Archive | May, 2016

Where Are Our Teachers Coming From?

27 May

The BBC ran this story yesterday on figures collated by UCAC highlighting that a third of secondary initial teachers training places had not been filled this year.  Sadly I was in Llandudno for the Wales TUC conference all week so I wasn’t able to react sooner to it.

One of the most pressing issues facing education in England is the crisis in teacher recruitment.  They simply are not training enough teachers.  Of course when you have a government relaxed about allowing unqualified teachers to be leading classrooms they may not see it as a crisis.  Why worry about attracting people to become teachers when you can just grab anyone off the street to teach!?  Who needs qualifications, skills and training after all!

We don’t have quite the same worries in Wales.  The Welsh Government have actively been reducing the number of teachers we train annually to address a surplus in recruitment.  Of course this is a relative notion.  If we were focused on funding schools to a higher standard and reducing class sizes in the process then we would require more teachers.

There is then not a crisis in front of us because figures are down this year.  However we should also note that, albeit to a somewhat lesser degree, we have failed to hit the targets on a number of other years.  The targets have a worrying trend of being missed and by a bigger and bigger margin each intake.  Also, as UCAC’s policy officer Rebecca Evans rightly points out in the online article, this doesn’t also take into account the number of individuals who may register for the course but not, for a variety of reasons finish it.  We need to guard against complacency to watch that this blip does not become a more fundamental issue.

Looking at the figures we should question why it is the case we did not recruit the desired number.  As I said it may just be a blip and next year could see an over-subscription.  That said it may not be.  It is also worth remembering we are losing teachers who are deciding to leave the profession altogether, some after only a few years in the system.

The first question we should ask ourselves is if teaching remains a desirable role?  Pay and pensions cuts have meant that teachers are generally paid less for their work, they will receive less when they retire and they will be retiring at a much later age.  When you factor in that year after year workload concerns are growing to such an extent that we are seeing stress related illnesses leading to thousands of teaching days lost annually people will inevitably question if it is a career worth entering.  Have we reached the point that the benefits of teaching, and they are plentiful when you consider the satisfaction teachers regularly tell me about in making a difference to a child’s life, are being outweighed by the pressures.

Secondly has teaching become a less respected role.  This is not only a case in terms of how is it respected in society in comparison to other professions but also how is it respected by pupils, parents and the media.  Being a teacher was once on a par with doctors in our communities.  We can’t be sure it commands that same respect.  Huw Lewis, I believe, recognised that in his ‘Reform, Rigor and Respect,’ speech and sought to renew the standing of the profession.  These figures suggests there is still work to be done in that regards.

The other possibility is that changes have been made to recruitment. You can’t train to be a teacher unless you have at least a B in maths/English these days. It could be we’ve barred potential good teachers from entering the profession by making that change without recognising the impact that it has on recruitment.

Overall we need to keep an eye on this.  It is not a crisis today but complacency around the figures could certainly spark a crisis tomorrow.

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The Williams Deal

27 May

I found this Western Mail article really noteworthy this week.  Ignoring the politics of the alleged Labour fallout, albeit that is of course interesting, what struck me is the concessions negotiated by Kirsty Williams.  For someone who does not bring Labour a majority these 9 key announcements are pretty impressive.  Accepting of course that some will be policies that Labour are happy to deliver, and indeed may have done so regardless of the Lib Dem role in cabinet, there still remains some big areas for Kirsty Williams to claim as victories.

The infant class size reduction is a major win.  This was arguably the key election pledge of the Lib Dems in their election manifesto.  What is more it is a policy that has been criticised and opposed by both the previous Labour Education Ministers who disputed the impact smaller class sizes would have on standards.  It begs the question perhaps if such a deal would have been feasible had either, or both, returned to Cardiff Bay for this term.

The policy is a highly popular one among the teaching profession and so perhaps is an easy sell in coalition/agreement discussions.  I am delighted it is set to be introduced.  That said, it is not a cheap option.  Money will have to be found for this, and additional money at that.  To reach a 25 pupil cap the Welsh Government will have to ensure that schools have an adequate compliment of staff.  This at a time that when class sizes are increasing, partly as a result of schools having to make teachers redundant due to ever constrictive finances.

One of the big pledges from Labour at the election was for an additional £100m investment to improve school standards.  It may be natural to earmark park of that £100m spend for this policy thus seemingly killing two birds with one stone.  Or delivering two pledges with one budget if you will.  I wouldn’t find that a fair proposition.  Given this money was never intended for this purpose it would be slightly disingenuous to mesh these two policies together.  I think it is a reasonable expectation to expect both policies to be delivered in their entirety and separate to one another.

It will also be important to monitor how this policy impacts on other funding streams.  This includes money already set aside for the curriculum review and implementation, the New Deal continued professional development programme and schools challenge cymru, to name but a few.

The other area of interest with the 9 agreed that relates to schools is a review of the school surplus places policy.  This is somewhat ironic given that it is a policy that led to the end of Leighton Andrews tenure as Education Minister.  It will be interesting to see what comes of this, particularly with the emphasis on rural schools in light of much of the unrest in Powys given Kirsty Williams own constituency allegiances.