Editorial - No silver spoon, but polished staff are a must

3rd July 2009 at 01:00
Funding may be tight, but Wales needs tip-top teachers to match its ambitious plans

There is a famous extract from In Passing, a poem written by Brian Harris in 1967. One version goes: "To be born Welsh is to be born privilegedNot with a silver spoon in your mouthBut music in your heart and poetry in your soul." This verse aptly describes the Welsh education system since devolution: it certainly wasn't born with a silver spoon in its mouth. Indeed, the funding fiasco in Wales continually upstages policy innovation as the big story - much to the despair of Assembly government officials.

At least there is poetry in the soul of Welsh education. Academic research increasingly suggests policy is on the right track. This was most apparent when teachers' councils across the globe met in Cardiff last week to share teaching practice and discuss the challenges they face. It must have been a moment of great pride for the General Teaching Council for Wales when speakers sang the praises of Welsh classrooms.

In Wales, we trust teachers to deliver the best education to our children and we do not have Assembly government-scripted classrooms. In a Sats-free Wales, there is less prescription and more scope for teacher creativity. If this isn't the right way, why did England dump its literacy and numeracy strategies and give its teachers greater autonomy earlier this month? There is great frustration in Wales that we have stolen the march on England, yet this has gone largely unnoticed in London.

At the conference, Professor Andrew Pollard, of the Teaching and Learning Research Programme at London's Institute of Education, lamented that progress in teacher expertise failed to make headlines. The research he and his team have undertaken mostly backs up Wales's approach, leaving England with unanswered questions. But the message is not being heard outside classrooms or in England.

However, according to another conference speaker, John Furlong, director of Oxford University's department of education, Wales is failing to deliver good results because teachers are not academically qualified enough. In his mind, grades C, D, D - the average for trainee teachers in 2007 - do not cut the mustard. He believes Wales must act now to raise the quality of teachers entering the profession. His argument is backed up by countless other pieces of research and the example of Finland, where teacher quality is of the utmost importance.

So do we need teachers with better A-levels and degrees? And could Wales be in line for a wooden - not silver - spoon if it doesn't get its teaching house in order? Do we need, or are there plans for, Wales-only research exploring whether the most academically qualified teachers or those exported from other careers produce the best results? Should we have a licence to teach?

Meanwhile, teachers in Wales continue to do the best they can to take forward the Assembly government's highly praised policy with all the teaching freedoms afforded to them, but under the shackles of inadequate funding.

Call for top-notch trainees to up standards, page 4

Nicola Porter, Editor, TES Cymru; E: nicola.porter@tes.co.uk.

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