Tag Archives: Education Workforce Council

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.

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.

UKIP: A Strong Voice for Wales

18 Apr

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I would always have expected to do a manifesto review for Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Lib Dems going into a Welsh election.  Truth be told  probably would always have done a review of the Green manifesto, although not expecting them to make the often quoted big breakthrough.  This is the first time I would have been approaching the UKIP manifesto, not with a view of a potential AM but with the expectation of guaranteed representation for the party when the votes are counted.  With that in mind, while I don’t foresee the party having any route to implementing their policies due to the fact that both Plaid Cymru and Labour have categorically ruled out working with them in power, their offering in 2016 is more important than it has ever been in the past.

I half expected UKIP to put out very little in their manifesto but in fairness the education section is not lacking in policies.  Again I have not covered the FE and HE policy areas.

School Funding

In a strong start UKIP have funding as the very first item on their policy list in the education section.  One of the big concerns in the sector is that we know  Welsh pupils are being underfunded in comparison to those in England but we not longer know by how much.  It is therefore encouraging to see UKIP call for comparative data to be restored.  Only by knowing the true extent of the problem can we really get to grips with it.  One flag on this however is that the reason there is no comparison data is because of changes to funding in England.  Therefore I’m not sure how this can fully be achieved unless there is a UK Government input.  However, it is surely not beyond the wit of man and if there is a way for the Welsh Government to achieve it then that is a policy worth exploring.

UKIP outline that they would reduce the supporting costs of educational expenditure to get more money to the front line.  I’m never going to argue against money heading to the front line.  Schools desperately need it.  However I am always a little hesitant about how easy it is to take money from one budget and assign it to another without implications for doing that.  Much of the “support costs” of education come from local authorities buying services and providing services with economies of scale.  If that money is diverted to schools, meaning schools have to directly procure those services, that can lead to inflated costs and administration for those school leaders.  I’m not saying this can’t lead to better funding but that it is something that has to be approached carefully and that it is often something that seems enticing but doesn’t necessarily work in practice.  The best way to get more money to schools is to get more money in the education budget in the first instance.

The final proposal in this section is perhaps the most controversial.

Abolish the Education Workforce Council, whose fees amount to a tax on teachers and which drain schools of funds which could be spent at the front line

Many teachers would agree with the view that EWC contributions are a tax on teachers.  The idea of paying to register to work is not met with huge enthusiasm from the profession, particularly with the recent increase to this fee.  However, I don’t think scrapping the organisation is a positive approach.  There is an important role for the EWC to play.  There can be improvements to the way it operates and its roles and responsibilities but undoubtedly there remains a need for it.

Supply Provision

Ensure that supply teachers are paid in accordance with their position on the salary
spine and receive pension rights, cutting out the 30-50% cost of agencies and saving
taxpayer money

This would be a very well-received policy.  The problems with supply are numerous but certainly the unfair pay and pensions provisions are at the forefront of supply teachers thinking.  Creating a level playing field, and undermining the negative influence of supply agencies at the same time, would be a really good step.

I’m a little unsure as to one of  UKIP’s other policies in this section which is to support the appointment of supply staff on two or three year contracts to cover a cluster of schools.  On the one hand there may be something in this to create continuity of teaching in an area and it provides stability for the individual.  At the same time if there is work to cover that period I would be far more inclined to expect schools to create permanent posts.  Also with the Agency Workers Regulations taking individuals over to a permanent contract rights after a continuous 12 week period of work then there is an element of questioning if someone would lose an entitlement under this proposal.  Naturally if the policy of ensuring supply teachers get parity of pay and pensions then to an extent this concern is perhaps a moot point.

Cutting Teachers’ Workload

UKIP will decrease the amount of paperwork teachers deal with, such as unduly elaborate individual lesson plans, excessive data collection, overly prescriptive internal assessments and dialogue based marking schemes

What can you say other than this is a commitment that will be extremely attractive to the teaching profession.

Primary Education

There are two key policies in this section and I have to confess I have cause for concern with both.  Firstly UKIP promise to ensure access to maths and science specialists, from universities and other schools.  Under this policy these specialists will provide support and can ‘take at least some classes.

I don’t have any issue with sharing expertise and providing support.  There is no doubt we have some gaps in recruitment of maths and science specialist in Welsh education, albeit this is perhaps more of an issue within the secondary sector.  Having such people come in and work with schools is a good thing.  Where I have concern is the idea of them taking classes.  Teaching primary children is a unique skill, which is why we have a specific training programme for it.  There will be some people out there with fantastic maths and science skills but lack the ability to communicate them to children, particular young primary children.  Many secondary school teachers would say quite bluntly that they would have no idea how to communicate with those in primary education, and vice-verse perhaps.  We shouldn’t pretend that an aptitude for a subject naturally lends itself to an aptitude to teach that subject to all ages.  Whats more we shouldn’t allow those without the qualifications to teach to do so, which would be potentially the case with inviting individuals from universities.

The second policy is to increase the number of hours dedicated to the development of literacy skills.  The fact is schools are already earmarking huge amounts of time to literacy policies.  It is of course a very important element of the timetable and rightly gets a great deal of focus.  However, we already know from studies undertaken that this focus is hindering the ability to stay true to the ethos of the Foundation Phase.  We also know that such a major focus on literacy and numeracy has threatened to narrow the curriculum.  I fear we should not be straitjacketing teachers further, especially as it would completely contradict the new push to a more free and trusting curriculum.

Modern Languages

I’m a big believer in language teaching and so I don’t disagree with the focus on it in the UKIP manifesto.  I do question however where we are going to find the Russian and Mandarin secondary teachers to deliver their broader range of language policies being advocated, although it does say this is a policy aim to be delivered over time.

Sport

I’ve blogged many times on the importance of sport in the curriculum and so am positive about what UKIP propose here in protecting playing fields and promoting sport within the curriculum.  I would widen the definition, in the way Sport Wales have, to physical literacy.  Many children want to be active but not in a sporting or competitive sense.  We must cater for the wider way in which we can achieve the benefits of physical activity on education.

Qualified Teachers

Ensure that all classes in Welsh state schools are led by a qualified teacher

This is an important pledge, which has been a universal constant across the political parties in Wales.  It does seem to be contradicted by the previous policy I discussed where UKIP were to invite university staff in to teach classes.  That can’t happen if those lectures do not have QTS under this policy.

There is an incentive based focus on recruiting graduates of STEM subjects, something all parties appear to want to get to grips with.  A welcome pledge if light on detail of what those incentives are.  Equally light on detail is the promise to give teachers support to deal with bullying and poor discipline. No one would argue against it but again there is no depth to what that commitment means.

There is, in this section, a criticism of the use of support staff to cover lessons and the explosion in numbers of such staff in schools against the declining number of teachers.  Side by side with it is the pledge to shift resources from adding support staff to a provision of well-trained teachers.  In principle I think this is a bold policy and something I have touched on previously.  It is interesting that UKIP, and thus far UKIP alone, who seem to have referenced this in their manifestos.  My only hesitation is that support staff do play a vital role and the figures and ratios are something that need careful consideration, as well as the funding implications of the policy.  Sadly once again the depth of detail is missing here even though the policy is one which will cause debate.

Estyn

What UKIP are proposing is a series of policies to revamp the way Estyn inspects schools in what they predict will make inspection less intrusive and more routed in a realistic appraisal of the school.  I think shorter inspections is a positive thing and shorter notice periods are also welcomed so long as they are matched by a realistic expectation and changes to what and how things are undertaken.  Overall this section is an interesting piece of work and again it appears that, thus far, UKIP alone have put this on their agenda for the manifesto.  As an aside it is also interesting that UKIP have specifically mentioned the concern there may be around the capability or agendas of inspectors.

Sex Education

There appears to be a great deal of mistrust around the fact that sex education exists in Wales.  There is a specific section on it as well as a note under the Estyn page.  Personally I think teaching sex and relationship education should be a statutory requirement for all children. The importance of relationships should be taught at an early enough age to ensure children have an understanding of the issues with teachers afforded the flexibility in schools to vary what they teach according to the needs of parents and children in their individual school communities

Grammar Schools

This was the headline grabber for most of the media when UKIP launched their manifesto.  It is a shame in many ways as it overshadowed what actually is a manifesto with some debate prompting education policies.

I watched the Daily Politics show on Sunday and to be honest Neil Hamilton’s explanation, or perhaps defense is a better word, of the policy seemed only to make things worse.

This is what UKIP are promising to implement in relation to grammar schools.

  • fund all secondary schools according to a single formula, taking into account Special Educational Needs, to ensure underfunding such as with secondary moderns in the 1950s cannot be repeated.

  • introduce University Technical Colleges to Wales on the Baker Dearing model which has proved so successful in England

  • allow existing schools to become grammar schools or vocational schools

  • base grammar school selection on an exam taken by all pupils in the final year of primary school

  • introduce transfer examinations available at ages 12, 13 and 16 for academic late developers

  • reserve a minimum of 10% of grammar school places for children from less advantaged backgrounds – as historically measured by eligibility for free school meals

  • ensure that grammar schools truly act as ladders of opportunity for bright working class children.

I simply cannot get on board with this proposal.  It is an outdated and discredited system that would be a retrograde step for Wales.  Say what you will about the Welsh education system but, as the OECD report concluded, one of our strongest assets is a positive comprehensive model of education.  It is something we can, and should, take pride in and remains a platform for success.

It is very worrying to me that UKIP believe in identifying children on their perceived ability at 12/13, as if this is fixed at such a young age.  I could rehearse the many, many, flaws in the grammar schools system but this EduFacts breakdown produced by the NUT does a better job than I could.

The Verdict

Whisper it….but there are actually some very supportive and positive policies in this document that would play well with the teaching profession.  Don’t get me wrong, the whole infatuation with a discredited and backwards looking grammar school policy pretty much jettisons the legitimacy of anything else.  While UKIP cling to that narrow focused policy it is pretty hard to give them credibility on other areas.  That said, the commitments on workload, funding and in particular supply are all very attractive.  This manifesto has some interesting themes with polices that should push the other parties into thinking about their offerings.  UKIP have put in work on some areas of interest that should lead to a further debate when they elect AMs.  It is just a shame that they have played up to the UKIP stereotype in other areas that have undermined that.

The challenge of curriculum review

6 Jul

Expertise

The Donaldson Review published earlier this year will undoubtedly lead to a complete overhaul in the delivery of education in Wales.  It has put us on a path for change that will radically alter the way teachers both think about and deliver education.

Teachers have been clamouring, calling and desperate for a greater sense of freedom to shape the curriculum to suit the needs and strengths of their local communities and pupil profiles.  Being empowered to act on that flexibility is a challenge all teachers should welcome.

However, it is also clearly something that teachers are simply not accustomed to, and in many cases will not feel comfortable with, at least in the initial stages.  The challenges are both frightening and exciting in equal measure.  We will seriously have to consider the question of capacity within the system to meet the demands of this curriculum revolution.

Teachers have become accustomed to a package and push approach from the Welsh Government and local authorities and may be waiting, wrongly, to receive the next curriculum update from that central source.

It is not too strong a statement, in my opinion, to say that the top down approach to curriculum design we have seen in recent years has somewhat de-professionalised teachers in this aspect of education planning, and has restricted independent and critical thinking around the curriculum.  We now seem to be moving back towards releasing the shackles but we mustn’t expect the sector to run before it has been allowed to properly walk independently again. Teachers will almost have to relearn the skills of curriculum design, which is going to be a burden on professional development and workload.

Time

In the early stages it is important that teachers and schools are given the time, space and support to meet this challenge.  The last thing we want is to find the pressure to tackle this process too quickly lead to “off the shelf” solutions being purchased that drain both the creative opportunities and finances from schools.

The Education Minister has been bold in making public pronouncements about his wish to see the teaching profession lead the work of designing the future curriculum in Wales.  That is to be welcomed.  A sense of working in partnership with the Welsh Government, rather than clashing with it is one the education sector desperately needs on such an important topic.

It has also been really positive to hear the Welsh Government be far more realistic about timescales than perhaps they have been on other issues in the past.

It was heartening to hear the Education Minister tell ITV Wales News that;

It will take the time that it takes in order to do this carefully and with the proper support for the professionals particularly that we are leaning on so heavily here.“ – Huw Lewis AM, ITV News, February 25th

Not only will we have to see a significant investment, financially and in time, to build the right skills for curriculum design and planning amongst existing practitioners, we will also have to reimagine the way teachers are trained.  Something the Furlong report has already taken steps to put in place.

Digital Literacy

Within the recommendations there is the specific challenge of promoting the role of IT.  Digital literacy is a key component of these curriculum reforms.  The report essentially puts digital competency including computer programming and coding on a par with literacy and numeracy as priorities that should be considered within all lessons, across all subject matters.

While education should not simply be about fulfilling the requirements of economic drivers, and indeed the curriculum review is quite explicit about that, we of course need to accept that becoming IT literate is a reality of modern life.

The impression that has come across thus far, to me at least, is that the patience we’ve seen for building curriculum capacity is maybe that bit thinner when it comes to digital inclusion.  This is something the Minister wants to see put in place a lot sooner.

The reality is that we need to support the upskilling of the profession if we are to ensure that all teachers are confident and creative in utilising modern technology in order to design the best learning experiences for their classes.  Children, who have only known a world of iPads, iPhones and Facebook, are more fluent than some teachers who were born, and in some cases already teaching, before the internet was even invented.  I’m 32 but while I got my first mobile phone at the age of 19 by the time my son was 20 months old he was seamlessly navigating YouTube.

There should be, yet again, a significant investment in continued professional development in this field, as well as in hardware and other resources to ensure schools actually have the quantity and quality of technology needed to be able to realise the ambition.

Assessment and accountability

A further major challenge to implementation is the proposed change to assessment and accountability.  While the review is focused on curriculum design 22 of the 68 recommendations relate specifically to these issues.

There is a particular challenge here for local authorities, regional consortia and Estyn in squaring the circle of the current system of high-tariff, punitive accountability measures, (many of which are irrelevant to securing progress for the individual learner), and a system that must move towards utilising assessment for learning in a more subtle and relevant way.

Conclusion

The truth is that what the profession is being asked to take on is a massive undertaking.  It will take a significant change in thinking and approach.

It will take a clear commitment to quality continued professional development.

It will take a recognition that it cannot be realised with budgets constantly cut.

It cannot be designed overnight and it needs a patience that goes beyond the usual election cycle.

However, what the profession is also getting is a real opportunity.

Learners’ achievement and school development based on an innovative and flexible curriculum, matter to no one as much as they do to teachers and school leaders.

Here is a chance for them to reclaim ownership for what we all know should already be theirs.

The above is an article commissioned for publication on the Education Workforce Council’s website.  You can find the original here.

I originally wrote this a few months back but it is only being published today. What I wrote preceded the most recent Ministerial statement. I wrote further about that new development here.

How much confidence can we have in the consultation process?

28 Oct

“Consult: To seek approval for a course of action already decided upon.” Ambrose Bierce

There is a real question to be asked about the weighted legitimacy of public responses to Welsh Government consultations. I ask this as increasingly consultation summaries seem to determine the support for any particular proposals by playing the numbers game. When looking through a range of consultations that have closed in the education section of the Welsh Government’s consultation site online, it is clear to see that the determining factor in pushing ahead or scrapping a decision is purely down to the number of consultations that say yes, no or don’t know to the questions put forward. In the interest of balance I should point out there are some that do not use this approach but that, if anything, only serves to highlight the inconsistency of the way consultation responses are appraised.

In theory this may seem like a reasonable approach. After all, isn’t democracy about reflecting the majority view? But when you dig a little deeper there exists some serious anomalies with this approach, namely, the weighting given to the sort of people who are responding.

Take the NUT for example. When I draft a consultation on behalf of the union here in Wales I am doing so based on, and reflecting, the motions to form policies that have been taken through national conferences. The draft I put together is then reviewed, and often dissected forensically, by the national NUT Cymru/Wales committee, including members who have been democratically elected to represent the thousands upon thousands of teachers the union has in Wales. The membership of this committee has amassed literally hundreds of years of teaching experience from which to shape their response. Where there are specific expertise needed; for example consultations relating to special needs education; Welsh language provisions; early years intervention; child protection etc, individuals with specialist backgrounds within the union will be asked to contribute.

However, when the Welsh Government works through its consultation responses a ‘Yes,’ ‘No,’ or ‘Don’t know,’ from this collective of accountability, experience and knowledge will be worth exactly the same as a response from Mr Joe Blogs who may have just stumbled across the consultation.

I am not necessarily arguing that special treatment should be given to unions, or any organisations for that matter. Furthermore I firmly believe that it is right that individuals not only take part in consultations but are encouraged to do so. Very often these individuals have experience and knowledge that can provide an expert view. All this being said is it undermining the Welsh Government if they are not recognising the authority at which one group of respondents approach a subject in comparison to others? Whoever those groups or individuals may be.

Taker the example of the recently published summary of responses to the consultation on appointments to the membership of the new Education Workforce Council.  In response to question 3 it states;

A small number of responses were strongly opposed to the power of the Minister to appointment members to the Council. They felt this was less democratic, undermined the independence of the council; and wanted its membership determined via an election process so that members were democratically accountable to education staff.

I would hazard a guess that every union representing workforce staff will have raised this issue.  (I do not have clarification on that but all union colleagues I have spoken to state they did raise it and I am unaware of any that did not feel it was an issue prior to the consultation closing).  It may be correct to say that the number of consultation responses raising this concern was small.  There were 10 trade union responses. However this doesn’t change the fact that those responses represent the vast majority, if not all, of the individuals who will be registered with the body.  Should no additional weight be given to the basis of these concerns?  Essentially because the unions have not reproduced a response for every member they represent, a painstakingly unrealistic expectation, we could end up with a body that is perceived to be undemocratic with its independence under a cloud from the very people it is ment to represent.

In terms of looking at things as a simple numbers game lets take another example of the summary of responses to the consultation on the revised areas of learning for the curriculum in Wales.  This is a hugely important issue that really does need to lead to decisions based on knowledge of the sector and a background in education.  Yet the analysis of questions is largely focused on totalling up the yes/no and don’t know tick boxes.  In many cases individuals will have ticked ‘don’t know’ as they wish to raise concerns while not necessarily opposing the proposal.  You do fear however that the don’t knows are simply lost in the sift.  This approach is replicated across numerous consultations and not all will have as many responses or as many from individuals and groups with educational expertise.  In those instances individual replies, while of course welcome and important, will have even more influence than in this case.

I am not making a plea to ignore one section of responses. By all means the Welsh Government can still total up the percentage of replies they get in each question. However, there is nothing also stopping them from taking additional steps to review the backgrounds of the responses to see if they call also pull out the expertise that representative groups have.  There is little confidence at present that this is being done, nor that in fact the basis of opposition or support for polices where the numbers don’t fall in your favour is particularly reviewed. This is not an education specific issue but no doubt a consultation failing across all Welsh Government portfolios, and indeed other tiers of government.

#TeacherOath

13 Oct

Over the weekend Tristram Hunt announced that Labour (in England) were looking at introducing a teachers oath.  You need only search #teacheroath on twitter to see how dismally this has been received by the profession.  This buzzfeed article highlighted some of the most damning responses. At a time when ideology is driving the Westminster Government’s agenda on education what the public at large, and the education sector in particular, want to see is a clear idea of how education will be run differently from an opposition.  It is about giving a clear choice when it comes to voting.  That this teacher oath is a flagship policy announcement just seven months away from an election is pretty depressing for teachers on that side of the devolution fence.

I am not really sure what Tristram Hunt believes introducing such an oath will achieve in increasing focus and commitment from teachers that we don’t already see on a day-to-day basis.  Does he believe an oath of this nature will spark an awakening that was not already there about the role of a teacher?

In Wales we are actually consulting at present on the code of conduct being established by the new Education Workforce Council that will set the expectations for teachers, and other sections of the education workforce, who are registered with that body.  In some senses that can be seen as an oath but the fact is I don’t know a single teacher that doesn’t start teaching with the commitment to improving children’s lives.  I doubt very much swearing an allegiance to Tristram Hunt will improve that?

If Tristram Hunt is looking for genuine ideas on how to help support teaching then he would do a lot worse than reading the NUT Westminster Election Manifesto. It is a document that is really gaining a lot of praise from teachers; academics and others in the education sector. It proposes some radical but very achievable steps to empowering learners and practitioners.  I’m pleased to say that while the 2015 election is not one where the decision makers in a Welsh context are up for election a Welsh version has been produced. Here the Manifesto looks at recommendations that can be made and sets the scene for change in the lead up to the Welsh election in 2016. A more in-depth Manifesto with specific policies will be produced for that election also.

Incidentally the reporting of this policy by the BBC has once again made me think they just do not get devolution.  I blogged during the exam results period about how network news in the UK treated England’s results as those for the whole of the UK.  The lack of recognition that Wales and Northern Ireland have different education systems and different results was staggering.  Here the BBC lumped the teacher oath policy in with UK news despite the fact that this is a devolved field and introducing a teachers oath, and indeed not doing so, is entirely within the gift of the Welsh Government.

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The independence of the Education Workforce Council

30 May

The Welsh Government has recently opened a consultation on the appointment process for the Education Workforce Council.

The establishment of the Education Workforce Council is something that I supported. I think such a body, recognising the role of the whole workforce, is needed in reflecting the roles of the teaching profession as well as wider school support staff.  I’ve blogged on the rise in numbers of teaching assistants in the past.  With those individuals having a great role in school performance it is right they are regulated through a professional body. However, it has increasingly become clear that there will be a lack of support for this body from the profession if it fails to offer genuine democratic accountability. That is the current fear with the ministerial veto that is being built into the legislation allowing any Welsh Education Minister to be able to handpick who he or she wants to sit on the council.

Given the vitally important role the Education Workforce Council will play, it seems totally inadequate to have a situation whereby those education staff required to register with it do not feel that they have ownership of it. It simply cannot succeed if it is a body that is imposed on the profession rather than one working with and for it. The notion that the membership of the Education Workforce Council should be by ministerial appointment alone is totally unacceptable. The very perception this creates is in itself a threat to the future of the body. You can very well accept, or not, the good will of the current Welsh Government and Education Minister that the system will not be abused. However, there are no guarantees, and what is more there cannot be any guarantees given, that future governments and future ministers will not abuse this privilege.

How can the education workforce have any confidence in a body that is so clearly open to political manipulation and influence? How can teachers or support staff have faith in the decision-making of this body when they know that individuals can be appointed or removed at the whim of a minister?

We must also be wary of the dangerous precedent this sets, not just for education services, but for the wider appointments process within the public sector. Do we really want our national institutions to be so easily subjected to bias? A place where if your face doesn’t fit your credentials do not matter?

For a truly effective workforce group we must demand that it is open, transparent and vitally, accountable to those it is there to oversee. It is crucial that this is an independent council. I firmly believe the membership of the council should be determined via a process of election to ensure democratic accountability that secures the trust and support of the profession. Establishing a board via ministerial appointment will be met with scepticism and open to accusations that it is politically biased and lacks impartiality. There appears very little clear rationale for this structure other than to instil a political bias which will neither serve to enhance the reputation of the body or the incumbent Minister.

There is an opportunity to create a positive body here that will both ensure high standards and promote the professionalism of the education workforce. If we allow that to be corrupted from the very outset we do not only do an injustice to our school staff but also to the children and parents of Wales.