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Testing Times

2 May

There was a pretty significant announcement by the Welsh Government today about future changes to the testing regime in Welsh education.  I have to say this is a relatively positive story for the Welsh Government.  Discussing these tests in any format can make for uncomfortable media coverage for them.  Teachers, parents and pupils have been consistently and vocally opposed to them, and what has been proposed is certainly not going to address all the concerns, but it is fair to say they will be met more positively than anything else.  With that in mind I found it a little odd it was announced during the election period and will no doubt therefore get lost in other news agendas.  Maybe I’m thinking too Machiavellian about this but it could lead people to think that for some reason the Welsh Government saw it as a controversial climb down and didn’t want the focus that could be given outside this period?  Given these changes would come into effect for the May 2018 tests there’s no reason I can think of for delaying this news a few weeks.  In fairness, as I say, perhaps I am overthinking it.  It just seemed a missed opportunity to build a positive news story.

So what are the changes?

The main two things to note are that the tests will be moving online, with automatic marking taking place, and that the tests will be adaptive to the capabilities of students.  I’m going to look at these individually and assess why they are important.

Online

Moving the tests to an online system is something unions called for before the testing regime was even introduced.  This style of testing has the potential to significantly reduce the workload burden for teachers, both in the administration of the testing and certainly in terms of the many hours they are currently setting aside to mark the tests.  If the future model ensures that pupils are able to take the tests at a computer with the evaluation of results generated automatically that could make a noticeable difference to the pressure put on teachers, freeing up a lot of time for them to actually spend teaching and planning their lessons.  Of course it remains to be seen if this reduces the huge amount of time currently being set aside in schools to prepare pupils for these tests.

Another potential benefit is that we are moving pupils on to interactive and digital learning in another format.  Given the importance of IT in education and our society that is no bad thing, and reflects the focus this is being given through the digital framework.  Of course the flip side of this is the resources.  Many teachers will certainly be alarmed at the news as they will question the capacity of their school to be able to deliver online testing given the deficiency of IT equipment they have, or do not have, available to them.

Adaptive

Having a testing system which is adaptive is also a big step forward.  Perhaps the most worrying concern that I have heard from teachers in regards to these tests is that pupils have felt utterly demoralised by them.  Having an adaptive tests allows pupils of all capabilities to work through them at an appropriate level.  They will still test children but hopefully in a way that encourages, rather than belittles, their engagement with the learning process.  It could mean that instead of these tests leaving pupils emotionally upset and disengaged from school they are instead able to take some positives from them and progress.

Of course the above changes do not change my own skeptical view that these tests are ot needed.  I remain of the view that the tests do not provide teachers with any new information that they would not already have, or indeed be able to ascertain in a more natural and progressive learning environment.  However, I do believe these changes will improve the current system.  It remains to be seen if that expectation is met.  I have run annual surveys seeking teacher feedback since the tests were first introduced.  I will do so again next year and it will be interesting to find out if the changes have made an impact at a classroom level.

IWA Article

13 Apr

Last week the Education Workforce Council published the first ever National Education Survey.  For a number of years teaching unions, and indeed others interested in seeing a full picture of the state of the sector, have argued for such a survey to be conducted.  The Westminster Government, which has certainly not been seen as a friend to the teaching profession in recent years, has conducted these regularly, albeit at times only publishing the results when dragged kicking and screaming to do so.  Yet despite this, successive Welsh Education Ministers have held steadfast against conducting a similar piece of research in Wales.

With the appointment of Kirsty Williams, and the commitment to an annual workload survey in the Welsh Lib Dem manifesto, this has changed.  The current Cabinet Secretary for Education and the Welsh Government certainly do deserve credit for following through on that commitment.  Furthermore what was produced was ultimately a far more in-depth and substantive piece of work than that which was originally outlined.  In addition to the aforementioned parties the EWC itself also deserve praise for what we have brought forward.

That said there was not much of a fanfare from the Welsh Government around the launch.  One reason this has potentially been given, for want of a better description, a ‘soft launch’ is that much of it makes for uncomfortable, if perhaps unsurprising, reading.  From a school teacher’s perspective and by extension the perspectives of pupils and parents, there are some hugely concerning headline figures, such as:

  • 78.1% of teachers felt workload was an issue.
  • 88.3% of school teachers disagreed or disagreed strongly that they were able to effectively manage their existing workloads.
  • Full-time school teachers revealed they regularly work an average of 50.7 hours during a working week.
  • 33.6% of school teachers indicated they intended to leave the profession in the next three years.

These figures do not paint the picture of a sustainable workforce.  That a third of teachers are intending to leave the role within the next three years, and such a significant proportion of the entire profession feel unable to cope should set the alarm bells ringing within the DfE.  Quite clearly this can’t continue and a lack of action risks sending us to a crisis point.

Unions have been warning that the situation was unworkable for some time.  The anecdotal evidence and case studies could fill the shelves of Cardiff library.  We also know from research carried out by my own employer that this has had a dramatic and disturbing impact on the mental health of the teaching profession with an average of over 50,000 teaching days being lost every year due to stress related illnesses.  What we now have is the concrete baseline statistics that back up that view.  All of this of course is before we ask teachers to do even more with regards to the big changes they are facing.  So what of those changes, the survey also offers some insights there:

  • 45.5% of school teachers stated they were not very or not at all familiar with the new Welsh Government Digital Competency Framework.
  • 71.1% of supply teachers and 38.6% of school teachers indicated they were not very or not at all familiar with the content and recommendations in Professor Donaldson’s report which forms the basis of the new Welsh curriculum.

The above statistics should encourage everyone to pause for thought when considering the effectiveness of implementing policies in the education sector in Wales.  Too often in the past we have seen well-meaning and sometimes well-thought through ideas fall by the wayside because they have not been articulated to the profession properly; they have not taken into account the impact on other areas of work, they have not been adequately resourced, they have not gained the confidence of the teaching profession or they have simply not been given the time to show their worth.  The views expressed here suggest we are at risk of making the same mistakes with policies that have, by and large, received universal buy in from stakeholders.  There has been little dissent within the education sector about the principles and objectives of the Donaldson review.  The Successful Futures document was widely welcomed but a number of people have publicly and privately been raising the fear that the rush to deliver could mean the failure to do so successfully.  Getting this done right is more important than getting this done right now.  The existing holes in knowledge and understanding around these key issues, especially in relation to the Digital Competency Framework which is already in existence, should be given a lot of consideration.

I don’t write these words to berate the Welsh Government, the Department for Education and certainly not the Cabinet Secretary.  The workload burden and morale issues that are evident were not developed on her watch.  Nonetheless they now exist within her landscape.  The most important thing about this survey is not to carp on about the problems it has exposed.  The results are not something to use for blame but as a point at which we can all ask the big questions about how we react.  How can we encourage more professionals to want to remain in their teaching roles?  How can we reduce the workload burden, especially the administrative side which does little to improve standards?  How do we ensure the timing for delivery of the new curriculum is such that the sector is on board instead of attempting to shoe horn new ideas in blindly?  These are the debates the survey must spark but that can only happen if those who commissioned it put it at the heart of their thinking.  The responses tell us the home truths we least want to hear but perhaps the messages that must be given the most attention.

This piece first appeared on the IWA click on Wales website.  You can view the original here.

National Education Workforce Survey

5 Apr

Today the Education Workforce Council published the National Education Workforce Survey.  For a number of years there has been calls for just this sort of thing to be undertaken in Wales.  Across the boarder the Westminster Government have produced annual workload surveys and they have been illuminating in shinning a light on the workload pressures of the teaching profession.  While in Wales we have heard numerous examples of anecdotal evidence it has been frustrating to be unable to point to a comprehensive piece of work to back up the picture we are all very aware of.  We now do have that.

This piece of work, in full credit to Kirsty Williams, the Welsh Government and the EWC, goes far beyond what was originally called for.  Instead of a teachers workload survey we have an in-depth report looking at a whole range of areas covering different tiers of the sector.  With a total of over 10,000 responses this has been a wide-ranging survey that provides a depth of data to be explored.

There will be initial reactions in the media no doubt.  That makes sense and it is right.  That said, in addition to those first thoughts, over the next couple of weeks I hope to blog a few times to work through what evidence we’ve been presented with.  if there are any specific aspects you think should be explored and reviewed please do let me know.

Western Mail Article – The amalgamation of the ATL and NUT

4 Apr

The announcement on March 22nd that the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers had voted to amalgamate was a historic moment for the education sector in Wales and the UK.  Rightfully described by the NUT General Secretary Kevin Courtney as a ‘game changer in the education landscape’ the new union, the National Education Union (NEU) will be home to more than 450,000 members.  The NEU will come into existence on 1 September and will be the fourth largest trade union in Britain.  The union will represent the majority of teachers and education professionals and will comfortably be the biggest education union in Wales, Britain and indeed Europe.

It is a fantastic result for members of both unions and for education. For too long, education ministers have played divide and rule amongst teacher unions, particularly in a Westminster context where pay and conditions are involved. This landmark coming together marks the beginning of the end of that.  The NUT and ATL both have proud histories but, speaking with one voice, the new union will be a stronger force standing up for education, teachers, other school and further education staff and the children they teach.

Professional unity is a long-held aspiration of the NUT.  This amalgamation is a significant development in that aspiration.

For members of the ATL and NUT they will see a far greater level of support.  The combined expertise and commitment of the two unions will build better resources, improved access to continued professional development, allow for stronger guidance, advice and a level of representation that cannot be matched anywhere else and that has never previously existed within the sector.  Members of the National Education Union will have greater strength to tackle issues of workload and concern at their school or college while nationally the union will be a more important voice in representing the sector at large.

For pupils and parents they will see a more supported workforce that can build a better relationship with them in promoting the sort of education sector everyone wishes to see.  This presents a real opportunity to bring together everyone in their workplaces – teachers, lecturers, support staff, heads and managers – and empower them to improve their working lives.  That will only be a positive thing for the pupils that will always be at the heart of the agenda for NEU members.

This can also be a positive thing for policy makers, the Welsh Government, local government and other stakeholders.  They know in future that dealing with the NEU gives them a platform to speak directly to the vast majority of education professionals in Wales.  There will be no better resource for seeking the frontline feedback and expertise, there will be no better avenue for forging partnerships which can implement policies effectively or listen to the concerns of the sector.  The NEU will essentially be the primary go between those creating the political agenda and those tasked with delivering that vision in classrooms across the country.

At a time where teachers across the UK continue to fight for fair pay and pensions and here in Wales they face the significant challenge of rolling curriculum and qualifications reforms there has never been a more important time to make the sectors voice heard.  Pulling in different directions has often undermined the implementation of national priorities and has undermined the effectiveness of teachers, lecturers and wider school or college staff to ensure their legitimate concerns are acknowledged and acted upon.  Educational professionals need greater unity and the NEU will be there to provide it.

5 Hopes for Welsh Education in 2017

16 Jan

Class Sizes

As part of my look ahead to 2016 I put the issue of class sizes on the agenda.  It remains one of the issues that teachers and parents raise most with me but was largely absent from the political debate, despite class sizes slowly but surely increasing year on year.

With Kirsty Williams becoming the Cabinet Secretary for Education and class sizes being a central plank of the Lib Dem education offering at the election it seems we finally have this in the spotlight.

Hopefully we will have further announcements about how the policy will be developed in future and how it will be piloted.  It is important that if you are a critic of the proposals that you give them fair opportunity to show their worth.  This means not making rash judgments over short-periods of time but listening to the qualified feedback of the profession, looking at the wider impacts the policy has on pupil and teacher well-being and how it both directly and indirectly can contribute to standards.  For those of us that are supporters of the decision to make reducing class sizes a firm Welsh Government commitment it is also important we reflect honestly on the findings of the policy in the early stages.  That means recognizing both its successes and potential failures, assessing where changes and developments can be made to improve its delivery and working with the Welsh Government to ensure it succeeds.  It also means acknowledging if indeed it has been a success or not.

Supply

As with class sizes my 2016 blog was hopeful that we may finally get concrete action on supply.  As with class sizes we also made some real headway in regards to putting this issue front and center of the education debate.  The Children’s committee deserve a lot of credit for their report which, whilst potentially could have been more direct, made it quite clear that the current system failed pupils, parents and teachers and needed a radical overhaul.  The Welsh Government to their credit fully accepted the report and set up a task-force to make recommendations.

Those recommendations are in according to Kirsty Williams at the last education questions session in the Senedd.  We hope not to hear what the findings will be and that ultimately they lead to a system that is far fairer for those working in that sector, that offer a better provision for schools and lead to a more motivated and supported workforce.  If that can be achieved we have the potential to serious unlock a missing piece of the puzzle on education reform.

The Curriculum

This seems to me a never ending feature on these blogs but that just goes to show how crucial it is to get this reform right.  With the Diamond review findings having come and gone and the PISA rankings published, curriculum delivery remains the big hurdle for Kirsty Williams to maneuver.

Pioneer schools are still working on their proposals, with 25 new pioneer schools having joined the work in recent weeks highlighting that this is not easy to get right.  My big hope here is that without having seem any real framework thus far, and without seeing any firm plans to deliver the sort of sector wide professional development which will have to be undertaken to take a sector who have lived under prescriptive micromanagement in recent years to a freer more innovative workforce, time is given to getting this right.  I have always felt the timescales were short for proper delivery.  Being adaptable to change must be in the mind of everyone involved here.

Recruitment

This issue is one that must be viewed on several levels.  Firstly that we make the whole sector appealing.  Cuts to pay and pensions have undoubtedly forced many graduates to think twice about entering the profession.  The added workload concerns only exacerbate that problem.  The fact that we have failed to reach the target for secondary training places for each of the past five years, including falling a third short in the latest figures, shows that while this isn’t currently a crisis it is a growing concern.  We need to make teaching as a career and vocation viewed with the high standard of esteem that it has been in the past.  That means properly respecting the role and offering the sort of support throughout a career that reflects the importance it has in driving our education system, our economy and our communities.

It is also important we target the right type of recruitment.  As the recent science graduate story shows there are pockets of missing expertise.  Drawing more individuals with specific backgrounds into the profession is vital.  Naturally of course tackling many of the problems in part A of this conundrum will address those in part B also.  However, there must also be specific campaigns and measures considered for the unique challenges of making teaching an appealing choice for those from backgrounds that have not traditionally taken up the role.

Pay

With the Wales Bill comes the devolution of pay.  This has massive implications for the teaching workforce.  The Welsh Government have been very positive in their words and pledges around this issue.  That has, to an extent, appeased some concerns from a profession that has by and large been skeptical of such a move.  Getting this right may be both the biggest challenge and biggest success of education in the devolution era.  It presents the opportunity to stop the rot of declining terms and conditions.  It presents the opportunity to empower a profession and create a workforce and Government in dual commitment.  It presents the opportunity to put social partnership at the very heart of public sector delivery.  It presents the opportunity to make the Welsh teaching workforce the most attractive in the UK, drawing in the very best in talent and the most motivated and respected teachers.  Of course it also presents the risks of the alternate in every option should the Welsh Government fail to make it work.

4 Hopes for Education in 2016 Revisited

10 Jan

At the start of last year I posted a blog with my hopes for education in 2016.  I thought it would be worth revisiting that to see what progress was made.

1. Class Sizes.

When I originally wrote about this the issue it was largely being ignored.  I reflected at the time that Kirsty Williams AM had raised it in the chamber and I hoped it would lead to a wider discussion on the subject.  Little did I know that a few months later Kirsty Williams would be the new Cabinet Secretary for Education and this would be a central plank of her reforms.

We are awaiting the full details of how this policy is to be delivered but clearly it is going to be a significant policy for the Welsh Government in a way we haven’t seen for a number of years.  It is something teachers and parents alike will widely welcome.  Undoubtedly it faces challenges.  A number of Labour backbenches have already shown some dissent and opposition parties are skeptical, however I hope the pilot will be well designed and it will be given time to prove its value.

2. Election of Ideas.

My big hope for the Assembly election was that we would have an election of ideas in education rather than the often tribal and scaremongering rhetoric you see within the health debate.  As I reflected at the time I think for the most part we achieved that.  I ran a number of blogposts reviewing the manifesto commitments of each parties.  All of them had something within them that sparked debate.  That was certainly a positive outlook.

At the same time while the political parties put forward ideas worth debating that debate still did not really materialize, which was a shame.

3. The Supply Question.

I wanted supply to take a central stage in 2016 and it did.  We have more scrutiny and more action on the supply sector now than we have in the past decade.  The arguments against the existing system have been won and it is just a question of ensuring that we reform in a way that better supports individuals working in that sector and schools who rely on their provision.

The Supply Task Force was due to report their findings in December of last year but that remains outstanding.  It can only be hoped that the delay is due to a combination of the volume of evidence and a reflection of the importance of getting this right.  We should see the taskforce’s report in the immediate future and no doubt it will be a vitally important piece of work for Welsh education throughout the coming 12 months.

4. Pioneer Schools.

My hope for pioneer schools would be that they would be given the time and space to work effectively on the curriculum.  That, thus far, appears to be the case.  The fact that this week the Welsh Government announced that a further 25 schools or so would be joining the work perhaps reflects that this is a bigger job than originally anticipated.  We can take some positives of pioneer school work over the past 12 months but it remains vital that they are supported in the work they do in future months.

All in all I think the hopes have been positive to reflect on, which perhaps echoes the fact that the sector as a whole has a slightly more upbeat feeling in 2017 than it did at the start of 2016.  Over the next few days I will post the hopes for this coming year as has become an annual tradition.

It’s not exactly rocket science…..

16 Dec

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(ok maybe not this guy)

The BBC ran an important and interesting story last night on the lack of science expertise within the teaching profession.  The crux of the story is that 51% of physics teachers do not have a degree in the subject.  While it is not such an issue with chemistry (43%) and biology (38%) clearly there are still issues there also.

I’ll pause at the start of this blog to note that I am working on the figures compiled by the BBC from the EWC.  I don’t know the full picture, for example of those 51% of physics teachers how many hold degree level qualifications in subjects that are directly related to physics.  It may be that individuals have A levels in physics, mathematics and chemistry and went on to study maths or engineering etc. at university.  They would still have high level competence in the subject area even though they do not have a specific physics degree.  That said, for the purposes of this blog, that is another issue I’m going to park for now.

There are two real issues here.  Firstly what is the impact of this and secondly, why is it happening.  I’m going to try and explore some ideas and theories on those questions below.

What is the impact?

For students there is a legitimate fear that not enough teachers with specialisms in specific subjects is going to hinder the ability to provide the very best education.  As I have stated above this may be somewhat exaggerated in that a high proportion of those 51% of physics teachers without a physics qualification may have very relevant degrees and have high standards of physics knowledge and qualifications.  That said, I’m sure it would be acknowledged that we would all like to see that percentage brought to a more reasonable level.

One of the big impacts of this shortfall is on teachers themselves.  Where there are those without specific qualifications you do have to ask the question if they are teaching the subject with transferable skills, or if they are filling gaps and stretching their knowledge to do so.  Undoubtedly if there are individuals covering lessons because of a lack of subject specialism within the system, and within the school, that can have an impact on the motivation and well-being of a teacher who may feel under appreciate, disenfranchised and unfulfilled, not to mention isolated without the right professional development.  In all honesty I have no doubt that any physics teacher will be equipped with the knowledge to lead physics lessons, but it would be beneficial to see more teachers across a range of subjects coming into the profession with that subject specialism.

There is also a question of workload.  The fewer subject specialist we are recruiting the more those working in those subjects are having to spread themselves about, potentially covering more classes with higher numbers of pupils and taking on greater levels of responsibility for running departments.  That again has an impact on well-being and motivation which in turn will hinder the ability to ensure the very highest standards.

Why is it happening?

This, I think, is a pretty complex issue.  The fact that we have been talking about recruiting science graduates into the profession for a number of years, and yet the problem persists, goes to show that there is no single reason and no simple solution.  I think, in credit to them, the Welsh Government have been on the front foot in recognising the issue but as yet collectively we have all failed to address that deficiency.

There are a few things which have happened in recent years which will have undermined any real efforts to tackle the issue.  Firstly, pay and pension cuts initiated by the Westminster government have made teaching as a profession a much less attractive career choice.  This has not only created greater difficulties in recruiting people into teaching, irrespective of subject, but it has made it harder to retain those already qualified.  The continued issue of workload, as well as the way the esteem of teachers has been diminished due to some of the unfortunate rhetoric we have seen from governments in both Westminster and Cardiff Bay in past years has not helped that situation.  It is worth acknowledging that both Huw Lewis and Kirsty Williams have made great efforts to reintroduce that respect to the role and the launch of the teachers survey by the current Cabinet Secretary for Education will hopefully, in the long-term, help lessen some of the key workload concerns.  The jury is still out on the devolution of pay but its supporters would argue it also creates an opportunity to develop better terms and conditions for teachers here in Wales.

Another concern is that we are just not recruiting enough teachers into the secondary sector full stop.  Not once in the past five years has the target for initial teacher training spaces been reached.  Indeed, last year it was a third below expectations.  If we are struggling to recruit the number of teachers we want then you can guarantee it is going to be an even greater challenge to recruit the numbers of teachers we need in the subjects that have traditionally been hard to fill.

A final consideration is the issue of gender.  Science as a topic has traditionally been dominated by male graduates.  Huw Lewis even launched a campaign specifically focused on trying to encourage more girls to pursue science in school and beyond.  There is then an almost perfect storm of having too few female science students but too few male teachers.  I’ve written a few times about how the teaching profession does not draw in enough male entrants.  We are therefore left with a situation whereby women traditionally are the more likely to follow a teaching career but less likely to be science graduates.

What can be done?

Recruitment is clearly the key.  We need to recruit more girls into taking up science as options for their studies, we need to recruit more men into the profession, we need to recruit more science graduates (regardless of gender) into teaching and we need to ensure we are recruiting the right numbers of teachers regardless of subject.  How we do that is by a series of things.

Reducing workload, improving the respect of the profession and tackling the issues of pay and pensions which will all contribute to making teaching a more appealing profession than it has perhaps been in previous years.  The Welsh Government, who have created incentives in the past around recruitment to subjects, may well need to revisit existing systems to see if more can be offered as a way of enticing science graduates, while also looking at the way teaching is marketed to those potential teachers with science as a background.  This need not just be about financial incentives but the whole package around science teaching should be considered to see how it can be competitive when placed next to other career options for science graduates.

There is no easy fix.  This may take a few years to get right but having already recognised the problem for a number of years it is an issue we really do need to focus on resolving.

 

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