6 Hopes for Welsh Education – Revisited

6 Jan

At the start of 2014 I wrote a blog outlining 6 hopes for Welsh education for the year. Before I publish a similar piece for 2015 I thought I’d look back and see what, if any progress, was made last year.

1. Banding Review:

Last year I was praying that the proposed review into the failed school banding system would lead to some fundamental changes.  I am pleased to say that it did.  Huw Lewis AM took the brave but correct decision to scrap the much maligned system imposed on Welsh schools by his predecessor.

While many would have liked to have seen no replacement we have instead seen the introduction of the categorization model.  This in itself is far from ideal but there are some noticeable advantages in comparison to banding.  The key change is that the system does not pit school against school.  Now, in theory, we may have all schools in the highest performance category as they are judged on their own merits rather than simply compared to other schools with no real rational behind them.  (Of course we could also have all the schools in the lowest section).  The data is also collected across a wider timescale rather than an annual snapshot that informed the banding tables.

The jury is still out on categorization.  banding has left a bad taste in the mouth for most teachers and parents.  We will have to see how it’s successor works in practice.  However, there is little doubt the debate has moved beyond the significant failings of the flawed banding process which will only help create the platform for a more rational discussion about accountability and performance.

2.  Stop testing children who are not ready:

Sadly we have not only failed to make progress in this filed but have seemingly gone even further down the rabbit hole.  The feedback of the profession regarding the standardised literacy and numeracy tests has, if possible, become even more negative. It is also an issue that parents appear very unhappy about.  The tests continue to cause huge problems for schools and particularly for those very young children.

What we are seeing now is the introduction of expectations being set at the Foundation Phase, putting greater strain on those very youngest children and threatening that very philosophy of learning.

All in all it is quite a depressing change that we have seen over the past year.

3. Consortia Start Working:

Hmmm?

4. Professional Development Is Taken Seriously:

Actions always speak louder than words and with that in mind it is important to note that very few, if any teachers, will say that the Minister’s commitment to tackling the lack of CPD amongst the teaching profession has resulted in tangible improvements.  The system continues to fail our educators and with huge budget cuts coming to all schools in Wales the likelihood of proper professional development being delivered seems as remote as ever.

That being said the debate itself changed last year and while they may still just be words at present the fact we now have an Education Minister openly recognising this is a problem the Welsh Government have failed to address in the past, and one which needs to be addressed now, is a big shift in emphasis.  2015 must be the year that the platitudes paid to the importance of professional development move to noticeable changes to the system and investment.  We can’t seriously expect greater results without greater support.  Still, 2014 certainly did begin the work that could lead to that positive change.

5. Time To Tackle Supply:

It has to be said that little was done on this issue in 2014.  The much maligned supply sector continued to be overlooked and underappreciated by local and national governments.  However, the Children’s Committee did launch a review of the system at the very end of the year.  We can but hope this kick starts some genuine debate about this elephant in the classroom which will lead to an overhaul of the existing supply approach.

6. Pause For Thought:

One of the big things the profession wanted is a bit of patience.  Time to let the huge changes settle in to the system and to review them without ripping up the playbook.  We continued to see some policy announcements, including a few that appeared to be very much reactionary rather than deliberately thought through.  However, overall the pace of change slowed and there seemed a bit more of an acceptance that we cannot deliver major changes overnight.  Perhaps the OECD warnings on this were finally being headed.  Either way, there was a bit more break and a bit less accelerator and it offers a far better opportunity to stay on the road (to stretch the analogy).

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