Archive | September, 2015

The Teaching Vote

28 Sep

I posted a couple of weeks ago about YouGov findings which showed the nature of morale amongst teachers in Wales.  Today I am looking at voting intentions.

Opinion polling in Wales occurs very infrequently*, which makes data on how a group may vote in the lead up to the Assembly election even more interesting, even if the reputation of opinion polling in general is a tad bit tainted following the failure to predict the Westminster result in May.

This poll isn’t the standard 1,000 person sample you would get with a traditional voting intentions poll.  However, at 452 I think it is a fair number in terms of having a general picture of how teachers in Wales are thinking about their vote politically as we close in on the 2016 Assembly election given the reduced target audience.  As always all polls should be seen as a snapshot not a prediction.  The break down is as follows:

“If there were a National Assembly for Wales election tomorrow, which party would you vote for in your constituency? (exc would not vote or don’t know)”

Labour – 41.1%

Plaid Cymru – 27.1%

Conservative – 13.4%

Liberal Democrat – 8.1%

Green Party – 5.8%

UKIP – 2.8%

Other – 1.4%

Labour noticeably lead the way with Plaid Cymru in a relatively credible second place.  The other parties are some way back.  If you compare this to the Westminster election poll in Wales you can see there is a definitive shift between the general political viewpoint and that of the teaching profession.

Labour – 36.9% (Teachers vote is +4.2%)

Plaid Cymru –  12.1% (+15%)

Conservative – 27.2% (-13.8%)

Liberal Democrat – 6.5% (+1.6%)

Green Party – 2.6% (+3.2%)

UKIP – 13.6 % (-10.8%)

The big losers are the Conservative and UKIP while there is significant increase for Plaid Cymru.

A fairer comparison however would perhaps be with the most recent Assembly voting intentions opinion poll which I have taken from the ITV Wales and the Welsh Governance Centre published today on constituency level.  The NUT Cymru YouGov survey didn’t distinguish between constituency or regional voting intentions so this is not a like for like comparison.

Labour: 39% (Teachers vote is +2.1%)

Conservatives: 23% (-9.6%)

Plaid Cymru: 18% (+9.1)

UKIP: 13% (-10.2)

Liberal Democrats: 6% (+2.1)

Greens: 2% (+3.8)

Again Plaid Cymru appear to be the biggest winner, albeit at a reduced factor.  Equally the Conservatives and UKIP are the biggest losers but at a slightly reduced rate.

It is worth noting that this YouGov poll was conducted quite soon after the May election and so many people will still have been potentially providing opinion with that election narrative in mind, even though it is clearly identified as an Assembly election preference in the questioning.  If individuals were responding with a Westminster hang-up that may account for the low polling of the Conservatives given the teacher’s pensions and pay cuts these parties oversaw during the last parliament.

That said you could equally make the case that the relatively high result for Plaid Cymru could be an indicator of a preference recorded as a result of thinking about a ‘Welsh’ specific election.  However, the fact the results here are higher for Plaid Cymru than in polling for the National Assembly election previously seem to indicate this is perhaps a teacher specific view.

Labour, I imagine, will be happy with these figures.  Having held the education brief during the entirety of devolution they will be happy to be leading support amongst the teaching profession.  No figures are available to compare with past years but it would have been interesting to know if the more cooperative approach of Huw Lewis AM as Minister may account for this level of support.

What will be interesting is to see what impact the election campaign has on these views.  Education was pretty much non-existent as a media debate during the Westminster election in either a Welsh or UK context.  Clearly in Welsh terms it will have a far more prominent role to play as the record of the Welsh Government is put under greater scrutiny.  It is particularly hard to imagine Tory Party HQ will not focus on it, especially given the anti-acadamies stance of Jeremy Corbyn aligns UK Labour much more with Welsh Labour than was the case under previous leadership.

You can read further on this poll, including the issues teachers believe will shape how they vote, in the Western Mail.

*I would urge anyone with an interest in Welsh opinion polls to check out the excellent polling blog run by Professor Roger Scully.



The Glass Half Full

17 Sep

a half full half empty glass

There has been significant coverage across the BBC today  of  a YouGov survey into the state of the teaching profession in Wales commissioned by NUT Cymru.

Without trying to sensationalize the details too much the results are alarming.  Over half (51%) of teachers in Wales stated that their morale was either low or very low.  Perhaps more worrying was the fact that just under half (47%) said they were considering leaving the teaching profession altogether within the next two years.

The reasons behind this are complex and vary from individual to individual.  However, most heavily featured was the volume of work (79% reporting this); unreasonable demands from managers (58%) and desiring a better work-life balance (70%).

These figures are even more concerning when taken side by side with further research the NUT conducted on stress related illness amongst teachers in Wales which showed on average we lose 49,524 teaching days in a year at an estimated cost of £8.4m due to this problem.

Michael Wilshaw recently said that shows such as Educating Cardiff were driving the teacher recruitment crisis in England.  I rebuffed that in part here.  While unlike England we in Wales do not have a teacher shortage problem, some of the figures above suggest that we cannot be complacent that this will not be the case in years to come.

What I want to do, which is perhaps surprising given the dark clouds that accompany these stats, is look at this from a positive angle.  I feel that much of the negativity that comes out of these surveys and FOIs are hang ups from the policies and language of the past.

Unquestionably the way the teaching profession were spoken about by politicians both ends of the M4, certainly from around 2010 onwards, did not inspire positive morale.  The policy churn, and the fact the implementation of these policies was viewed as being imposed on the profession rather than delivered in cooperation with them, added to the sense of a loss of ownership of the role of a teacher by the profession.  We also saw some highly controversial policies, such as banging, testing and the CDAP which undermined and contradicted the style and ethos of teaching we had seen establish since the early days of devolution.  These policies were accompanied by the hap-hazard establishment of regional consortia which, particularly in their early stages, were far more focussed on challenge than support.  Of course all of the above came at the same time the Westminster Government embarked on savage cuts to teachers pay, pensions and working conditions.

The positives, as I promised to speak about, are that it is fair to say we do in Huw Lewis AM have a Minister that recognises this is an issue and appears to be focused on tackling it.

At a policy level there has been much more of a cooperative approach which has delivered concessions and consensus with more regularity than over recent years.  For example, the very consistent and vocal concerns with school banding have been more readily accepted.  This has now been replaced by school categorization.  I doubt any teacher, or union, believes the new system is a fully appropriate model but the fact it has recognised some key flaws in its predecessor has certainly been the reason it was met with a cautious approach and has been given time to show how it can work.  That change in style to delivering policy will hopefully result in new initiatives being delivered in a more successful and less combative way.

The language of government has also been markedly different.  In his keynote first speech Huw Lewis put respect for teaching at the heart of his agenda.  Of course the Minister coupled this with an expectation on the profession but that is an expected and fair trade-off.

A further positive is the opportunities we currently have in front of us in Welsh Education.  Both the New Deal for teachers and the Donaldson curriculum review could provide a platform to delivering education in a new way which reduces workload, empowers teachers and raises respect.  All the while these policies also have the potential to help support the continued drive towards the very best standards in education we all strive to achieve. The jury is still out on the implementation of both of these flagship government agendas and, sadly, teachers have become sceptical of delivery.  However, enthusiasm is there to make these issues a success and that in itself is something of an achievement in Wales over recent times.

So where does this leave us?  It is hard to escape the bleak picture both the FOI and YouGov findings present.  Teaching and teachers in Wales are not jumping for joy, but, if we harness the potential put forward through things like the New Deal, curriculum reform and Schools Challenge Cymru and continue to build relationships of mutual cooperation between the Welsh Government and the profession at large there is a more optimistic picture starting to emerge.

Educating Cardiff and Teacher Recruitment

11 Sep

Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of England’s schools inspectorate Ofstead, has claimed that TV shows such as ‘Educating Cardiff’ were adding to the teacher recruitment crisis.  I’m not entirely sure where his evidence for such a claim is but I can’t help feeling that this is more a case of attempting to avoid taking responsibility for the situation in England.

The fact is that in England there continues to be a teacher recruitment issue.  This has been caused by misguided Government policies restricting the professionalism of teachers; the role becoming less enticing due to cuts to pay and pensions, and the hugely detrimental and punitive accountability measures forcing large numbers of teachers to leave the profession early.  Add to this the acadamization programme stripping the professionalism of teachers away and it is not hard to understand why individuals are more reluctant to enter and stay in the role.

I have to say I think the whole ‘Educating….’ series, including the most recent Cardiff version, are a fantastic vehicle for breaking down the stereotypes of the 9am-3pm teaching job.  These shows have exposed the reality facing teachers in that their roles are increasingly, to the detriment of their personal and professional lives, demanding far more than the expected or even sustainable from teachers.  What is more, these shows have highlighted the very real personal and human relationships that go beyond the crass sort of data driven education system that the likes of Sir Michael Wilshaw champion.

While Sir Michael complains that these shows highlight the ‘Jack the Lad and Sally Show-off’ in schools, he appears to have missed the focus on teachers who are dedicating hours and hours of their time outside school days to ensure their pupils succeed, or the success stories of pupils who apply themselves to gain great qualifications and contribute to the school community.

It may indeed be the case that some people are put off teaching because they see how difficult the job is by watching these documentaries.  However, while Sir Michael says that ‘If people who are thinking about coming into teaching see that and say, ‘I’m not going to experience that… sort of nonsense’ they won’t go into teaching,’ I say that these shows do not hide the fact that teaching is hard.  If anything they prepare those that enter teaching for the challenges that awaits them.  Ofstead and the Westminster Government would be better placed trying to support teachers and schools in making the profession more empowered rather than trying to hide the challenges that see so many teachers step away from the role after just a few years.

It seems to me that Sir Michael should be less concerned about the fact shows like ‘Educating Cardiff’ could put individuals off entering teaching and more concerned with why the environment that makes people reluctant to pursue their ambitions within the profession exist in the first instance.