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.

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