Archive | November, 2016

School Swap: Korea Style – 2

30 Nov

Yesterday I blogged on episode one of the BBC documentary about South Korea’s education system.  I was a little bit critical of the fact the piece seemed to gloss over, or at least not give great attention to the significant concerns that exist with the emotional impact of a Korean style system.  This morning I caught up with the second, and final, episode.  You can find it here while it remains active on iPlayer.

I found the focus on the celebrity teacher a touch odd and unnecessary.  Clearly the career path of this individual was pretty unique and not the norm.  I’m not sure if the show was trying to give the impression that all teachers in South Korea can become millionaires but that isn’t the case.  This is just an example of someone who has found a gap in the market.  It is like saying that Professor Brian Cox is somehow representative of the average university professor.  That said I did appreciate the fact the show made a point to emphasis the respect that teaching as a career is afforded in Korea and the standing teachers have in their community.  Undoubtedly this is one issue that plays a significant role in school discipline as well as community support for the actions and endeavors of a school.  This was reflected also in the demand for teaching training roles.  As we discovered 3,000 individuals applied for a teaching course where only 36 were given places.  This replicates a similar demand to join the profession from nations such as Finland, whose philosophy on education is in stark contrast with South Korea yet whose esteem for the teaching profession is equally high.  Contrast that with Wales where we have failed to fill our secondary teachers training courses for the past five years including attracting a third fewer than the target last year.

To give credit to Sian Griffiths and the production team I was clearly too quick to jump the gun in my criticisms yesterday that they were overlooking the negative impacts on childhood that accompany a South Korean style system.  In this episode there was a blunt reflection of those issues, including first hand accounts of individuals who had been emotionally scared through the process with the suicide rates laid bare to see.  It was particularly interesting to hear the views of the former education Minister, someone who had overseen PISA success yet recognised the potential damage that had caused to creativity and freedom to enjoy childhood.

My lasting thoughts would echo those of the headteacher from Ysgol Dwei Sant.  There’s lessons to look at and learn from South Korea but equally there are key lessons they can also learn from us, particularly around that deeper thinking, creativity, communication, cooperation and emotional development of character.  This is the nature of education policy.  It is looking at the best and recognising how, what and where it can influence Welsh education, but in doing so remaining committed to the core values that are the foundation of our society.

Notes:

*Whoever chose Kung Fu fighting for both shows soundtrack needs a geography lesson.  Kung Fu originates in China.  Carl Douglas who did the song is a recording artist from Jamaica and it was an ode to Chinese culture.  

*Finally good on all the Welsh students for ending with a hug, and particularly Tom who used the typically Welsh ‘see you later’ when leaving for a 10 hour or so flight home. 

School Swap Korea Style

29 Nov

This morning I caught up with the first episode of the School Swap: Korea Style programme on BBC Wales in which three Welsh pupils traveled to South Korea to experience life in their education system.  You can view the show here whilst it remains on iPlayer.

These comparisons are always at the forefront of debate when it comes to the publication of PISA results.  We are forever contrasting performances between nations and asking why one is succeeding above another in the rankings.  Sometimes those comparisons make sense, sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes we are comparing the right things, asking the right questions and for the right reasons, sometimes we are not.  Sometimes we are learning valuable things, sometimes we are misrepresenting the lessons.  It is, to an extent, an inevitable reaction during this media intensive period.

I’ve always believed that it is important to look at international systems and try and see what could potentially work for Wales, in the same way that I think some of the brilliant practice we see in Welsh classrooms should be viewed internationally also.  This doesn’t just mean looking at Asia and Finland but other nations across the world and within the UK.  that said, the reality is that education policies do not always travel well, and certain aspects of one countries education system only work there because of the nature of their society, culture and values.  That is not to say we can’t look at results, outcomes and policies and manipulate them to a Welsh context.

Looking at what did come across from South Korea it did, I am sorry to say, confirm some of the real concerns I harbored for their approach.  It is not a system I crave.   Clearly they have incredible results but it is negligent to examine them without asking at what cost are they delivered? We saw pupils spending 10 hours in the same chair being talked at in silence day in day out.  Children were only getting, in an absolute best case scenario, 6 hours sleep, they where undertaking punishingly long days and were falling asleep at the desk.  The system was funded by parents paying huge sums for private tuition and children denied a childhood in the pursuit of rigid structural learning devoid of creativity.

What was most worrying from a viewing perspective is that I simply did not feel the show gave any real credence to these concerns.  These issues were never really treated with any seriousness.  That pupils were lying asleep across their desks was remarked on with a pithy comment as if it was humorous and the 14-16 hour days were noted in envy rather than concern.  Only through the narration of the three Welsh pupils, who I thought were a credit to themselves, did we really get any reflection on the social and emotional impact of this style of education. It very much appeared as if there was a conclusion written to this show with the narrative set to fulfill it.  Something that incidentally also seemed evident to me in the previous show BBC Wales commissioned Sian Griffiths to undertake on Welsh education*.  It is only fair of me to point out however that this is episode one and perhaps the others will delve into this in more detail.  You would very much hope so as it would be a dereliction of duty to ignore them.

Another aspect that concerns me as a viewer, and as someone focused on Welsh education within my profession, is that documentaries such as this lead people to expect schools to achieve Korean results within our society.  If you want Korean outcomes you must have Korean culture, including major parental payments for private tutors and high suicide rates. (Suicide is the biggest cause of death to those in their 10s, 20s and 30s in South Korea).  To say you want Korean style academia means you want to change our whole society and values, not our education system.  While I don’t doubt many will clamor for world leading PISA results I do not believe there is an appetite for a similar style of society.  I may be wrong to make that assumption of course but certainly I am very proud that we are putting well-being at the heart of our educational agenda.

The proficiency of South Korean pupils should not be underestimated.  Examining their system is not something that should be dismissed.  I do believe there are aspects of any nations approach that can provide important insights.  However, 6am-12am days simply should not be an ambition for the well-being of our children.  There are lessons to be learnt, but also warnings to be heeded.

 

 

*As an aside I can’t help wondering, giving the numerous talented people working for BBC Wales news and politics departments, including their own current and former education correspondents, why it is they have not trusted anyone in-house to front these shows rather than using a presenter whose personal positions are perhaps less neutral on such matters.

The Importance of Well-Being

18 Nov

Readers of this blog (there are some I’m informed by Google analytics) will know that I’ve written in the past about the eroding impact of the word ‘priority’ in Welsh education.  We seem forever to be making, or calling for things to be made, national priorities.  I’ve always maintained that each and every one of these areas of interest have merit in their importance, but continually pushing priorities results in no single thing being able to be at the forefront of a schools thinking.

So, you may assume that I would have rolled my eyes when, at yesterday’s National Education Conference in the SWALEC Stadium, Kirsty Williams announced a fifth (and pointedly final) national priority, was being unveiled.  However, you would be wrong.

Why then am I enthused by the idea of well-being joining the list of national priorities within the Qualified for Life approach.  Well there are a few reasons.

Firstly, well-being is, subject to an open consultation, set to be one of the five areas of focus in Estyn’s common inspection framework.  Making a connection between national priorities and accountability creates a clear narrative between what we are saying is important at a Welsh Government level, and what we are evaluating as important at a hyper local level.  My one concern is that when there are tangible and easy ways to judge progress and investment in literacy, numeracy and qualifications how can you help encourage schools to give as much attention to well-being when there is a far less clear way to demonstrate achievement.  Hopefully that well-being is now also a key Estyn inspection indicator that will not be as big a concern.

More importantly for me I think it is a step change in Welsh Government language.  One of the big criticisms I often heard from practitioners regarding Leighton Andrews’s time as Education Minister is that he worked on policies focused on impersonal evidence.  They dehumanised the teaching profession and pupils and neglected to take into account the day to day realities of teaching in a classroom.  Huw Lewis placed closing the attainment gap and tackling the educational impacts of poverty as a high priority in his approach to the role of Education Minister.  That was important, but again it sought to determine success or failure against the cold data that schools produce.  Putting well-being as a national priority recognises that what schools do goes beyond the spreadsheet.  It begins to acknowledge what all teachers already know, namely that they do more than simply facilitate the transfer of knowledge.  They develop the personal and shape tomorrow’s society.

Now this is not to say that well-being should be some abstract concept.  It is important to see that well-being and academic achievement are directly interlinked.  The success of one is absolutely dependent on the other.  Happy and healthy children are better placed to learn and succeed in school.  Kirsty Williams is right to put the person at the forefront in well-being, making safeguarding and personal support a recognised success of the teaching profession, but in doing so she is also promoting standards of academic achievement.  Of course how such a subjective issue is evaluated is yet to be seen but the fact that it is being given more prominence when it is often the issue that takes up so much of a teachers time, efforts and emotional energy is a welcome change.

One final thing I will say is that I hope that this focus on well-being is extended also to staff.  We know we have unsustainable stress related illnesses among the teaching profession at present.  Supporting their emotional and physical well-being is also critical to the way in which we wish to see our education system thrive and should not be overlooked as part of this process.

Western Mail Article – The Devolution of Pay

17 Nov

Over recent years teaching as a career choice has faced significant challenges.  Between cuts to pay and pensions, unsustainable workloads, high stakes accountability approaches and ever critical coverage of the sector, it’s not surprising that it is increasingly difficult to ensure it remains an attractive profession.

Between 2011/12 the Welsh Government failed to reach its target for recruiting secondary school teachers, falling forty one places short.  Not once in each of the four years subsequent has the recruitment target been met.  Indeed, the discrepancy between the aim and the actual intake has widened.  For 2015/16 recruitment of secondary teacher training places was 327 shy of the target.  This is a 37% shortfall.

It is worth noting here that we are not yet in the midst of a recruitment collapse.  In England there is a huge concern around teacher recruitment and retention.  On that side of Offa’s Dyke there is a consistent failure to fill teaching places.  While in Wales we do have problems around specific subject areas, traditionally we have oversubscribed our teaching capacity.  However, this trend of failure to match the required number of teachers needed for the training process, especially when considering not all of those who start the course will finish it, is forcing the sector to recognise the real risk of a recruitment crisis in future.

It is against this backdrop that the proposal to devolve the responsibility for setting teachers’ pay and conditions will be viewed with such interest.

This issue has been on the political agenda sporadically for years, but it became headline news when the Westminster Government, at the behest of the Welsh Government, wrote it into the Wales Bill.  Over the years teaching unions have opposed this for a number of reasons, most prominently the fear it will lead to regional pay.  Given Wales is a low wage economy in comparison to other areas within the UK there has correctly been concern that gifting the Welsh Government this power will result in Welsh teachers being paid less than counterparts in England for doing the same job.  Not only would this be unfair it also creates a retention dilemma.  If England would be paying their teachers a higher wage, and their teacher shortage lending itself to a need to draw talent from beyond its borders, we could very well see a brain drain in the Welsh system, with practitioners here seeking employment in England.

To its credit the Welsh Government has been eager to dispel these concerns.  Their argument is that we could in fact better reward and protect teachers.  Carwyn Jones, at a recent First Minister’s Question session in the Senedd was categorical on this point when he stated:

“One thing I can say, and I say this absolutely clearly, is that, as is the case in other areas where pay and conditions have been devolved there is no question – no question at all – of teachers in Wales being paid less than teachers in England.  That is simply not going to happen.”

These strong words will undoubtedly be some comfort to teachers in Wales, many of who will have seen how Michael Gove and his successors consistently attack their pay packets, pensions and entitlements and recognise the opportunities that could exist with a new approach.

While there remain significant hurdles to overcome, one key offering the Welsh Government could make is a commitment to collective bargaining.  A system that establishes a strong voice of collaboration between the workforce and Government will be an enticing prospect to teachers who have seen successive London Ministers ride roughshod over long established negotiated positions.  Again the First Minister’s comments in the Assembly chamber were encouraging:

“The devolution of teachers’ pay and conditions offers us a great opportunity (to) work with the profession in order to provide a comprehensive package of terms and conditions and pay.  It’s exactly what the Scots have done and it’s exactly what we need to do in Wales.”

There is therefore an appetite to see an approach based on collective bargaining and national terms and conditions, as is the case in Scotland, and which would have to exist for Wales to win support from our teaching workforce.

Of course the biggest fear in the first instance will be whether this is affordable for the Welsh Government.  Carwyn Jones has always maintained teachers’ pay and conditions could only be devolved with the right financial package.  We simply do not know what resources are going to be attached to the offer.

We are then in a state of flux.  Those traditional concerns loom large.  They remain at the forefront of this debate demanding to be satisfactorily addressed.  However, should the Wales Bill be passed devolution of teachers pay and conditions will take place.  What is crucial in that instance is that it becomes an opportunity to drive education and empower the profession, something that can happen if teachers play the critical role in shaping its implementation.

I will post a link to an edited version (for word count issues) of the article as originally published when it is available