Change thinking about learning

25th November 2005 at 00:00
The Welsh Assembly launched a major debate on pedagogy at a conference in Cardiff last week. Karen Thornton reports

A cultural shift is needed in the way teachers think about learning and teaching, and students need a better understanding of how they learn, according to the Assembly government.

It has launched a major debate on pedagogy aimed at encouraging and supporting innovation in teaching and learning and promoting the sharing of good practice in a bid to further improve pupil achievement.

But education and lifelong learning minister Jane Davidson has insisted there will not be a government-determined pedagogy, and that teachers'

professional judgement about learning and teaching styles and approaches will be respected.

And in two speeches at the end of last week, she underlined the Assembly government's rejection of education policies in England, including the recent white paper, which focus on school structures, testing and tables.

Ms Davidson launched the pedagogy initiative at a national learning and teaching conference in Cardiff last week, attended by teachers from early years to lifelong learning.

She told delegates it was important to focus on the emotional as well as the rational aspect of learning, and to "get away from Mr Gradgrind".

Research shows the brain keeps developing and is receptive to further learning. But by the time young people leave school, many have been turned off.

"That is a terrible waste," she said. "How do we change the way schools, colleges, lecturers and teachers work? How do we ensure schooling is seen as the beginning of learning rather than a statutory experience that has to be endured?

"By dealing with standards, rather than structures, we will achieve the objectives we have for education and lifelong learning in Wales. We have to get learners interested in their education and empower practitioners to be innovative and share ideas."

She added: "We work with you, and this has paid off. I have tried not to have any one doctrinal set of policies.

"It's why we didn't go down the route of a national literacy or numeracy strategy, and we are doing well at key stage 2."

At Governors Wales's autumn conference in Llandrindod Wells on Saturday, she said the only white paper measures which may be adopted in Wales are those covering school meals, pupil behaviour and school transport. The paper proposes freeing schools from local authority control under a new trust status. Teacher unions in Wales have generally supported the minister's rejection of tables and testing.

Heledd Hayes, education officer with the National Union of Teachers Cymru, welcomed the initiative in principle: "This is giving professionalism back to teachers, not telling them what to do."

But she added that teachers needed funding to buy the time required to attend training courses, read research, develop and try out new ideas, and share them with colleagues.

"A great deal can be carried out in schools - teachers might be trying something new in lessons. But they still need time to set it up, experiment and discuss what they are doing. Feedback to other people is vital - it spreads the word."

The Wales pedagogy initiative started earlier this year with a series of regional conferences at which delegates agreed that the project "must not entail prescription". A project board has been set up and plans are in hand for a three to five-year strategic plan.

The Assembly government is hoping to maintain the momentum generated by last week's conference and regional work by creating national support and dissemination systems, and local and regional networks.

It is also looking at developing a website with links to a range of research and practice, resources, video clips and teachers' notes.


opinion cymru 23

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