Today is part of an important week for education in Wales. On Tuesday the Cabinet Secretary launched “Our National Mission” for education which sees a planned phased implementation of the new Curriculum, put back a year. Good news.
A big week too for the union sector in education, as today we launch the National Education Union Cymru, at the Classroom in Cardiff and Vale College. The new union is an amalgamation of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and National Union of Teachers (NUT), which sees the creation of the biggest union representing education professionals across Wales and the UK as a whole.
Why have we joined together? Well, why wouldn’t we? Our members will have more opportunities to be united in making sure that the education sector in Wales is a great place to work and learn. Joining together to look at how we can champion everyone working in education, and building professional practice whilst we campaign, for example, for good quality Continuous Professional Development (CPD), lower workloads, and ensuring that schools and colleges are great places to inspire the generations of the future.
So to “Our National Mission”. Welsh Government have some opportunities now to focus on delivery. The Cabinet Secretary has perhaps bought herself some time in terms of implementation of the Curriculum, but “Our National Mission” is only going to work if education professionals are given the resources they need.
And we have seen a couple of ‘green shoots’ (to borrow a beleaguered phrase from Gordon Brown). The “Reducing Workload” Poster, produced in partnership with Estyn, the Consortia and all of the unions is a good example of working together. This follows on from Estyn’s ‘Myth Buster’ work, which aimed to help staff in education settings know what they should and should not be doing, particularly in preparation for an inspection.
Broadly welcome too, are many of the key actions identified within ‘Our National Mission’, including:
- A phased roll out of the National Curriculum
- Expanding the Pupil Development Grant (PDG)
- Formative assessment methods
- Reducing infant class sizes
- Upgrading school building
The list is long. Although not necessarily all new. And that is also welcome. In our ATL Cymru Manifesto 2016 we said the new Curriculum needs to be done once and done well. Fewer Welsh Government initiative and changes are a good thing. Kirsty Williams needs to show stable leadership. Setting education on the right path and helping it sail.
The Cabinet Secretary has high expectations of the workforce, as she said in the Senedd on Tuesday. Teachers, and other professionals are expected to raise standards, whilst implementing not just the new Curriculum, but also (and not exclusively):
- Additional Learning Needs Reform
- Changes to qualifications
- Welsh Language Targets
- Changes to tests and Qualifications
- New Estyn regime
- Digital competency framework
- Changes to categorisation
- Professional Standards
These are not minor pieces of policy change, but could all potentially have a major impact on teaching and learning for both pupils and professionals. They will only work as Kirsty Williams expects if proper resources are there to back up the plans.
The key focus for Welsh Government then looks to be the new Curriculum, which sprung from Graham Donaldson’s “Successful Futures” Report in February 2015. There is broad support for the ideas and principles behind the new Curriculum, although implementation to date has been patchy at best, with many of our members remaining unsure on how to engage with the process. Maybe a bit more time will help. Supported by access to good CPD opportunities, so professionals can engage with the process of the new Curriculum.
This was reflected in the Welsh Government funded National Education Workforce Survey, carried out by Education Workforce Council earlier this year. The two most selected areas of professional development that school teachers who responded reported they would welcome further development in were: ICT and digital skills (45.9%); curriculum content and design (35.2%).
So professional development is key. So it will be interesting to see what the ‘professional learning’ opportunities mentioned in “Our National Mission” will look like. Because at the moment, the Professional Standards which have been development to help teachers with their professional learning, need to be backed up by the opportunities for sharing practice and undertaking high quality continued professional development (CPD). We know this is not always the case. And often the reason given is funding.
And so what about funding. Well, to put it simply, there isn’t enough of it. In the National Education Workforce Survey, only 26% of teachers felt that their professional development needs over the last 12 months had been fully met. They stated: “the main barriers for accessing the required continuing professional development were conflict with work/not enough time (57%) and cost (69%)”. Cost was a barrier for other professionals too in accessing CPD. The result showed the impact was 47% for Further Education (FE) lecturers, 46% for FE learning support workers, and 61% for learning support workers in schools. Similarly high figures were collected too for those on supply. Funding and workload then remain key barriers for education professionals in accessing vital CPD. CPD which will help make “Our National Mission” become reality.
So it is no surprise then that funding and workload remain the main priorities for the National Education Union.
Mary van den Heuvel is Policy Advisor (Wales) at National Education Union Cymru (ATL section)
This article first appeared on the Institute of Wales website.