Send teachers to work

23rd March 2007 at 00:00
Vocational champion says they need a sabbatical in the real world of employment

Wales's vocational skills champion has called for term-long sabbaticals for teachers in the "real world of work".

Former head Peter McGowan said the classroom breaks could help them change negative attitudes to work-led learning by expanding their own life experiences. He also said new role models had to be found by teachers to replace those who had been university graduates.

He suggested self-made tycoon Richard Branson. But his comments, made in response to his apparent struggle to convince enough teachers of the merits of the 14-19 learning pathways initiative, have received a mixed response.

Gareth Matthewson, head of Cardiff's Whitchurch high school, said it would help teachers gain more life experience.

But Brian Lightman, fellow head at St Cyres comprehensive school, Vale of Glamorgan, said: "It might also be helpful for people from business and commerce to come into schools and gain knowledge of life inside the classroom."

Mr McGowan spoke out during a meeting of the Assembly's education, lifelong learning and skills committee while discussing his final draft report. In the 37-page document, he claims support for 14-19 reforms are waning at the chalkface because teachers are suffering from "initiative fatigue", brought on by overly-bureaucratic government delivery.

He claimed scepticism over the reforms was growing into cynicism. He also attacks teachers for not joining the vocational revolution. They appeared to be held back by "an innate conservatism" that did not pre-dispose them to teaching the new agenda.

"We still revere people like Stephen Hawking while we deride those like Richard Branson," he said in the report.

Elsewhere, Mr McGowan said teachers lacked basic knowledge on major policy shifts to tackle the UK skills gap. The champion's part-time contract ends in April. The now businessman was appointed in October 2005.

He said his future in the role depended on the Welsh Assembly elections in May. But he has already spoken of the struggle to sell 14-19 reforms to teachers, industry and the general public.

In the report, he also criticises the government's delivery of its own reforms. He claims technical terms, such as pedagogy and parity of esteem, have failed to get teachers, parents and leaners involved.

Up to the end of February, Mr McGowan reported attending 340 meetings, conferences and seminars, mostly to push the 14-19 initiative. But the plans have so far been plagued with complaints over funding and workload.

One of the major recommendations in Mr McGowan's report is for the new initiative to be better communicated before it is too late. He believes that targets for 2010 in the Learning Country 2 document, published last year, will only be realised if attitudes change.

Leader, page 26

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