Archive | February, 2015

A Good Start…

26 Feb

“Harmony makes small things grow, lack of it makes great things decay – Sallust”

Consensus is a word rarely used by people when discussing Welsh Education.  I can only think of a few instances in my years working in the sector when there has been any degree of harmony on the views of the sector and differing political parties.  It was therefore really pleasing that this was the case when people gave their initial response to the Donaldson Review yesterday.

One thing that is absolutely crucial to any progress that will be made in curriculum reform is that there is a political consensus, especially relating to the pace of change.  One of the major criticisms of the OECD report into education in Wales was that there have been far too many policies and initiatives delivered and at a pace of change that scuppered the success of their implementation.

The best performing education nations are those that have undergone lengthy reform periods.  While it is naturally tempting for politicians to focus reform over a short, election-cycle orientated, timescale the correct and most courageous approach is to accept that getting reform right is more important than getting it done quickly.  In the case of this particular curriculum reform the time needed will be even longer to some extent because the capacity for the profession to lead has diminished due to the over prescriptive nature of the current set up.  The innovation and creativity we would like teachers to have with curriculum planning is not necessarily a common trait amongst the profession and so we must invest in allowing teachers to have the time and space to work through these proposals, as well as committing to the training that will be needed.

I am heartened by the language the Education Minister has so readily used in recent weeks, including in his reaction yesterday.  Huw Lewis AM has spoken of empowering the profession to take up the lead in curriculum reform and deferring, through partnership with teachers, to their expert knowledge and experiences.  It is a bold but highly commendable position to have adopted.

In his written statement introducing the publication of the Donaldson Review the Minister stated:

“Professor Donaldson recommends that “The revised curriculum and assessment arrangements should be introduced through an agile change strategy that establishes understanding and support, sets a measured pace, builds capacity and manages dependencies” – and I can assure you of my commitment to this approach if changes are to be made.”

The Minister also stated that:

“Following the publication of Professor Donaldson’s review, we will be launching the ‘Great Debate’ on the curriculum. I envisage this debate taking place over a significant period of time.”

As part of the ITV Wales News package last night the Minister said that curriculum changes would, “take the time that it takes in order to do this carefully and with the proper support for the professionals particularly that we are leaning on so heavily here,” showing his realistic approach to the job of work to be done.  Indeed, on that very bulletin I praised him for this approach.  You can watch it here while it remains online.

For this to have a chance of success there also needs to be buy-in politically from across the Assembly chamber.  That, at least at this early stage, appears to be the case.  All three Shadow Education Spokespeople have welcomed the report and appear accepting of the fact this cannot be rushed.

Of course, simply because getting curriculum reform right will take a significant amount of work and time does not mean anyone should disregard the need to continue to show the sort of positive progress we have seen over recent months and years in Welsh education.  That is something that must continue in parallel with this process.

The teaching profession will know that this report asks a lot of them.  It will be an incredibly challenging exercise.  However, that the platform has been set for a reform which is led by teachers, supported fully by Government and backed politically across the board is a start we should not underestimate.

 

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D(onaldson) Day for the Curriculum

25 Feb

Today is a pretty important day for Welsh education.  Without trying to build it up too much but it has the potential to be possibly the start of the most important change that Welsh education has faced since devolution.  The issue is of course the publication of the curriculum review conducted by Professor Donaldson.

Firstly, I think it is important to put on record just how much of a breath of fresh air Professor Donaldson has been.  Too often since I took up my post in the education sector I’ve seen consultations and reviews conducted where you got the sense that the conclusions had been drawn from the very start.  I’ve seen policies devised and initiated with little consideration given to the views expressed by the sector and wider stakeholders.  To suggest that teachers had become sceptics of consultation is a understatment.  It is no doubt one reason that it has been increasingly hard to either encourage engagement from the profession at the development stage or support for implementation.

What we’ve seen throughout the curriculum review is a commitment to talk to those in our classrooms, and critically, to listen in return.  Professor Donaldson has shown a real willingness to secure an impressive level of knowledge of the Welsh education system.  I’ve been grateful for the extended time he has given to me and my employer in hearing what our members have had to say, including taking part in the curriculum conference we staged at the end of 2014.  Officials with the Welsh Government who have worked with Professor Donaldson on this project should also be praised for their openness of approach.

I intend to write a few different posts on the conclusions and recommendations of the review.  Given the thoughtful and detailed nature by which Professor Donaldson has penned his report I feel it is only right that I make more considered and in-depth blogs at a later date.  However, I did want to give an initial sweeping response.

On the face of it what Professor Donaldson has put in place is the starting point for developing a far more flexible and teacher orientated curriculum.  The whole child is to be considered with a clear line of sight from 3-16, including greater focus on ethics, health and wellbeing with smoother transitions established with the scrapping of key stages.  This is all very welcome news for those practitioners who have become increasingly frustrated with a system that has dehumanized the sector.  There are clear undertones that the changes put in place in recent years were at best misguided, particularly on testing.  What Professor Donaldson is doing is laying the ground work for is a curriculum with new values.  A system without such an emphasis on testing and accountability but on pedagogy and pupil development with assessment and accountability reinforcing those conditions rather than restricting them.

The fact that the Education Minister has openly spoken of empowering the profession by working with them to develop this new curriculum, based on their expertise and knowledge, is extremely promising.  There will of course be a challenge to the profession now.  That is a challenge that may be difficult to meet in the short-term with excessive workloads and a profession that have, to an extent where curriculum planning is concerned, been somewhat de-professionalised due to the micromanagement from central government we have become used to.  With that consideration it is critical there is a political buy-in to this process.  It will not, and cannot, happen over night if we want to make sure we get it right.  Strap yourself in for a very long ride.

I will return to the theme of the professional capacity, as well as a more detailed look at the review’s proposals and implications, in later blog posts.  For now it is just worth welcoming a process that offers a bit more hope and positivity to how and what we will teach within our schools.

 

Robert Glancy – Terms & Conditions

23 Feb

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Overall I’ve made a good start to my reading list for 2015.  I’m well ahead of the book a week schedule I set myself last year, even though I’m not actually trying to read to any targets this year.  What is more pleasing is that with the odd exceptionI’ve really enjoyed the books this year.  My system of generally just picking books from their covers, something wisdom suggests you shouldn’t do, is so far paying off.

This particular book was a cracking read.  Telling the tale of Frank, a terms and conditions lawyer who is suffering amnesia after a car crash, the writing is funny, witty, authentic and at times quite poignant.  The characters are all individuals I invested in, either in supporting or detesting them.  The style of writing is very clever in utilising a running theme of small print at the bottom of the page adding colourful additional insights into the narration.

I would very much recommend this and so far is probably my book of the year.

And so it begins

5 Feb

I had hoped that we wouldn’t see education used in the same way the NHS has in Wales in the run up to the election in May.  I was even hopeful that actually we would see education standing proudly as the battle of ideas.  Sadly the interventions we’ve seen this week suggest that isn’t going to be the case.

I have to say I don’t subscribe to view that anyone criticising standards in the Welsh NHS or Welsh Education is ‘waging a war on Wales.’ Just as politicians in Wales will look at the way public services and policies are delivered in England that will inevitably be a two-way street. You hardly hear a First Minister’s question time at the Assembly without Carwyn Jones contrasting the way his Government and David Cameron’s operate.  Those in glass houses and all that.

It is perfectly correct that the performance of the Welsh Government is scrutinised. Equally both education and health are public services and they rightly should be held accountable.  However if this is to be done then the criticisms need to be constructive and based on a legitimate knowledge and concern about the existing situation.  This recent attack by Stephen Crabb does appear to be lacking in both.  It comes from a far more political point of view.

Just look at some of the things that were said in the speech on Tuesday.

“We have not been setting our sights high enough when it comes to our vision for Welsh education.” 

Actually the opposite is the case.  The Welsh Government overreached by setting a unattainable target for PISA ranking improvements.  A target that the OECD themselves said was wise to downgrade as it was expecting Welsh education to show improvement on a trajectory at a pace never before seen.

“The truth is that here in Wales it’s not just a question of reforms not happening, we haven’t even begun to have that debate.”

Now, you can argue that the reforms the Welsh Government have put in place are the wrong ones.  You can argue that they have not been implemented well enough.  You can argue that they have not been funded well enough, and you can argue that they have been brought in too quickly.  All of which incidentally I have argued at different times depending on the individual reforms.  The Welsh Government will of course take a different view, at least in some instances.  What I find totally baffling is the argument that there haven’t been reforms in Wales.  The OECD when reviewing the Welsh education system actually reported ‘reform fatigue’ because of the number and pace of reform.  The above quote therefore really gives the view that the Secretary of State for Wales has not approached this issue with a grounding in the education debate but rather with a prepared press motivation for the headlines the speech produced.

“I don’t believe it is any accident that Finland and Singapore, the two countries judged to have the best education systems in the world, are also ranked as the second and third most competitive global economies by the World Economic Forum.”

I’ve highlighted this statement because I think it shows a worrying lack of understanding of the education debate.  Here Stephen Crabb is holding Finland up as a bastion of education and economic success.  Quite rightly as well.  However, Finland’s approach to education couldn’t be any further removed from what the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition have done in England, a system the SoS for Wales is advocating Wales replicates.  Granted, this is not the only nation that is given attention but still, if anything, the above statement makes the case for Wales opposing the system of Acadamies; a knowledge rather than skills based education system and performance related pay.  Stephen Crabb is in a sense undermining his own Government’s policies with this comparison.

None of the above analysis is to suggest that everything is right with Welsh education.  We certainly have some big challenges.  At the same time what we’ve seen over the past year is a recognition from Estyn that real progress is being made; an improvement in GCSE and A Level results and overall strides being made for the better.  Ignoring that through this bull in a china shop approach to making pronouncements about education that very often don’t stack up has only undermined the ability to legitimately critique the practices of the Welsh Government.  What is more concerning perhaps is that it will have hit the morale of the teaching profession, parents and pupils at a pretty crucial time.

I don’t anticipate for a second that this will be the last focus on Welsh education.  I only hope that future discussions, whichever political party generates the debate, have some recognition for the positive work that is going on and a less inflamed theme to their input.  If we want Welsh education to truly prosper then it is important that the moral and professional esteem of teachers is not just an afterthought.  On a political consideration we should also not forget that in an election that is going to be very tight the average 1,000 teachers per constituency will play an important role.