Tag Archives: Hope

5 Hopes for Welsh Education in 2017

16 Jan

Class Sizes

As part of my look ahead to 2016 I put the issue of class sizes on the agenda.  It remains one of the issues that teachers and parents raise most with me but was largely absent from the political debate, despite class sizes slowly but surely increasing year on year.

With Kirsty Williams becoming the Cabinet Secretary for Education and class sizes being a central plank of the Lib Dem education offering at the election it seems we finally have this in the spotlight.

Hopefully we will have further announcements about how the policy will be developed in future and how it will be piloted.  It is important that if you are a critic of the proposals that you give them fair opportunity to show their worth.  This means not making rash judgments over short-periods of time but listening to the qualified feedback of the profession, looking at the wider impacts the policy has on pupil and teacher well-being and how it both directly and indirectly can contribute to standards.  For those of us that are supporters of the decision to make reducing class sizes a firm Welsh Government commitment it is also important we reflect honestly on the findings of the policy in the early stages.  That means recognizing both its successes and potential failures, assessing where changes and developments can be made to improve its delivery and working with the Welsh Government to ensure it succeeds.  It also means acknowledging if indeed it has been a success or not.

Supply

As with class sizes my 2016 blog was hopeful that we may finally get concrete action on supply.  As with class sizes we also made some real headway in regards to putting this issue front and center of the education debate.  The Children’s committee deserve a lot of credit for their report which, whilst potentially could have been more direct, made it quite clear that the current system failed pupils, parents and teachers and needed a radical overhaul.  The Welsh Government to their credit fully accepted the report and set up a task-force to make recommendations.

Those recommendations are in according to Kirsty Williams at the last education questions session in the Senedd.  We hope not to hear what the findings will be and that ultimately they lead to a system that is far fairer for those working in that sector, that offer a better provision for schools and lead to a more motivated and supported workforce.  If that can be achieved we have the potential to serious unlock a missing piece of the puzzle on education reform.

The Curriculum

This seems to me a never ending feature on these blogs but that just goes to show how crucial it is to get this reform right.  With the Diamond review findings having come and gone and the PISA rankings published, curriculum delivery remains the big hurdle for Kirsty Williams to maneuver.

Pioneer schools are still working on their proposals, with 25 new pioneer schools having joined the work in recent weeks highlighting that this is not easy to get right.  My big hope here is that without having seem any real framework thus far, and without seeing any firm plans to deliver the sort of sector wide professional development which will have to be undertaken to take a sector who have lived under prescriptive micromanagement in recent years to a freer more innovative workforce, time is given to getting this right.  I have always felt the timescales were short for proper delivery.  Being adaptable to change must be in the mind of everyone involved here.

Recruitment

This issue is one that must be viewed on several levels.  Firstly that we make the whole sector appealing.  Cuts to pay and pensions have undoubtedly forced many graduates to think twice about entering the profession.  The added workload concerns only exacerbate that problem.  The fact that we have failed to reach the target for secondary training places for each of the past five years, including falling a third short in the latest figures, shows that while this isn’t currently a crisis it is a growing concern.  We need to make teaching as a career and vocation viewed with the high standard of esteem that it has been in the past.  That means properly respecting the role and offering the sort of support throughout a career that reflects the importance it has in driving our education system, our economy and our communities.

It is also important we target the right type of recruitment.  As the recent science graduate story shows there are pockets of missing expertise.  Drawing more individuals with specific backgrounds into the profession is vital.  Naturally of course tackling many of the problems in part A of this conundrum will address those in part B also.  However, there must also be specific campaigns and measures considered for the unique challenges of making teaching an appealing choice for those from backgrounds that have not traditionally taken up the role.

Pay

With the Wales Bill comes the devolution of pay.  This has massive implications for the teaching workforce.  The Welsh Government have been very positive in their words and pledges around this issue.  That has, to an extent, appeased some concerns from a profession that has by and large been skeptical of such a move.  Getting this right may be both the biggest challenge and biggest success of education in the devolution era.  It presents the opportunity to stop the rot of declining terms and conditions.  It presents the opportunity to empower a profession and create a workforce and Government in dual commitment.  It presents the opportunity to put social partnership at the very heart of public sector delivery.  It presents the opportunity to make the Welsh teaching workforce the most attractive in the UK, drawing in the very best in talent and the most motivated and respected teachers.  Of course it also presents the risks of the alternate in every option should the Welsh Government fail to make it work.

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4 Hopes for Education in 2016 Revisited

10 Jan

At the start of last year I posted a blog with my hopes for education in 2016.  I thought it would be worth revisiting that to see what progress was made.

1. Class Sizes.

When I originally wrote about this the issue it was largely being ignored.  I reflected at the time that Kirsty Williams AM had raised it in the chamber and I hoped it would lead to a wider discussion on the subject.  Little did I know that a few months later Kirsty Williams would be the new Cabinet Secretary for Education and this would be a central plank of her reforms.

We are awaiting the full details of how this policy is to be delivered but clearly it is going to be a significant policy for the Welsh Government in a way we haven’t seen for a number of years.  It is something teachers and parents alike will widely welcome.  Undoubtedly it faces challenges.  A number of Labour backbenches have already shown some dissent and opposition parties are skeptical, however I hope the pilot will be well designed and it will be given time to prove its value.

2. Election of Ideas.

My big hope for the Assembly election was that we would have an election of ideas in education rather than the often tribal and scaremongering rhetoric you see within the health debate.  As I reflected at the time I think for the most part we achieved that.  I ran a number of blogposts reviewing the manifesto commitments of each parties.  All of them had something within them that sparked debate.  That was certainly a positive outlook.

At the same time while the political parties put forward ideas worth debating that debate still did not really materialize, which was a shame.

3. The Supply Question.

I wanted supply to take a central stage in 2016 and it did.  We have more scrutiny and more action on the supply sector now than we have in the past decade.  The arguments against the existing system have been won and it is just a question of ensuring that we reform in a way that better supports individuals working in that sector and schools who rely on their provision.

The Supply Task Force was due to report their findings in December of last year but that remains outstanding.  It can only be hoped that the delay is due to a combination of the volume of evidence and a reflection of the importance of getting this right.  We should see the taskforce’s report in the immediate future and no doubt it will be a vitally important piece of work for Welsh education throughout the coming 12 months.

4. Pioneer Schools.

My hope for pioneer schools would be that they would be given the time and space to work effectively on the curriculum.  That, thus far, appears to be the case.  The fact that this week the Welsh Government announced that a further 25 schools or so would be joining the work perhaps reflects that this is a bigger job than originally anticipated.  We can take some positives of pioneer school work over the past 12 months but it remains vital that they are supported in the work they do in future months.

All in all I think the hopes have been positive to reflect on, which perhaps echoes the fact that the sector as a whole has a slightly more upbeat feeling in 2017 than it did at the start of 2016.  Over the next few days I will post the hopes for this coming year as has become an annual tradition.

5 Hopes for Welsh Education in 2015

7 Jan

“Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection” – Kim Collins

1. Schools Challenge Cymru:

This flagship initiative has all the potential to radically improve the life chances of children in Wales.  Modelled on the London Challenge approach there is a blue-print for success already established.  While education policy doesn’t always travel well, and we have to be weary that schools in Wales will have different issues than those in London, there is no reason why we can’t be optimistic.

The profession, which has become largely cynical about Welsh Government initiatives after countless previous disasters at the implementation stage, do appear at present to be giving this project the benefit of the doubt.  There is a lot of good will in place to support it, brought about at least in part thanks to excellent communicators like Professor Mel Ainscow acting as the face of the initiative.

However, make no mistake, this can’t be seen as a quick fix and if we are to harness that good will it has to prove effective with tangible positive impacts.  The fact that no one is still any the wiser as to where the mystery £7.9m of the £20m promised for Schools Challenge Cymru is coming from, and perhaps more importantly what other areas of education funding will miss out to pay for it, does not fill many with confidence.  It is also concerning that at present there is no commitment beyond two years.  A stark contrast to the longevity of the London approach.

Still, if there is the uplift that has been projected then hopefully that will make the case to show the nerve to roll this out for a whole generation of pupils.

2.  Support for supply teachers:

Just before the Christmas break the Children, Young People and Education Committee launched an inquiry into the supply sector in Wales.  Ignoring the utter stupidity of having just a few weeks for consultation responses which spanned the festive period, this inquiry is absolutely crucial.

Supply teachers already undertake a hugely important role in the education sector.  A role that is often overlooked; marginalised and belittled but a role that in many ways is possibly the most difficult in the profession.  With a greater emphasis on teachers sharing best practice between, and within, schools we have to accept there will be more of a reliance on supply to cover the classroom leave of sector and subject leading professionals to undertake that self-improving continued professional development.

With that in mind, we have to address the ongoing, and increasing, problems in the supply sector.  Previous Welsh Government Ministers have largely washed their hands of the responsibility, as have local authorities.  The current Minister, to his credit, has accepted the need to examine this issue but we seem no nearer action.  All the while supply teachers continue to be underpaid for their work; are subjected to reduced and restrictive terms and conditions, are operating with low morale and motivation and crucially find access to continued professional development minimal at best.  These are a vitally important section of our profession, who play a hugely important role in supporting standards in school, yet are treated like a second class workforce by agencies who are increasingly operating unchecked and unchallenged.

The inquiry, I have no doubt even with the foolish time-frame, will receive a lot of responses exposing the difficulties that exists with the system and the impact they are having on education in Wales.  The responses NUT Cymru have had during its supply campaign in 2014 show just how much of a hot topic this is.  The big hope is that this will not be one of those processes that sees a report filed away and forgotten about, but instead brings about some real change from the Welsh and local governments.

3.  Funding:

Let’s be realistic and fair to the Welsh Government.  The block grant funding it receives from Westminster has been slashed.  What they have been presented with is a very, very dark set of figures.  Easily the most depressing since devolution.

Now, let’s be realistic and fair to teachers, pupils, parents and the public.  Lazily repeating stock answers in the press saying, “we’ve been completely transparent about the very challenging financial position that we’re facing,” when in reality that isn’t the case; or saying everything is rosy in the education funding system when it isn’t, won’t wash.

We can’t keep seeing things like a £20m Schools Challenge Cymru announcement only to find out that £7.9m of that is not new money.  Worse still, to still be waiting many months later to find out where that funding will come from is frankly not a reasonable approach.  These funding decisions need to be determined well before the press releases are drafted and published.  Expecting schools to create three-year draft budget projections only to then rip them up for in-year cuts is bordering on reckless.

What funding goes into the school sector is ultimately a matter for the Welsh Government.  They determine their budgets according to what they believe are the priorities for their policies.  This of course has to be viewed against the backdrop of the cuts they themselves have faced.  However, let’s not forget that Welsh pupils were underfunded in comparison to their English counterparts even when the sun was shining (relatively) financially.

The funding hope for 2015 is that the enormous pressures on schools, which will almost certainly impact on standards, are recognised and money is put back into the system; either from other Welsh Government budgets, by using future potential Barnett consequentials or by reducing waste currently spent on areas like consortia.  At the very least we need a more honest public conversation about where we are at and how it will impact on performance.

4.  The New Deal:

The teaching profession has been crying out for greater access to continued professional development in Wales.  Access to training due to financial constraints and workloads have been increasingly dwindling.  In recent years we have seen an almost unprecedented level of new initiatives, policies and projects imposed on schools.  Ironically all since the bold statement from the previous Minister that he would be implimenting “fewer initiatives and keeping it simple.”

The reality is that they have not been even remotely matched by CPD.  The profession have been asked to do more and to do things differently but they have not been given the support to do that right.  Indeed, the Welsh Government actually reduced the ability of schools to train staff on the implementation of these new policies and systems by cutting the number of in-service training day.  Where the Welsh Government did provide training it was, to be extremely generous, variable.

Huw Lewis AM does deserve credit.  He has put CPD at the heart of his legacy as Education Minister.  In his first key-note speech he openly recognised the Welsh Government have got this wrong in the past and accepted the importance of getting it right in the future.  These are words not actions of course but these words were symbolically important.  This was a Minister, perhaps realistically the first and only Education Minister since devolution took place, to have an open public discussion about enhancing the CPD opportunities for teachers.

What developed from that speech was the ‘New Deal’ concept.  It is right that the pessimist in me highlights two key points.  Firstly, there is no new money here.  We’ve already touched on the funding problems.  The truth is this is a new deal but there is no new investment.  If schools have failed to fund CPD in the past it is a little hard to see it happening at a time of even greater budget constraints.  Secondly, the crux of the new deal appears to be the commitment that teachers get an entitlement to CPD throughout their careers.  The fact is that this should already be the case.  Indeed, the GTCW made the below recomendation to the Welsh Government as far back as 2002 in their ‘Continued Professional Development, An entitlement for All’ document;

“The Council considers that all teachers should be entitled to high quality and well-planned CPD provision throughout their career.”

All this cynicism being said, I do believe there is a general will on behalf of the Minister to make this work.  His statements also arm teachers with the knowledge of entitlement to demand professional development from school leaders and governing bodies.  This is a good thing.  The only challenge, albeit a significant one, is how schools and leaders are supported to meet that entitlement.  With no new money it is hard to see an easy solution.  I am hopeful at least that working together all stakeholders do have a commitment to trying to find a way forward that hasn’t been there in the past.

5. Education isn’t 2015’s NHS.

I wrote a while back that the way the NHS was being discussed in political terms was all about the heart while politicians, in Wales at least, appeared to be giving considered thought to their views on education.  Our sector, for now at least, appeared to still be a thinking man (or woman’s) domain.  It’s massively important that this remains the case.

No one person has the magic bullet to solve all education’s problems.  In Wales or elsewhere.  The continuity of approach and united tact that different politicians have shown in somewhere like Finland is a prime example of how success is built across political divides.  All political parties, and none, have a lot to offer.  Constructive approaches, in agreement or disagreement, are going to be crucial to the education debate.  What we really don’t need is that just when results suggest a bit of positivity in the Welsh education system, it is used as a political point scorer for parties and politicians both sides of the England-Wales border.  As someone with election fatigue after just a few days of 2015 I’m not sure on a personal level I could take 4 months of irresponsible and irrational political hyperbole on our system.

6 Hopes for Welsh Education – Revisited

6 Jan

At the start of 2014 I wrote a blog outlining 6 hopes for Welsh education for the year. Before I publish a similar piece for 2015 I thought I’d look back and see what, if any progress, was made last year.

1. Banding Review:

Last year I was praying that the proposed review into the failed school banding system would lead to some fundamental changes.  I am pleased to say that it did.  Huw Lewis AM took the brave but correct decision to scrap the much maligned system imposed on Welsh schools by his predecessor.

While many would have liked to have seen no replacement we have instead seen the introduction of the categorization model.  This in itself is far from ideal but there are some noticeable advantages in comparison to banding.  The key change is that the system does not pit school against school.  Now, in theory, we may have all schools in the highest performance category as they are judged on their own merits rather than simply compared to other schools with no real rational behind them.  (Of course we could also have all the schools in the lowest section).  The data is also collected across a wider timescale rather than an annual snapshot that informed the banding tables.

The jury is still out on categorization.  banding has left a bad taste in the mouth for most teachers and parents.  We will have to see how it’s successor works in practice.  However, there is little doubt the debate has moved beyond the significant failings of the flawed banding process which will only help create the platform for a more rational discussion about accountability and performance.

2.  Stop testing children who are not ready:

Sadly we have not only failed to make progress in this filed but have seemingly gone even further down the rabbit hole.  The feedback of the profession regarding the standardised literacy and numeracy tests has, if possible, become even more negative. It is also an issue that parents appear very unhappy about.  The tests continue to cause huge problems for schools and particularly for those very young children.

What we are seeing now is the introduction of expectations being set at the Foundation Phase, putting greater strain on those very youngest children and threatening that very philosophy of learning.

All in all it is quite a depressing change that we have seen over the past year.

3. Consortia Start Working:

Hmmm?

4. Professional Development Is Taken Seriously:

Actions always speak louder than words and with that in mind it is important to note that very few, if any teachers, will say that the Minister’s commitment to tackling the lack of CPD amongst the teaching profession has resulted in tangible improvements.  The system continues to fail our educators and with huge budget cuts coming to all schools in Wales the likelihood of proper professional development being delivered seems as remote as ever.

That being said the debate itself changed last year and while they may still just be words at present the fact we now have an Education Minister openly recognising this is a problem the Welsh Government have failed to address in the past, and one which needs to be addressed now, is a big shift in emphasis.  2015 must be the year that the platitudes paid to the importance of professional development move to noticeable changes to the system and investment.  We can’t seriously expect greater results without greater support.  Still, 2014 certainly did begin the work that could lead to that positive change.

5. Time To Tackle Supply:

It has to be said that little was done on this issue in 2014.  The much maligned supply sector continued to be overlooked and underappreciated by local and national governments.  However, the Children’s Committee did launch a review of the system at the very end of the year.  We can but hope this kick starts some genuine debate about this elephant in the classroom which will lead to an overhaul of the existing supply approach.

6. Pause For Thought:

One of the big things the profession wanted is a bit of patience.  Time to let the huge changes settle in to the system and to review them without ripping up the playbook.  We continued to see some policy announcements, including a few that appeared to be very much reactionary rather than deliberately thought through.  However, overall the pace of change slowed and there seemed a bit more of an acceptance that we cannot deliver major changes overnight.  Perhaps the OECD warnings on this were finally being headed.  Either way, there was a bit more break and a bit less accelerator and it offers a far better opportunity to stay on the road (to stretch the analogy).