Tag Archives: Not Carrot Cake

6 hopes for Welsh education in 2014 (amongst many others)

10 Jan

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” – John Lennon

1.  The Banding Review:

The Education Minister’s commitment to reviewing the banding system is one that has been welcomed across the sector.  After three years the flaws of the policy are all too apparent.  You can count on one hand the amount of people who really have any faith left in it.  Descriptions of it being a useless and misguided tool that create more problems than solutions are standard rhetoric come publication day, and from pretty much all corners of the education lobby, be they teachers, headteachers, parents, pupils or politicians.  Few people remain confident that the current banding approach works.

In addition to the review of secondary banding bringing about a system that can work it would be great if the sensible approach was taken and the implementation for primary school banding went from being delayed to being scrapped.

2.  Stop Testing Children Who Are Not Ready:

When NUT Cymru conducted a survey of its members last year into the impact of the standardised literacy and numeracy tests one of the main concerns, amongst many, was that the tests targeted children who were far too young.  I spoke last year about the impacts of these tests on the ethos of the Foundation Phase at a Policy Forum for Wales Conference.  Some of the children sitting these tests, coming out of the Foundation Phase, are not even familiar with the idea of sitting at a desk let alone the sterile conditions of a testing scenario.  Some of the anecdotal feedback the NUT Cymru survey heard about the impact on children, especially the very young pupils undertaking these tests, was horrifying and there is no telling how far it could have put their development back.

The tests as a rule are something I oppose.  My thoughts on standardised testing can be found here.  Hopefully, for the very youngest at least, the evaluation of the last round of testing will offer some progressive changes.

3.  Consortia Start Working

It seems an awfully long time ago now that teachers were promised that the four regional consortia would be up and running and support was on its way.  Indeed, this was supposed to go hand in hand with the first round of school banding in 2011.  We are now at the start of 2014 and I doubt there are many people out there content with the current consortia picture in Wales.  It is beyond time to sort this issue out once and for all.

4.  Professional Development Is Taken Seriously

Teachers Continued Professional Development (CPD) has almost become a myth for many schools.  The funding and access to good quality training has been denied to teachers for too long with most schools expected to implement a DIY approach to professional development.  This has a major impact on the ongoing abilities of teachers to keep pace with new initiatives and improve their skills.  It also hits morale for those teachers who are left to stagnate rather than grow with the role.  There are obvious knock on effects for pupils as well.  It is pointless talking about the quality of teaching being the primary driver in pupil performance unless you are committed to ensuring that quality is maintained and improved.

The Education Minister has already made some positive comments on this issue and does seem to be very aware of the need to address the issue.  In his keynote speech last year the Minister said:

“If we want to instil more respect in the profession, then we must take the issue of teacher training – and continual professional development – more seriously than we have to date.”

He has also made an early announcement following that up this year.  Hopefully this is a theme that will develop further over time.

5.  Time To Tackle Supply:

The issues facing supply teachers are numerous and are well documented.  While they have been well-known to the teaching profession for some time they were brought into mainstream consciousness with the publication of the Estyn and National Audit Office Reports last year.  I’m pleased the Minister has indicated that he wants to get to grips with the continuing concerns about the current supply system.  The existing supply model is a huge problem which disenfranchises teachers and negatively impacts on pupils.  It is a key issue in creating a fairer profession and improving standards.

6.  Pause For Thought:

Over the past few years the education playbook in Wales has been completely ripped up and replaced.  There may, in some cases, be positives in that.  Some of the measures that have been introduced may be beneficial to teachers and pupils.  However, so much has been introduced in such a short period of time that there has been utter chaos in schools.  Teachers have been left in a state of constant revolution with the need to get to grips with such a dramatic and intense level of new consultations, initiatives, programmes and policies.  So many in fact that it will be almost impossible to determine in isolation what has been a success and what has been a failure.

What has been even more disheartening about these policies is that in many cases the funding and support have been non-existent.  I’ve already touched on Regional Consortia above.  Further to this presentations on the introduction and training for the Literacy and Numeracy Framework (LNF) we so badly botched that huge numbers of teachers lost confidence in it as a learning tool.  The associated support package has not done much to recovery that credibility.

What the profession, and indeed pupils, really need is for a year where everyone catches their breath.  We need to play catch up with the policies that have not been implemented properly; to allow those that are taking place to bed in and a proper evaluation of their impact to see what works, what doesn’t and how they can be improved.  More knee-jerk reactions will only lead to more people left in limbo.

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The qualifications of Welsh teachers

9 Jan

The Western Mail yesterday ran an article that noted 48% of teachers in Wales had a 2:2 degree or less.  We should not forget that this does mean 52% of teachers have at least a 2:1.  For those that are interested there were actually more individuals teaching with a First Class Honours degree than with a Third Class.  For the record I myself have a 2:2.  You can see some comments in response from me in the piece but I thought I’d flesh them out a little further in a blog post.

When?

Not all people go straight into teaching after they leave university and often the teacher that starts the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) course will be a very different person to that who went through university fresh from under mam and dad’s feet at home.  I know from personal experience how you can develop.  As I said I had a 2:2 in university.  There are many reasons people do not get a 2:1 or higher.  The quality and difficulty of the course; the standard of teaching, the ability of the candidate to apply themselves or maturity of the individual.  In my case it was a simple reflection of my lack of application.  There is no excuses here.  I have since however compleated diplomas in Journalism; Crisis Communications and in Marketing.  I have also reached Chartered Status in the later.  I’m a far more driven and qualified person now than when I left university over a decade ago.  I’d also like to think I would bring life experience to any future role.  Yet if I undertook ITT now and passed it I would fall into that category of teacher that ‘only’ has a 2:2.

All this being said even those that do go straight from completing their university degree into teaching don’t end their development there.  More on that below.

Is a degree all that counts?

Absolutely not.  It is often said that teaching is an art not a science.  The truth is that perhaps it is somewhere in between.  However, what is certainly clear is that to be a successful teacher you really need the inter-personal skills that foster creativity; empower students and motivate a class.  These are often things that are not taught in a textbook and are even more difficult to tangibly evaluate.  A teacher that inspires a class is one that can build relationships with students based on their communication skills, experience and personality.  Unless I have overlooked it I don’t recall anyone walking out of Oxford with a PhD in charisma.  It takes a special character to be a teacher, or at least to remain in the profession for a length of time.  I’m married to a very good one so I should know.

Of course that is not to devalue the importance of good qualifications but as a teacher you are never off the clock when it comes to development and training.  If you go into teaching straight from uni or not the vast majority of individuals will undertake the ITT course.  Teach First candidates unfortunately will not.  In going through this course the application of knowledge and character previously acquired will be paired with practical teaching skills.  Beyond this teachers will continue to develop those practical skills in working towards achieving their Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) status in their first year of teaching.  More and more new entrants into the sector in Wales will also complete the Masters in Educational Practice (MEP) qualification.

The reality is that teachers, aside from their degrees, ITT, NQT and now MEP qualifications will always be seeking to gather more skills.  Sadly one of the great problems teachers in Wales face is an inability to access Continued Professional Development (CPD).

The future?

This to me is a major concern.  The already outlined issue with access and funding for CPD means that those currently in the profession are seeing their ability to develop skills further, or add a specialism to their teaching abilities, stifled.  We are increasingly being expected to follow some sort of underfunded DIY approach to training where schools are not supported.  That will have a long-term impact on the up-skilling of the workforce and the delivery of objectives for our schools.

Further to this, in the past few years the role of the teacher has become less and less attractive to top graduates.  The workload of teachers has increased to the point it is having a noticeable impact on the mental health of practitioners.  Changes introduced by the Westminster Government mean teachers are paying more into their pensions; working for longer but at the end of it all receive less.  At the same time the introduction of performance related pay will almost inevitably create volatile working conditions that over time threaten to drive down teachers terms and conditions.  We can only be thankful that the Welsh Government have taken the correct steps in ruling out the effective privatisation of education through the Academies system seen in England.

With all the above taking place it is increasingly more difficult to see how teaching can attract the best graduates.

Assessment in the Foundation Phase: The Dangers of Curriculum Reform

13 Dec

I’m a huge supporter of the Foundation Phase and have previously blogged about why it’s the right approach for Wales’ youngest children.

It is with that in mind that I am concerned about the introduction of year on year expectations to be assessed against the Literacy and Numeracy Framework as part of the curriculum review; phase 1.

My main fear is that this will undermine the fundamental principles of stage not age development that drives the success of the Foundation Phase.

The Welsh Government’s own foreword to the Foundation Phase Framework for children’s learning for 3-7 year olds states;

“The Foundation Phase curriculum is planned as a progressive framework that spans four years (3 to 7 years) to meet the diverse needs who are at an earlier stage of development and those who are more able. Throughout their formative years, children’s learning develops more rapidly than at any other time. However, progress is not even and children go through periods of rapid development and times when they seem to regress. A curriculum for young children should be appropriate to their stage of learning rather than focusing solely on age-related outcomes to be achieved. Children should move on to the next stages of their learning when they are developmentally ready at their own pace.”

This foreword, as the underpinning principle of the Foundation Phase, is what makes the policy work so effectively and is what has drawn international acclaim. The changes proposed to introduce year on year assessment and expectations would quite clearly contradict the fundamental pedagogy that makes up the Foundation Phase.

It is naive to expect all children to develop at the same rate and achieve the same things at the same times. Different children will advance in different skills at different speeds. Some struggling across the curriculum, some excelling in all disciplines and some improving at different rates across different interests.

As the Welsh Government’s Foundation Phase Foreword states above, there will be occasions where children’s development will fluctuate between rapid progression and regression. This can be a reflection of parental support; socio-economic backgrounds; available resources outside the school in the community or even basic principles such as the month of birth of a child. It would be detrimental to expect all children to hit the same targets and so unless the year on year expectations reflect the flexibility of the developmental achievement they will be simply seen as yardsticks that cannot be proper indicators of success.

The risks of year on year expectations far outweigh any potential benefits; creating expectations that are simply not going to be met will deflate morale and serve no purpose for children’s educational development.

Testing, Testing, 1-2-3

29 Nov

“Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.” – Albert Einstein

This morning I recorded an interview with BBC Radio Wales on this story that children are not test-ready in Wales.  While it is still active you can hear it here. (37:10 in)  Ironically as I was driving in to the BBC they were playing a clip (22:40 in) of an exchange teacher from Finland who was shocked and concerned at the levels of pressure placed on teachers and pupils in Wales as she observed a classroom continually being directed to undertake work that was designed to focus them on passing a test.

I’ve previously blogged a few times on my cynicism that a regime of testing children will lead to better outcomes.  I continue to remain unconvinced that creating a generation of pupils who can pass tests will actually result in a generation that are better educated.  Improvement in the former does not necessarily mean an improvement in the latter.  In fact, excessive testing could very well result in undermined confidence; narrowing the curriculum; reduced independent thinking and other negatives that hinder the educational attainment of students.

We should not be surprised that this pre-test has thrown up some issues.  By their very nature pilot programmes will do just that.  The Acumina report itself makes a number of recommendations regarding the format of the tests; the preparation materials; the marking schemes and issues relating to learners with additional needs that those behind the test will have to take under careful consideration.  We should also not forget that this pre-testing was done with a small sample of pupils.

That being said, it is right to look at some of the underlying issues that may have come up regarding numeracy skills and their application, for example issues around the proficiency of students to use a calculator.  Are these anomalies thrown up as a result of a small group of individuals that have gone through the pre-tests? Or are they indicative of a wider concern?  That is something we must all evaluate.  However the top line of the report, as indicated by the BBC’s headline, ‘Pupils have no idea how to take maths tests,’ relates to how ‘test-ready’ pupils in Wales are.  If ever there was a headline that will lead to teaching to the test this is it.  As Gary Brace, Chief Executive of the GTCW said on twitter, “teaching children how to do well in these tests runs counter to their stated purpose.”

I am really concerned that instead of focussing on the knowledge and application of numeracy skills we will in fact see a rise in the focus of test preparation.  This is of course completely contradictory to the wider education approach in Wales.

On one hand we have the Foundation Phase, focused on an informal learning through play approach.  We are also undergoing a consultation on the curriculum that is suggesting that essential skills, such as problem solving and critical thinking, are to become statutory.  However, while those policies aim to make Welsh schools incubators for independent thinking the methodology of creating testing laboratories with pupils acting as guinea pigs for the PISA panic that has set in, creates a real danger of establishing competing aims that will undoubtably lead to both styles of education failing.  It really is hard to see how pupils will stand out if we are consistently training them to just fit in.  As education author Alfie Kohn said, “every hour spent on such exam preparation is an hour not spent helping students to become critical, creative, curious learners.”

The BBC online report following my interview can be found here.

PISA Preview

27 Nov

Next week we will get the PISA scores for 2012.  The tests were pretty much unknown to most people, including those working in schools, until the 2009 results were used to radically change the direction of our education system in Wales.  The big question, aside from how well we may or may not do, is what will the implications of this years scores be?

As of November 13th there are 117,000 people unemployed in Wales.  When those individuals next apply for a job and reach the interview how many do you think will put forward their PISA scores as validation for their credibility as a candidate?

Now my flippancy isn’t designed to totally discount the importance of PISA to our economy.  Clearly these international comparators are influential in demonstrating the strength and capabilities of the workforce of tomorrow.  PISA can be influential in attracting new investment and jobs into Wales as it gives an indication of the skills and abilities of the potential labour market.

However, is that solely reason enough to allow our entire education system to have become driven by these tests?  Reform after reform has been brought in to ensure that Wales climbs the PISA rankings.  Yet it is still the merits of GCSEs, A Levels and potentially in the future the Welsh Baccalaureate which are the measures by which university places are offered and existing employers evaluate CVs.  When it comes to these indicators in Wales we have seen steady progress

Still, PISA remains important, but is it actually a fair assessment? More and more, academics are beginning to question the methodology of PISA tests.  Test that have driven education reforms and millions in funding across the world, including here in Wales.  Concerns that different countries take different questions, or how the weighting given to different types of questions is determined, certainly raises fears that they are not valid comparisons.  Some academics believe the difference in these questions could account for huge variation in final positions.  Denmark for example could land anywhere between 5th and 37th depending on these factors.  That has profound implications for the way it’s Government and people react to their international standings.  From celebration and praise to chastising staff and draconian changes to practices.  Many in Wales would suggest that teachers in Wales have seen their fair share of the latter on occasion since the last round of PISA results.

That the OECD’s response to the Times Education Supplement on the above issue was to confirm “large variation in single (country) ranking positions is likely” hardly fills anyone with confidence.

There is also the concern that PISA offers just a snap shot of one particular cohort of pupils, in much the same way as banding does.  There is no tracking of performance over a long-term period but instead just a brief picture of a particular set of pupils on a particular day of testing.  Again, this does not totally discount the findings but it is something that needs to be considered when developing wide-ranging new policies to be able to fit our education system to a PISA test.

The issues with PISA testing could fill a lengthy blog on their own, both arguments for and against.  However the main point is to accept that they have an important role to play in the ever-increasing globalised economy but that implementing radical reforms without questioning the detail behind the comparisons is, and has proven to be, foolhardy and somewhat short-sighted.  After all the nation who consistently top the PISA rankings, Finland, are the nation that place the least emphasis on doing so.  Their reforms are based on a whole child approach to doing what is right for their communities, not what is right to try to climb these tables.  That they remain high performers is a positive coincidence rather than a deliberate target.

(For more on this debate this programme on Radio 4 which recently examined the flaws in PISA’s approach and what the tests can actually tell us is well worth listening to).

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the objective of the former Education Minister, Leighton Andrews, to show  improvement in 2012 from the 2009 results.  That ambition was downplayed by the Minister and his officials before he left post.  While the First Minister reiterated the aim the current Education Minister gave a more realistic outline of where we may end up.

The reality about any education reform is that it takes time. This is a point that I discussed with the GTCW and Aled Roberts AM in recent ‘In Conversation With….’ pieces that I recorded.  The leading education systems in the world have all been developed over a 20, 30 or 40 year period. Those who have undergone that transformation will say that they are still developing and reforming. The problem is that we often confuse, much to the detriment of children’s education, the time it actually takes to change an education system and the desire to see short-term impacts of reforms alongside a political cycle. I of course appreciate that those politicians in the post of Education Minister, or opposition spokesperson, are working to election deadlines. Rapid improvements are demanded and expected of politicians and political pressures are exerted. However, for all that political bluster, educational change will not work to another’s timeline but at a rate of change that is sustainable and effective.

In Wales we certainly have not had enough time between the doomsday response to the last PISA rankings and next month’s publication. Now I am not convinced that some of the measures put in place by the Welsh Government are the right course of action to help support improving standards. In fact I think the dramatic increase in bureaucracy, workload, standardised testing and league tables that we have seen will act largely as a barrier to our national ambitions. These are measures that have been proven to fail in other nations by hitting staff morale, shrinking the curriculum and placing accountability measures high above collaboration and support. Indeed Finland’s educational missionary, the world-renowned Pasi Salhberg, has already stated that he believes the Welsh approach will fail.

That being said, ignoring my own cynicism, two years is simply not enough time to see the benefits, or indeed negatives, of policy changes on the overall picture of the education system as a whole. With that in mind it is certainly hard to expect to see rapid improvements in next month’s PISA scores. Further to that, the ambition that was stated by the Welsh Government that we are expected to reach PISA’s top 20 nations by 2015 is, to be kind, optimistic. To achieve such a feat Wales would have shown improvement on a level, and at a pace, that would be pretty much unheard of internationally.

There are other factors also acting as barriers to Welsh improvement in December’s publications.  Traditionally mathematics is the weakest PISA subject for Welsh students and on this occasion, unlike in 2009, this is the main subject that has been tested.  There will, inevitably therefore, be an expectation that results will not be as strong.

Of course, in years to come if we do improve we will have to ask the question if that has come about as a result of an improving education system or simply because we have aimed to introduced PISA style testing in schools designed to help us teach to the test? We may very well have pupils that will be better at PISA but not necessarily better educated pupils?

The Education Minister said in a recently Assembly debate that, “PISA is not the be all and end all of measures.”  Let’s all try to keep that in the back of our minds when the rhetoric reaches fever pitch next week.

Cafe Torre – Cardiff

22 Nov

The Place

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Cafe Torre is nice and spacious. I felt a bit self-conscious being the only person in there (it was 9:21am) and was outnumbered by the staff 2:1. That said they were very welcoming.

photo 1

There’s a good relaxed feel to the place, ideal to sit and read a paper over breakfast

Hot chocolate

The key thing at the start was that I was asked if I wanted cream. Increasingly something that’s forgotten about. That said I was slightly bemused that the cream was served in a separate pot? Still it was very nice cream. Firm, chilled and refreshing.

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I’m not sure if I like the way the hot chocolate was served or not. It’s either very odd or very cute. Maybe a bit of both.

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The flavour of the drink was full and thick and very tasty. Dipping the cream in as I went along actually worked well so maybe I shouldn’t have judged the serving of it separately quite so quickly.

The Carrot Cake

I didn’t have one as I stopped in for breakfast but the one on display did look lovely and may well be worth a return visit.

The Rest

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I had a real hankering for porridge and honey. Ideal on a cold day. Sadly this one was served a bit thin and I’m not sure the honey was actually put in?

Rise Of The Teaching Assistant

18 Nov

“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a good teacher.” Temple Grandin

Walk into most classrooms across Wales today and you will find a very different make up of staff than you would have a decade ago.

The numbers of teachers in Wales over the past decade has largely remained constant.

The total number of qualified teachers in nursery, primary, secondary, special and independent schools in 2001/2002 was 29,252.
The total number of qualified teachers in nursery, primary, secondary, special and independent schools in 2011/2012 was 28,153. A net difference of – 1,099

There are capacity issues with losing 1,099 teachers of course, and there are also fewer schools, but over the decade the total figure is roughly similar. However the pattern is very different when examining support staff.

The total number of support staff in 2001/2002 stood at 14,058. When you consider only those that actually had a role in the classroom it is closer to 9,600.
The total number of support staff in 2011/2012 is 26,644. A staggering increase of 12,586 individuals. If again you take out the non-classroom support staff the figure is 20,378. An increase of 10,778.

These figures show there has been a complete explosion in the role of teaching assistants over this period. The positive impact of this is that it has reduced some aspects of teachers workloads and helped support learning outcomes where teachers and TAs have effectively worked in tandem. However, where the big concern begins is when schools become reliant on teaching assistants to cover teachers PPA classes, illnesses and other leave. Not only are teaching assistants not supported or paid to do that role, quite simply, they are not qualified teachers and are not prepared for the challenge. While correlation does not always simply equate to causation, these statistics do raise questions as to potential the link between the supposed dip in Welsh educational attainment and the rise in number, and responsibilities, of teaching assistants in the country over the past ten years.

Research here from the ATL Union shows just how widespread the reliance is. Of the 1,400 people polled it was revealed that 32% of support staff took classes for absent teachers and 60% of these said they did the same work as fully qualified teachers. Even greater concern perhaps is that this is a growing trend. The poll also showed that 22% of support staff said they took more classes this year than last.

The fact that teaching assistants will be brought into registration by the successor body to the General Teaching Council for Wales (GTCW) through the Education (Wales) Bill is a further demonstration of the growing role this section of school staff have.

Let me be clear. There is a role for teaching assistants in schools. I am not doubting the important contribution they make. Ask any teacher how vital their teaching assistants are and they will say they are integral to the workings of a classroom. However, what we are increasingly seeing is the abuse of teaching assistants in expecting them to ‘deliver’ lessons to whole classes of children. This is neither fair on teaching assistants, the teaching profession and certainly is not for the children. The fact that on a daily basis across Wales there will be people other than qualified teachers teaching lessons is a scary thought when considered against the ambition to see us rise to the top twenty nations in the PISA rankings. If those rankings have taught us anything it is that those nations who invest in the quality of their classroom leaders who are the most successful. Having teaching assistants delivering lessons is detrimental to that goal.

Nowhere is this concern more evident than in the Foundation Phase. The Welsh Government put in place child to adult ratios in devising this policy. That is a good thing in ensuring that there is support for children and that they receive attention on an as individual as possible basis. What isn’t guaranteed is that this support will come from a qualified teacher. The ratios are adult-pupil not teacher-pupil and so the Foundation Phases has naturally become dominated, to an extent, by teaching assistants who can ensure those ratios are maintained but at a lower cost. We have to also accept of course that lower costs will inevitably equate to reduced pedagogical expertise. Is this one potential explanation as to why the Foundation Phase, for all its obvious successes, has been said by some to have variable delivery?

Another area where we see teaching assistants given more responsibility is in working with students with Special Educational Needs (SEN). As a result of funding cut backs to SEN services, as well as services being lost along the way with the move towards a regional consortia system, it is increasingly teaching assistants that are providing the one to one support in classrooms. This is an issue that will become ever more noticeable if the Robert Hill review’s drive towards federalisation is delivered. We are essentially allowing a situation to exist whereby those pupils who require the most help and who are hardest to reach are being taught by the staff with the least training and qualifications. This is not to belittle the skills of teaching assistants. It should be noted that there are teaching assistants working in Wales with years of experience but without the pedagogical, academic and professional qualifications of teachers, it is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect TAs to have the professional insight to be able to plan and deliver effective lessons of whatever nature. What is more, from their point of view they are also not paid to do so. It is unfair and unacceptable to those teaching assistants to put them in this position. It is nothing short of exploitation.

Teaching Assistants, properly utilised to their capabilities in supporting teachers can provide a big boost to performance, but qualified teachers they are not. Expecting them to be able to do the job of a teacher is akin to expecting a theatre nurse to perform the role of a neurosurgeon. Their roles are somewhat related but worlds apart, and parents and the public at large need to understand that difference.

Recently the Welsh Government announced that there would be greater access and investment in training for teaching assistants. Given the above detail of the growing presence and role of teaching assistants in the classroom then this is a good thing. The more training provided for those that are contributing to the education of children in the classroom the better. However, this must be matched by an equal commitment to ensuring proper continuing professional development for teachers. In fairness the Education Minister openly accepted in his Reform, Rigour and Respect speech that this is something that has not been delivered properly in the past in Wales.

It is of course right that we upskill and provide ongoing support for teaching assistants. Research by the Institute of Education argues that pupils are more likely to have active and sustained interactions with teaching assistants than they are teachers, yet TAs are often focused on task completion rather than learning outcomes. With that in mind it is essential that if we are to make the best use of TAs in the classroom environment they received support in developing the right skills. However this is no substitute for supporting professional teachers whose qualifications, pedagogical training, knowledge and skills have been proven to have the greatest impact on to a child’s development in the school environment.

We all know why the current situation exists. Welsh education is underfunded and that has forced schools to resort to ‘teaching on the cheap.’ The reality remains that unless we deal with this concern there is simply no hope of breaking into that ever elusive PISA top twenty.


Figures for numbers of teachers and support staff provided by Stats Wales.


More on the IoE’s work and realising the value of teaching assistants can be found here.

Do our staff rooms reflect our communities?

7 Nov

On Monday I blogged on the gender imbalance that exists in our schools. 8 years since the GTCW highlighted how only 26.9% of the teaching workforce is male, that figure currently stands at 26.28%. It is hard to have much confidence that the gap is going to close anytime soon.

In that blog post I briefly touched on how our schools need to have diverse staffing arrangements that reflect our local communities. This article by GTCW Chair and NUT Cymru Executive, Angela Jardine, highlights the issue very well. You really get a sense of the size of the challenge we face in representing our communities when reading the content of the article.

Overall, less than half of 1% of registered teachers in Wales are from Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese, black African or Afro-Caribbean backgrounds. By contrast the census shows that around 3% of the Welsh population as a whole are from these origins.

If you are a young boy of any of the above ethnicities chances are you’re very unlikely to actually see a common connection looking back at you from the front of the class. Now that isn’t always a bad thing of course. We don’t want individuals of those backgrounds coming into the school system just to teach people of similar race, colour, creed or gender. Just as we do not want to see exclusively white females teaching a class of white school girls. It is equally important that our schools present different cultures as it is they reflect ourselves.

If you go into schools in Wales I’m sure you will see pupils and teachers embracing cultural diversity. Children in Wales are learning about the world and its different identities, regularly taking part in activities to embrace different religions; ethnicities; backgrounds and cultures. NUT Cymru have done fantastic work in supporting the excellent Show Racism The Red Card Wales in their projects raising awareness of cultural differences with children. I’ve attended one myself and can say it is inspiring to see the open-minded approach of Welsh students. However, while that excellent work is ongoing, and schools are aware that they are developing the social and emotional consciousness of their pupils as well as the academic, the make up of the workforce remains stubbornly ‘traditional’.

In her article Angela Jardine makes the point very well when she says;

Schools are a microcosm of society and, as society changes, schools need to do the same

The reality is that Wales, like much of the UK, is becoming increasingly cosmopolitan. The way we embrace multiculturalism is actually something on a community level we should be proud of. But how reflective are we of it in public life? The truth is teaching may not currently reflect our population or communities but it does perhaps reflect general Welsh public life. There are only two black or ethnic minority Assembly Members in Cardiff Bay. There are no such individuals sitting in the House of Commons on behalf of a Welsh constituencies nor, to the best of my knowledge, leading any one of the 22 local authorities in Wales.

There is a need for much more work to be done on this issue amongst the public bodies of Wales. There’s no reason why that can’t start amongst the staffing of schools. The key barrier to break down is making teaching an attractive career choice for ethnic minorities who have traditionally not given it consideration. Respect for teaching as a profession needs to be given greater prominence across society in general and placing it on the same platform as medical, legal, financial and scientific pursuits for individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds is certainly an aspiration we should have.

In Conversation With…. Aled Roberts AM

28 Oct

In the second of the ‘In Conversation With…..’ audio blogs I was pleased to be able to sit down with Aled Roberts AM. (Recorded October 22nd)

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Aled has been the Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Minister for Education, Spokesperson for Children and Young People and Spokesperson for the Welsh Language since he was elected to the National Assembly for Wales as a regional Assembly Member for the North Wales Region. Prior to that he was the leader of Wrexham County Council.

Please click below to hear the conversation where we discussed the recent budget negotiations to secure additional funding for the Pupil Deprivation Grant; the current state of education in Wales; the role of the local authority and a reaction to Huw Lewis AM’s recent ‘Reform, Rigour and Respect’ speech.

Alternativly you can listen on soundcloud here.

The Carrot Cake

All participants in the audio blog series usually will get carrot cake from me but I’m ashamed to say I didn’t get a chance to pick one up on this occasion. I owe you a slice Aled. Sorry!

CIPR Cymru Awards

21 Oct

It was a good night for me and the NUT at the recent CIPR Cymru annual awards.

As a Union I was really pleased that our magazine, ‘Athrawon Cymru,’ won the Silver Award for Best Internal Publication.

It’s a magazine that we try hard to ensure is a must read for members and offers a lot of advice and support as well as acting as a conversation bridge between the members and officers. I know that’s very much ‘PR speak’ but I do believe it’s true. It is an important part of the Union’s communications.

Personally I was a tad disappointed that I didn’t win Outstanding Young Communicator. I knew I was up against some good candidates but there’s always that part of you that wants to win. That being said having just read the eventual winner, Mitchell Gadd’s, entry I think it is more than fair to say the best nominee won. Very much deserved. My only real gripe is that I have gone from a candidate for Outstanding Young Communicator to someone now too old to be considered for the award. Father time is a cruel man.

The full list of award winners and nominees can be found here.