Help! Before the avalanche hits

30th November 2007 at 00:00
With curriculum reforms on the way, teachers need help to prepare, says the School Workload Advisory Panel.Teachers in Wales need more training days, training and model policies to prepare them for an avalanche of curriculum reform in 2008-9, according to the annual report of a school bureaucracy watchdog.

The School Workload Advisory Panel (SWAP) said that its calls for an "intelligent spacing of initiatives" had not been heeded by the Assembly government.

The independent panel of six experienced teaching staff also claimed there was a real fear of initiative overload and an unacceptable increase in bureaucracy as a raft of generally welcome initiatives - including the foundation phase for all three to five-year-olds, a skills-based curriculum and the 14-19 learning pathways - were set to be unleashed.

The impact of such reforms would be greatest on special schools because they deal with children of all ages, said SWAP.

Richard Edwards, panel chair and headteacher of closure-threatened Lansdowne Primary School in Cardiff, said the bureaucratic burden on schools had not been eased by recent political activities in Wales.

"We had a situation pre-election where there were lots of initiatives launched, then there was nothing at all, and then another rush," he told TES Cymru.

The panel also reported serious concerns about the implementation and monitoring of the Raise poverty-busting initiative, under which schools with more than 20 per cent of pupils on free school meals are eligible for more cash.

And it was concerned about the workload escalation generated by outside agencies.

"It is evident that current systems, such as workforce reform and remodelling, are having a significant impact on increasing workload for school leaders," the report states.

The panel now plans to position itself more strategically to generate change by engaging with policymakers at an earlier stage. The report said that the training of school staff, governors and support staff was a priority.

It particularly highlighted concerns over the play-led foundation phase, including increased workload engendered by the appointment of additional staff and in organising outdoor learning.

But 14-19 Learning Pathways were also a cause for concern, as school leaders fear a growing culture of bidding for money to cover additional resources, as well as an increase in the planning workload for class teachers.

Other fears - including an increase in the number of meetings, the bureaucracy of timetabling, the development of common policies and procedures, as well as lengthy training for learning coaches - are already well-documented.

Swap panel members have also met with officials to thrash out complaints over the increased burdens of school audits. This followed complaints from heads about requests for information already held by central local education authorities.

Other work undertaken by SWAP this year included discussions with Estyn over the impact of curriculum reform.

The inspection body said that lead inspectors would be advised to be sensitive to the number of reforms which schools are being obliged to introduce.

Two extra members of the SWAP team are due to be announced in the new year.

But it is unclear whether the panel will still have a role at the end of its term, after 2009.

"The panel exists in a period when most of the change will happen - 2008 is going to be that year. We really do want to ensure that we make life easier for schools during that time," said Mr Edwards.

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