Goodbye to the chickens for a while

13th May 2005 at 01:00
The free-range chickens in his Cardiff back garden may be seeing a little less of John Furlong over the coming months.

The education professor from Oxford university is leading the Assembly government's long-awaited review of initial teacher-training in Wales, which will tackle the vexed question of how to match the supply of newly-qualified teachers to the needs of Welsh schools.

TES Cymru has reported on the problems facing a flood of Welsh-trained NQTs who have been unable to find permanent work in their home country. Yet unions have warned against reducing trainee numbers, given the fact that more older teachers will be retiring over the next 10 to 15 years.

Education and lifelong learning minister Jane Davidson this week announced the members of a support group (see box), which will be shadowing Professor Furlong's review group.

But with a final report due in the autumn, they will all have their work cut out.

Professor Furlong, 58, who started out as a social studies and remedial teacher at North Paddington school, London, will need to address a number of complex issues. Wales is faced with an ageing teaching population - 35 per cent of teachers are due to retire within the next 10 years - but controversial government proposals to raise the retirement age to 65 may affect this.

Demographic changes are also afoot among pupils, with 62,000 fewer predicted by 2016. And Wales has a dearth of male primary teachers (Welsh pupils are unlikely to encounter a male teacher until Year 3 or beyond), while maths, science and Welsh-medium teachers are also scarce.

Professor Furlong will be looking across the board for answers. He said:

"We will compare teacher-training methods in Wales with those in the rest of the UK and internationally.

"There is important literature available about the different forms of teacher education in Australia and the United States, for instance.

"We will also be looking at Northern Ireland, where there is an innovative approach to training and early professional development."

Many NQTs in Wales have difficulty in securing a place for their induction year, and the review panel will be assessing the performance of the Scottish system where a probationary year is guaranteed.

Fellow academics believe Professor Furlong is the right man for the job.

One of his main research areas is the professional education of teachers, and his first chair was at Swansea university in 1992. He moved to his current Oxford directorship from Cardiff's school of social sciences in 2003.

Professor David Reynolds, of Exeter university, said: "Very few people have his level of experience. He has been carrying out research into teacher education and professional development for 20 years, and has produced a lot of good work.

"He lives and has worked in Wales, and therefore understands the issues."

Professor Reynolds, who also lives in Wales, feels the review needs to map the demographics of teacher supply in the country and revisit the model used in England and Wales to predict trainee teacher requirements.

Professor Furlong, also president of the British Educational Research Association, says one of the review group's tasks will be to build up a clear picture of the situation in Wales.

"The Department for Education and Skills has information on England and Wales, but little relating to Wales as a separate entity. We aim to be sensitive to the needs of the nation, and indeed to regional requirements."


* Gary Brace, chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Wales.

* Angela Fabricius, senior mentor, Cwmtawe comprehensive, Swansea.

* David Hopkins, acting chair, Association of Directors of Education in Wales.

* Celia Hunt, head of learning and teaching, Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.

* Susan Lewis, Her Majesty's chief inspector, Estyn.

* Alun Thomas, deputy headteacher, Maesydre primary, Welshpool.

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