Strategy push too far

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
Basic skills drive will set workload soaring in primary schools, warns the General Teaching Council. Nicola Porter reports.

Primary-school teachers in Wales could see their workload soar as a strategy to improve literacy skills is phased in, the General Teaching Council for Wales has warned.

The GTCW has said that the second phase of the national basic skills strategy for Wales, which is expected to be launched this month, will require all primary teachers to revise their existing schemes of work, undertake additional training days, and conduct extra assessment of pupils.

The strategy is part of a package of measures, co-ordinated by the Basic Skills Agency and Assembly government, which is intended to raise educational standards for people of all ages in Wales. But delegates at the annual GTCW conference, held in Llandudno this week, were told that the initiative would have a detrimental effect on already overworked primary teachers.

Hayden Llewellyn, registrar and acting chief executive of the GTCW, said:

"Teachers will need to radically revise their schemes of work. It is essential that the time cost of implementing the strategy is considered alongside the financial cost."

Gwen Williams, retired head of Edwardsville primary, in Merthyr Tydfil, and member of the GTCW council, said that the work involved for teachers in the new strategy "could be the straw that broke the camel's back".

She added: "My teaching staff have been bombarded with new initiative after new initiative. The time and resources have to be there to begin with.

"This strategy is just another teaching style and method for overworked primary teachers to get their heads around outside curriculum time.

"Teachers already have many of the skills needed for the basic skills strategy. They do not need extra training and time out of the classroom."

Gethin Lewis, secretary of the National Union of Teachers Cymru, has echoed the GTCW's concerns. He said: "Primary teachers are already under great strain. This could see their workload soar. It's a great idea in principle, but the reality is not so rosy."

And teachers' unions now fear that the GTCW will have to finance teacher-training using funds earmarked for continuing professional development and the progression of individuals.

Anna Brychan, director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, said: "We share the Assembly's conviction that basic skills are hugely important, and that's precisely why we want to be certain that the strategy can be supported properly in schools.

"New initiatives like this can only work well if schools have enough resources to do the job without putting a further burden on teachers."

Mr Llewellyn has said that training under the basic skills strategy should be funded by the Assembly's Better Schools fund. But, he said, this fund has recently been reduced by the Assembly.

The first phase of the strategy was launched in April 2001. Since then, the Assembly government has allocated pound;40 million for its implementation.

An Assembly spokeswoman said: "Thanks to the efforts of teachers, standards in English, Welsh and mathematics have improved in recent years. Our strategy aims to continue that.

"The CPD fund has been identified as one avenue for support, where individual teachers may identify training to support pupils with basic-skills needs, as part of their continuing professional development.

"We will also continue to work with local authorities and schools to plan and deliver more training for teachers, and to encourage them to take up that training."

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