Tag Archives: Education

Testing Times

2 May

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

So what are the changes?

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

Online

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

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

Adaptive

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

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

IWA Article

13 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

 

The Programme for Government: ‘Could do better’ – IWA Article

23 Sep

“Our future prosperity and stability depends on the skills and values of the people of Wales.  Education has a fundamental role to play in personal fulfillment, community development and wealth creation.”

The opening to the education section of the Welsh Government’s ‘Taking Wales Forward’ document makes a pretty important point.  Often, especially when commentators speak about education in relation to PISA, it can be all too easy to see our school system as nothing more than a factory for tomorrow’s workforce.  For today’s teaching workforce, who deal with pupils day in day out in classrooms across the country, it is far more than that.

Of course education is an economic driver and that is both reflected in this opening gambit, and indeed in the structure of our skills based curriculum, but it is also about personal development and building a socially responsible and creative community.  With that in mind it is pleasing to see a range of pledges focused on this aspect of learning.

There is a reaffirming of the commitment to the Foundation Phase (albeit that it is sometimes hard to qualify this against the introduction of age-related expectations and literacy and numeracy testing which has skewed the ethos of the policy); there is a very welcome extension of the pupil deprivation grant; early years intervention strategies and specific focus on looked after children.  This is not to mention the politically controversial “legislation to end the defence of ‘Reasonable Punishment” – or smacking ban to you and I, finding its way onto the agenda.

Aside from this we see the key Labour and Lib Dem election pledges of an additional £100m of investment for school standards and a reduction in class sizes respectively both featured prominently.  We also see some big thinking policies such as the new curriculum, new ways of delivering supply teaching and the roll out of the digital competency framework.

However, while the above is encouraging, what is apparent throughout the document is that this is not a list that is heavy on accountability.  There are plenty of commitments to ‘review,’ ‘examine,’ ‘promote,’ and ‘prioritise’ but few targets to measure how those policies will be judged as successful.  At a time where one of the biggest bugbears of the education workforce is the harsh accountability measures and implications that go hand in hand with them, we seemingly have a programme for government without the metrics of measurements to fully hold the Welsh Government to account. What in practice does ‘developing closer links between universities and schools’ mean? How do we determine if the Welsh Government has succeeded in ‘supporting families and parents to reduce adverse childhood experiences’ in practical terms and how is a review of the current policy on surplus school places a policy in itself rather than the action it wields?  Even on those key pledges we are not given the fine print on where that £100m comes from and how it will be filtered out to schools or when and how the class sizes policy will be implemented.

The IWA’s Acting Director wrote a pretty damning review of the programme for government this week.  I have to say I very much share her sentiments that we should hope that this is “just an initial document and more detailed policy plans will be published over the coming few weeks and months.”

If what the Welsh Government intended with this piece of work was to simply establish a roadmap to the next 5 years it may prove to be a useful reference point.  The skeleton of their body of work will have been established with meat  to be added to these bones throughout the term. In many ways that is a natural position to have. We have to remember that in education more than anywhere else, as a result of a coalition of ideas between Labour and the Lib Dem manifestos, it may take time to work through the practicalities of delivering these policies.  However, if this document is designed to be the measuring stick by which the government expects to be held accountable then it will have failed to build a sense of trust from the education sector or the wider public.

Few in the education sector would argue against the aims and objectives of the Welsh Government.  The ambitions of this document are right but in spite of its publications we remain somewhat unclear as to how they will be achieved or evaluated.

The above was first published by the Institute of Welsh Affairs.  You can find the original here.