Tag Archives: EWC

National Education Workforce Survey

5 Apr

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

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

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


Education begins at Home

13 Jan

At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child’s success is the positive involvement of parents. – Jane. D. Hull

Often overlooked when examining what impacts children’s education is the role of parents and guardians.  It’s entirely natural to focus on teachers when it comes to attainment.  These individuals have been specifically trained to support learners’ education.  Teachers show the dedication required to secure qualifications, to undertake inductions, and are there day in day out working with pupils.  However, what we forget is that children spend the vast majority of their time outside the classroom.

Even ignoring school holidays, during term-time children are still away from school longer than they are in it.  This is despite the fact that Wales has some of the longest school days in Europe, some of the shortest school holidays and fewest public holidays anywhere in the world.  This is why the future of the ‘Donaldson’ curriculum is so focused on developing the person as ‘healthy, confident individuals, ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society’ and not just the product of a narrow education system.

It’s clear that supporting educational attainment outside a school setting is crucial to seeing improvement within it.  The support pupils have at home cannot be underestimated.  We know the most successful schools have been able to foster positive relationships with their communities.  There is a sense of ownership for school success that permeates beyond the school gates and parents are invested in a joint approach with teachers to develop the knowledge, skills and appetite for learning in their children and young people.

In April 2014 the Welsh Government launched its ‘Education begins at Home’ initiative, designed to engage parents in their children’s education.  From keeping regular bedtimes, asking about school and reading with their children, the Welsh Government sought to give practical advice to parents that can have a surprisingly wide ranging impact.  To some this may be seen as a ‘nanny state’ approach, but we really do need parents to recognise how important it is to focus on education extending beyond the school setting, into areas where it is perhaps not as explicitly obvious, such as a good night’s sleep.

What impact this initiative has had is difficult to quantify.  I would also suggest the Welsh Government should promote it further with a renewed sense of purpose.  However, that such a programme does exist shows the Welsh Government are mindful of what all teachers know already, that unless we make the classroom and home an interchangeable learning environment we are only delivering on a part of a pupils potential.

A 2014 study, conducted jointly by Brown and Harvard universities, looked at the impact messages from teachers to parents can have, and by default highlighted the impact parental engagement can have.

The study consisted of three groups of pupils.  Parents of the first group received no messages about their child’s performance.  The second group had messages which were solely positive.  The third received constructive criticism, or ‘improvement information.’

The main finding of the survey was where parents received feedback, irrespective of its nature; there was a substantial increased probability of pupils passing their courses.  The comparison with the group that received no feedback was that there ended up being a 41% decrease in students failing to earn credit.

Interestingly, those pupils whose parents received ‘improvement information’ had more effective results than those who simply had the positive feedback.  We can therefore determine that not only is feedback to parents essential to attainment but that the nature of that feedback is significant.

Research shows differences in parental involvement have a much bigger impact on achievement than differences associated with the effects of school in the primary age range.  What’s more, these impacts are long lasting.  Parental involvement continues to have a significant effect as children grow up, although for older pupils it is more important in terms of ensuring pupils remain in education than in measurable academic outcomes.

It is also noteworthy that success through parental involvement is not confined to one social group.  The scale of the impact of parental involvement is evident across all social classes’ ethnic groups.  Building strong teacher-parent relationships therefore is a way to not only improve attainment within our education system, but a way of doing it that supports pupils right across socio-economic, ethnic and cultural lines.

Community engagement is critical and the best schools are at the top of their game because they have a cohort of parents who share a vision. This is especially important as we look at initiatives such as ‘Schools Challenge Cymru.’  The success of the model it is based on, ‘London Challenge,’ was certainly attributed, in part at least, to parental engagement.  As Simon Burgess of the University of Bristol argues in his report on the subject, “London has a right to be pleased with itself in terms of the excellent GCSE performance of its pupils. The argument here is that the basis for that success lies more with pupils and parents than it does with policy-makers.”

This does raise some concerns about policy areas that threaten the parent-school relationship.  We know the controversial school banding initiative created a lot of problems as it turned parents against schools.  It was one of the fundamental reasons that policy was a failure.  Equally, we have to question if truancy fines, which may lead to some short-term gains, could in the longer-term threaten that parent-teacher dialogue.

Teachers can take a child only so far, often they secure the best qualifications against all the other factors in their lives, but as a rule if there is no wider network of support it makes it extremely difficult to ensure potential is reached.

We must support teachers to further develop their capabilities and gain access to training wherever possible.  Ensuring we have the most qualified and motivated teachers should be a fundamental objective for any Welsh Government.  Equally, we must also examine where improvements can be made to resources and facilities as well as looking at policy changes that empower the profession.  However, when all is said and done, we cannot escape the fact children spend most of their time outside school.  Not only then must we give thought to parental input but also to the wider socio-economic issues in our community that impact on the ability to secure the best outcomes for all.  Failing to tackling those external factors will render any improvements at school level negligible.  This means getting to grips with the challenges of poverty as a priority.

Ultimately, we want to foster an education system that allows teachers and parents to engage positively with one another; where there’s a clear focus not only on providing feedback but in shaping how, when, where and why that feedback takes place; where there is a recognised benefit for those interactions and where there is a shared approach and a shared responsibility for a schools success.  If that is achieved there is no capping the limit of our potential.

This article originally appeared on the EWC blog.  You can find the original here and in Welsh here.

The challenge of curriculum review

6 Jul


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.


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.


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.