Call for top-notch trainees to up standards

3rd July 2009 at 01:00
Academic tells international audience that Wales needs strategies with sharper teeth

Wales needs teachers with better A-level results and strategies with "teeth" to reap the rewards of its visionary education agenda, according to a leading education expert.

Addressing delegates at the International Teaching Councils' conference in Cardiff last week, John Furlong, director of Oxford University's department of education, gave a mixed verdict on how Wales matched up to education systems globally - including England, where he said policy was "creaking at the seams".

Teachers and pupils were more satisfied in Wales than England, where schools have less control over how they teach, he said.

But Professor Furlong told delegates that Wales urgently needed to attract higher-quality graduates into teaching to raise standards. In 2007, the average A-level grades of undergraduate trainee teachers in the UK were C, D, D.

He said the Westminster Government had addressed the problem in England by opening up new ways into teaching, with 18 per cent of teachers now entering the profession by employment-based routes.

But Wales had been slow to act, he said, despite impressive TV campaigns and adverts. "More needs to be done in Wales to raise the professional status of teachers. This is my hobby horse," he said.

He concluded much had been achieved, but poor academic results were letting Wales down.

Professor Furlong, best known in Wales for recommending a reduction in trainee teacher numbers in the 2006 Furlong report, cited the example of pedagogy champions as a strategy "without teeth".

The champions, appointed by the Assembly government in 2007 as an offshoot of the national pedagogy initiative that was launched two years earlier, were intended to spread good practice between schools.

But Professor Furlong told representatives from teachers' councils across the globe: "I'm sure they have done a good job . but they have no teeth."

More than 50 delegates - including representatives from Australia, Jamaica, New Zealand and the Netherlands - attended the second conference at Cardiff's Hilton Hotel. The first was held in Scotland in 2005.

Hosting the event was seen as a coup for Wales and the General Teaching Council for Wales (GTCW), which was praised during the conference for its efforts to "professionalise" teaching - a reference to the trial chartered teacher scheme.

Before the event, Gary Brace, chief executive for the regulatory body, said: "The conference will attract senior members of teaching councils to take stock of international developments made in professional regulation over the past three years. It will be a chance to share good practice and discuss shared challenges."

Writing in the Western Mail last week, he agreed with Professor Furlong's verdict on the standard of graduate entrants. "We have an outstanding teaching profession in Wales, but I have yet to be convinced that the government is committed to recruiting to teaching from our top-level graduates," he said.

During his address, Professor Furlong drew on the findings of the "Blairite" 2007 McKinsey report, which recommended getting the right people to become teachers, developing them, and ensuring that education delivers the best possible results for every child. The report pointed to Finland, where the best graduates are recruited into teaching in the belief that the quality of a country's education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.

Speaking in a week when the Westminster Government announced plans to hand over control of national literacy and numeracy strategies to schools in England, Professor Furlong outlined the stark differences in strategies for good classroom practice. In England, strategy is managed, but in Wales it is networked, he said.

But he also voiced concern over "financial constraints" at teacher training colleges in Wales, which could also blight teaching goals.

During conference questions, Keith Bartley, chief executive of GTC of England, said Wales already had a winning formula in the classroom.

In response to Professor Furlong's address, he said: "I have to violently agree that education in England is managed . micro-managed, that is."

Andrew Pollard, of the Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP) at the Institute of Education in London, told delegates about the programme's new framework for good teaching, which is based on research into teacher effectiveness.

Much of the programme's research supports Wales's Sats-free vision for the classroom, where teachers are trusted to take forward good practice by working in partnership and lessons are not "government scripted".

One programme publication, "Enriching the Experience of Schooling", says of England: "It is hoped that the replacement of the key stage 3 Sats with better teacher assessment and other measures signals that trust in teachers is coming back."

But Professor Pollard said the public was poorly informed about the importance of teacher expertise. "The media would rather talk about new schools," he said.


The General Teaching Council for Wales has come under fire for "prying" into teachers' lives by holding "unnecessary" hearings.

Should the case of a teacher who has resigned from his or her post after admitting failing to mark pupils' coursework be heard in public? This was the type of question debated by delegates at the International Teaching Councils' conference this week.

They drew on the experiences of British Columbia's College of Teachers, which has an "alternative resolution process" whereby no public hearing is held if a teacher facing allegations admits the facts in an agreed statement.

Writing in the Western Mail last week, Gary Brace, chief executive of the GTCW, said a balance needed to be found between judging each case on its own merits and acting in the public interest. He has already hinted strongly that the council is considering reforming the system.

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