions upon millions from the in-year budgets have serious consequences for performance.  What we have praised in terms of improving standards over the past few weeks is now in a state of jeopardy.  Everyone will continue to aim to do more with less but expectations need to be realistic in light of the climate that schools find themselves in.

If we truley value education as an economic and social driver then it must be properly funded.  Currently we are asking the education sector to deliver world class standards on ever decreasing budgets.  The two simply do not go hand in hand.


What does success look like

16 Sep

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts” – Albert Einstein

Last week Aled Roberts AM wrote a timely and very interesting piece for the Western Mail arguing for the need to establish a new way of measuring pupil achievement.  You can read his article here.

I have long since believed that the criteria we use and how we measure success is a problematic issue for our schools.  The truth is no one can give an absolute clearly defined picture of what we want from the young adults who leave school.  You could ask a thousand teachers and parents what is it that constitutes a successful pupil at the end of their time in school and it could very well be that you get very few duplicate answers.

To some it is producing individuals who have a string of straight A* at GCSE and A Levels.  For others it is about ensuring that each and every pupil reaches their potential, be that the highest grade or an extremely hard-earned D mark.  In some cases it is an individual that has the moral fiber of a conscientious character that will put back into the community.  For others it is simply that they have enjoyed their time in school and retain a lifelong passion for learning.

Of course there is no reason to not wish to encapsulate all of the above into one system but the reality is what “success” means to one pupil, and one school, may very well be radically different to another.

In his piece Aled Roberts is right to draw attention to the fact that the Minister has attempted to separate success from the examination system.  Indeed his comment that there is “undue focus on the C grade” is very welcome.  That boundary, while important in some senses, does in fact undermine and devalue the very real successes of some individuals in achieving a D against all odds.  Sometimes the hard work and determination that deliveres that precious D is the start of a self-empowerment process that can spur on greater academic, social and personal development in future.  Having the blanket appraisals of just looking at C and above is an easy and sometimes useful approach, but very often is overlooks the real progress that goes on in a school.  This approach hides both the improvements and potential shortcomings in progress for pupils below and above the line and almost forces teachers to concentrate on those around the margins of it.

Sadly it remains stubbornly difficult to divorce the one-off examination results from the entire perception of success and failures for a pupil and a school.  Indeed through the introduction of school banding we have, if anything, created an even greater reliance on these results as a pure, and often misleading, reflection of the work that goes on within a school.  While of course the quality of qualifications that students obtain must be a factor in appraisal should it be the only one?

A further point that Aled Roberts rightfully draws attention to is the differing evaluation models we have.  This is something I have previously blogged on and was in fact picked up by the OECD as a failing in the Welsh system.  Estyn/Banding/Categorisation are all competing with one another and giving contradictory information to teachers and parents.  We simply can’t continue to aim for success unless a tighter definition of what that exactly means is established.  More importantly, we want to see a measurment that takes into account the individual successes of all pupils not just the average of the many against a simplistic target.


The best baby present

15 Sep

I haven’t blogged for a while due to the birth of my second son, Llew Rhys Hathway.  We were fortunate to have loads of lovely gifts from friends but a batch of these carrot cake cupcakes may very well have been the best!



I will hopefully be posting a few education pieces up over the coming week to get back into the swing of things.