Teachers' talent is key to 2009

They will have to face funding cuts, a lack of training - and they will have to be on top form

Darren Evans & Nicola Porter

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The weight of parents - and the Assembly government - will rest heavily on teachers and schools to deliver a decade's worth of education policy at the highest standard during 2009, TES Cymru predicts.

But diaries, which should be crammed with courses and training days this year, are likely to be empty as funding cuts take their toll and training requests are rejected.

Teachers in an average size secondary school in Wales will start the new year Pounds 500 per pupil worse off than their English counterparts. Along with the absence of any training grants until after April, pupils in Wales could be relying on the talent of their teachers to get them off to a flying start.

But will results at key stage 3 improve? This is the one age group that clearly did not perform well in 2008, and one the government statisticians intend to target this year.

The school effectiveness framework, the pilot of which ends this April, is seen as Wales's saviour in closing the gap between the best and worst performing schools and classrooms. The aim is to help the spread of good practice through the services of superheads or a consortium, but will one of these options triumph in 2009, and will the framework be extended to all schools?

There promises to be no let-up by heads' unions in expressing their concerns over the practicalities of introducing the 14-19 learning pathways in the year ahead, despite concessions by officials in allowing a one-year delay in making the vocationally led curriculum statutory.

Teaching unions predict it will be the education story of the year as the negotiations bang on. Will the government be forced into making more concessions before the year is out? And will the new regulations for funding introduced by the Assembly government in March make a difference to school budgets?

The biggest consultation ever undertaken by Estyn will also begin this month. Plans to overhaul the school inspection system, and introduce more self-evaluation, could ease inspection burdens on teachers.

Later this year, in September, the play-led foundation phase will be introduced to reception classes after a one-year delay and with Pounds 62 million more in the budget than at the start of 2008.

There will also be further extension of the Welsh baccalaureate in September as it marries in part with the skills-led English diplomas. This year it will be available to 30,000 learners across Wales and 168 centres by choice.

The GTCW is also likely to come under the spotlight further in 2009. It has had a difficult year; there were calls for its dissolution after increasing its registration fees more than England, and it was heavily criticised for using teachers' money to meddle in disciplinary cases many believe should have been kept in-school. The question now is: will there be a further fee hike?

More than ever, it will be the state of the economy that will have the biggest bearing on the state of Welsh education - and schools - in the economic downturn.

However, strike action is not on the cards after the NUT abandoned any plans for a new year walkout. It seems there are troubled times ahead, but teachers will carry on regardless as their performance comes increasingly uner the spotlight.

Will their talent be enough to compensate for lack of funding? That appears to be the $64,000 question in 2009.

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Darren Evans & Nicola Porter

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