Tag Archives: Devolution

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.


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.


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.


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.


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 

Devolution: Not just what we want but why we want it

22 Sep

There’s been a significant amount of debate about further powers being devolved from Westminster to various parts of the UK since the Scottish referendum result.  Personally I am a firm supporter of devolution and think the Welsh Government should have far more responsibility for the policies that shape the lives of the people of Wales.  I also think there needs to be radical reform to the number of representatives at local authority; Welsh Assembly and Westminster to reflect that change in power but that is a debate for another day.

One thing I have felt while hearing the debate on devolution recently is that the case for why devolution needs to take place is not really being made to the public.  There is obviously and inherent argument that fairness and equality should be at the heart of devolution, especially in comparison to what is on offer to other areas of the UK.  However, the technical and political jargon that many, including myself, are guilty of using when having these discussions means nothing to the average person.  Very often we will talk about what powers are needed and when but I’m not sure we necessarily bridge the gap between explaining why and how they will change the everyday lives of the Welsh public on a day-to-day level.

I made this point in reference to the devolution of teachers pay and conditions on last nights ‘The Wales Report’ debate on BBC. (You can watch the whole programme here while it is still available.  My specific point is around 29:15 in).  On this issue there is a relatively strong political consensus in Wales, although not amongst the teaching representatives, to see this power devolved.  It has long been Plaid Cymru’s policy; the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have signed up to it through the acceptance of the Silk Commissions recommendations and more recently the Welsh Government have changed their position to state that they would want it devolved.  There are of course caveats on that consensus around the way in which it would be devolved; how much funding would be attached and timescales etc.  Still, the general agreement is roughly there.  It is a little alarming therefore that there is potentially a huge change to the way teachers are paid and by whom on the horizon and yet the workforce either do not know this could happen, and if they do have little to no understanding as to what the benefits or concerns will be.

This may seem like politician bashing but it certainly is not.  I do believe that when politicians discuss the devolution of powers they must have a clearer narrative around why those powers are needed and what difference they will make in the short, medium and long-term.  However, I also think that job is for everyone.  The education sector for example has to take up the responsibility for explaining what impact the devolution of pay and conditions could have.  In other sectors there must also be a commitment and urgency to have a wider dialogue about how changes will make a difference.

The public in Wales have a desire for further devolution that goes beyond what most of the political parties are arguing for.  There is support for more responsibility to be devolved to Cardiff Bay but that will only be maintained if there is clarity about the implications of what that means.  It is also crucial for holding any future governments to account that we know what devolution will deliver.

So yeah. That devolution thing happened you know.

22 Aug

If the last week of A-Level and GCSE results have taught us anything it is that UK network broadcasters still don’t get devolution.  The very idea of separate education systems clearly did not cross the minds of those reporting from London.

In response to last weeks A level results the @BBCBreaking account tweeted the following to its 10.9 million followers:

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The problem with this of course is that Wales had not seen a slight fall in its A* and A grades.  In fact the numbers of students receiving an A* grade in Wales was up by 0.7% while those achieving an A*-A grade result increased by 0.4%.  This blanket approach to UK results was inaccurate and presented a highly misleading picture of performance in Wales.

I did tweet the account to highlight the error, as did the BBC Wales Education Correspondent.  However, a week later when the GCSE results were published, it was evident lessons had not been learnt.  Again the @BBCBreaking account presented a UK reflection of results rather than recognising the different set of results attained by the different devolved education systems.

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On this occasion network BBC reported that Wales had achieved a 0.7% rise in pupils scoring A* to C grades in their GCSEs.  The reality was that in Wales the rise was 0.9% securing our best ever A*-C grade return.

I wouldn’t want to suggest that this was a uniqley BBC issue.  Sky News were also in on the act making the same mistake when tweeting its 1.25 million followers.

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I do want to state that BBC Wales did a very good job of covering the results from a Welsh perspective, as did ITV Wales.  I think a particular mention should go to the printed press who went into real detail in how they broke down the data and reported on a school by school and regional basis.

However the vast majority of people in Wales still get their news through a UK prism and so it is worrying that 15 years into the devolution process broadcasters still cannot appreciate the nuances of separate education structures.  Given the ever diverging nature of our education sectors will make it increasingly more difficult to make cross border comparisons it is something that really does need to be corrected.

In Conversation with….Sian Powell

21 Nov

I was joined for this episode of the ‘In Conversation with…’ series by my good friend Sian Powell. For various reasons I had to cancel the recording twice before we eventually got together so thanks to Sian for her patience.


Sian is a PhD student studying the role of the media and devolution. She has previously written for the Huffington post on culture and democracy and is also a lecturer with Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol.

Amongst other things we discussed the way the UK media has reported divergence in the education systems of Wales and England and how Wales can sell its qualifications to a media that is disinterested. Unfortunately I accidentally stopped the recording half way through so it comes in two parts as a result. Click below for the audio.

You can also hear the conversation on my Soundcloud here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).

The Carrot Cake

The accompanying carrot cake came from Kemis in Pontcanna. Very nice it was too.