Books of the Year

3 Jan

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Over the past few years I’ve done a books of the year list from what I read over the prior 12 months.  At the start of this year I began blogging reviews of each book as well as charting how I leave the books I’ve read for strangers to find in public places.  Sadly my passion to keep that blog going wavered after I got to 98 books and still only had a response from one person who had found a book I’d left.  I’ll keep leaving them but as I pass the 100 mark I’m less hopeful.  Anyway……here is this years list.  There have been some brilliant read in there.  My love of Keigo Higashino and Haruki Murakami continued to grow thanks to some superb entries from them.  Overall I must say I think both on quality and quantity (I failed to reach a book a week for the first time in 3 years) this was a poorer year than the last.  2016 though eh.  Am I right!

The Best 

Journey Under The Midnight Sun – Keigo Higashino

Disclaimer – Renee Knight

The Taliban Shuffle – Kim Barker

I Let You Go – Clare Mackintosh

Hear The Wind Sing – Haruki Murakami

The Second Coming – John Niven

Murder On The Orient Express – Agatha Christie

I Saw A Man – Owen Sheers

Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

Nomad – Alan Partridge

The Best of the Rest

The Kind Worth Killing – Peter Swanson

The Amateurs – John Niven

The Actual One – Isy Suttie

Fade Away – Harlan Coben

The Let Downs

Jonathan Unleashed – Meg Rosoff

The Little Paris Bookshop – Nina George

Bullet Points – Mark Watson

The Ghost Writer – Philip Roth

Full reading List

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada (1)

Reasons to stay alive – Matt Haig (2)

Disclaimer – Renee Knight (3)

Personal Days – Ed Park (4)

Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy – John le Carre (5)

The Girl In The Red Coat – Kate Hamer (6)

The Taliban Shuffle – Kim Barker (7)

11/22/63 – Stephen King (8)

The Kind Worth Killing – Peter Swanson (9)

Kill Your Boss – Shane Kuhn (10)

Jonathan Unleashed – Meg Rosoff (11)

The Amateurs – John Niven (12)

Hear The Wind Sing – Haruki Murakami (13)

The Little Paris Bookshop – Nina George (14)

Pinball – Haruki Murakami (15)

The Second Coming – John Niven (16)

Concussion  – Jeanne Marie Laskas (17)

Murder On The Orient Express – Agatha Christie (18)

Bullet Points – Mark Watson (19)

Shoot The Messenger – Shane Kuhn (20)

Stay Close – Harlan Coben (21)

The Actual One – Isy Suttie (22)

I Saw A Man – Owen Sheers (23)

Fever Pitch – Nick Hornby (24)

Deal Breaker – Harlan Coben (25)

Hitman Anders and The Meaning of It All – Jonas Jonasson (26)

Prey – James Carol (27)

The Long Dry – Cynan Jones (28)

Drop Shot – Harlan Coben (29)

Fade Away – Harlan Coben (30)

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson (31)

I Let You Go – Clare Mackintosh (32)

Ways To Disappear – Idra Novey (33)

The Ghost Writer – Philip Roth (34)

Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck (35)

The Girl With a Clock For A Heart – Peter Swanson (36)

Sputnik Sweetheart – Haruki Murakami (37)

Journey Under The Midnight Sun – Keigo Kigashino (38)

Animal: The Autobiography of the Female Body – Sara Pascoe (39)

Back Spin – Harlan Coben (40)

A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman (41)

The Decagon House Murders – Yukito Ayatsuji (42)

A Midsummer’s Equation – Keigo Higashino (43)

Nomad – Alan Partridge (44)

The Green Man – Kingsley Amis (45)

 

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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 – 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 

Goodbye Schools Challenge Cymru

19 Oct

“Endings to be useful must be inconclusive” – Samuel R. Delany

I wrote an article for the Institute of Welsh Affairs back in August questioning if Schools Challenge Cymru was going to be given enough time to prove itself a positive policy.  The answer came in yesterday’s budget when the policy was no where to be seen.

Now, on one hand analysis of the policy suggests it has not created a significant uplift in the way some had envisaged at this stage.  The independent review referenced in my IWA piece presents quite a mixed picture of SCC.  Clearly it hasn’t been a big bang impact of intervention.  However, I’ve never expect that it would be.  We are only a few years into the programme and examples from London and Manchester suggested that similar systems took years to wield the sort of results we would want to see.  While no one would want to see such a significant amount of money invested in a project that doesn’t deliver, there are questions to be asked about if Schools Challenge Cymru has been given the necessary time to prove itself.  It also puts doubts in the minds of those in the sector around the viability and longevity of future policies.  It is getting harder and harder to convince teachers to become invested in embracing a new approach when experience tells them they will be starting afresh in a few weeks, months or years.  For example, how do we know if future policies, such as the reduction of class sizes, will also be funded long enough to ascertain if they will create a tangible benefit for Wales.

Given that it has been brought to an end what is important now is that we ensure that the funding for it is diverted to other important areas within the education portfolio, and that those schools who were involved with the Schools Challenge Cymru policy are continued to be supported in other ways in future.  The additional finance provided within the Pupil Deprivation Grant is certainly a positive step forward.

The Stats Behind the Profession – Part 3

18 Oct

Following my previous posts about the numbers and gender of teachers in Wales I wanted to look in this blog at the ethnic group and national identity of our school staff.

I did blog a while back asking the question if our classrooms reflected our communities. With that as a background it is interesting to look into the stats compiled by the EWC.

We can see from the EWC annual digest that 86.1% of teachers in Wales identify themselves as ‘White:British.’  That is actually below the make up of our communities according to the 2011 census, in which 93.2% identified themselves in such a way.  What is perhaps interesting is that between 2001-2011 that ‘White:British’ population in Wales decreased while the EWC stats show there has been an annual increase in that ethnic group registering as teachers annually between 2012-2016.  To be clear, on both counts we are talking marginal changes.

One group we are clearly failing to entice into teaching is the Asian (Pakistani, Indian & Bangladeshi) communities.  EWC stats show individuals from this ethnic group make up just 0.2% of registered teachers, while the census notes they make up 2.3% of wider Welsh society.

It is evident that overall the teaching profession in Wales is roughly representative of ethnic backgrounds with Welsh census data.  However, in an ever more multicultural society, and certainly in a post-Brexit world of racial tensions, we should be reaching out and ensuring that teaching is a profession which is open to attracting the creative and enthusiastic talents from right across community backgrounds.

The Stats Behind The Profession – Part 2

17 Oct

Last week I published a blog looking at the numbers of teachers registered with the Education Workforce Council in their annual statistics digest.  In this blog I’m going to look at the gender breakdown.

I’ve blogged in the past about the lack of gender equality in our classrooms.  It is an issue that the EWC, in their former guise the GTCW, have raised in the past.  I feel the lack of male teachers is not only hindering the ability of Welsh schools to establish a more balanced workforce, but it also is part of the reason we have a disproportionate number of men leading schools.

The stats published in this years digest suggest that far from tackling the shortfall we are continuing to see a decline.

March 2012 – 25% of the teaching workforce were men.

March 2013 – 24.8% of the teaching workforce were men.

March 2014 – 24.7% of the teaching workforce were men.

March 2015 – 24.6% of the teaching workforce were men.

March 2016 – 24.6% of the teaching workforce were men.

While the percentage remained static between 2015-2016 due to a reduction overall in the number of teachers there was actually a decline in the number of male teachers registered with the EWC.  The hard facts are that in 2012 we  had a total of 9,589 male teachers from a registered number of 38,290.  As of this years publication that has dropped by nearly 500 to a total of 9,092 from 36,951.

This is an issue that I have raised in the past, and many others have also.  It appears that despite those numerous and widespread soundings, and in some cases actual campaigns on the issue, the low intake of male teachers continues to be evident in our professional make up.

The Stats Behind The Profession – Part 1

14 Oct

Recently the Education Workforce Council (EWC) published their annual statistics digest.  Much of it is expected and bland but there are a few headline figures worth picking out for discussion and I am going to do that over a few different blogs.

The first stat is just the basic numbers of teachers registered with the EWC.

March 2012 – 38,290

March 2013 – 37,862

March 2014 – 37,673

March 2015 – 37,355

March 2016 – 36,951

Slowly over the past five years we have seen a decline of -1,339 in registered teachers.  I should say that Stats Wales records the number of qualified teachers by local authority as 27,738.  I’m a little unsure as to why there is a discrepancy although I’m guessing that the Stats Wales figures do not include things such as registered teachers working in different areas outside the classroom (local authorities; consortia; Welsh Government etc.) nor perhaps more specifically supply teachers.

This decline may not seem such a big deal.  We are not talking about a huge percentage of the teaching profession and historically Wales has over subscribed its teaching places.  However, we are creeping towards a potential issue in that not once since 2010 has the target number for teacher training places been met.  Worryingly the shortfall has steadily grown with a third of teacher training places remaining unfilled in 2015/16.  We are facing the very real possibility that we could go from training too many teachers to failing to train enough.  That is already a factor in some specific areas such as maths, sciences and modern foreign languages but it could develop into a wider concern.

So why is this happening?  I think it is perhaps a three fold issue.  Firstly changes made to the entry requirements have seen those applying needing a B grade in English and mathematics rather than the previously required C grade.  I can, in some senses, see the logic of raising the bar on that expectation but at the same time I remain unconvinced it was the wisest move.  It has established a qualification expectation on an individual based on an exam they will have done at least 5/6 years prior to becoming a teacher.  In the interim they will have secured higher level qualifications.  What is more, that someone has a B grade above a C grade does not necessarily make them a better teacher.  Teaching is as much an art as it is a science and, as I stated at the time, I still have reservations that potentially very good teachers have been vetoed from taking the role up because of this barrier.

Secondly, is the issue of workload and the remuneration of teachers.  Teachers workload has been a major concern for as long as you could care to remember.  Teachers have always gone above and beyond but what was once done in addition to their expected contracts due to a love of the role, has now become an unwritten obligation.  More worryingly it is a case of those working hours being a necessity in order to cover the bureaucracy that goes hand in hand with the role.  Unless a teacher is still working late into each evening and often over the weekend they simply can not sustain the levels of workload required to reach ever unrealistic targets, both for them personally and their pupils.  At the same time we have seen the pay and pensions of teachers depressed and devalued while access to those pensions now comes with an additional several years of employment or else financial penalty.  Teachers are having to work more for less and that does nothing to entice people into the profession.  Put together with the first concern and what we are expecting is a better standard of teacher (on paper if not in reality) to do more work and get paid less for it.  It is little wonder recruitment is beginning to become an issue.

Perhaps the final issue with teacher numbers is that the role of a teacher has been denigrated in the eyes of the public.  While surveys consistently show trust in the teaching profession remains high, the respect that teaching as a profession gets from the media and politicians has, as a rule of thumb, decreased.  I should caveat that by saying I know there are great journalists and many politicians who speak highly of teachers and promote their role in our society.  However, overall there is no underestimating the way teachers have been under attack in recent years as the narrative for governmental and policy failure, at both ends of the M4, has been focused on blaming classroom practitioners.  The more the reputation of teachers is damaged the less attractive the position will seem to potential applicants.