Teachers told: reform or else

18th February 2011 at 00:00
Government adviser warns that they must sign up to radical agenda for change `before it's too late'

Welsh schools are "drinking in the last-chance saloon" and teachers have no choice but to "get on board" with a series of radical reforms, a government adviser has warned.

David Reynolds, professor of educational effectiveness at the University of Southampton, demanded the profession embrace changes to the way they teach and step out of their "comfort zone" if urgent improvements to results are to be achieved.

He was speaking at the Raising School Standards conference, organised by the Assembly government to discuss how to improve performance following Wales's disappointing Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) results and last month's critical report from the chief inspector.

Professor Reynolds, who is advising the government again after a number of years out of favour, told delegates that the best practice in the nation's schools must become standard practice.

"The crucial thing is to accept that there are lots of things that we need to learn," he said. "We need to challenge the profession. The national pedagogy strategy challenged nobody and left you in your comfort zone. The Pisa results will pick up when teachers go into classrooms and behave differently."

He said the government would use all the "mechanisms" it could to give teachers the best tools to do the job, including the latest research.

"This is about respecting your rights to have the best," he added.

"We are taking our collective last chance before it's too late. It would be very foolish if we didn't embrace this last chance. We drink in the last-chance saloon here - I don't think there's any alternative but to get on board."

Earlier, officials sought to reassure heads and teachers that they would not be sidelined during the radical reforms set to take place in Wales over the next few years.

Teaching unions and experts had expressed concern that the 20-point programme to tackle underperformance outlined by education minister Leighton Andrews earlier this month might be pushed through without consultation.

But Chris Tweedale, head of the government's school effectiveness group, said: "We need to engage with you as leaders and listen and learn from what you have to say."

He said there was no reason why Wales couldn't achieve the minister's goal of being in the top 20 countries in the next but one Pisa test results, as countries like Canada, Poland and Norway had all made simil-arly rapid improvements.

A number of experts who are currently advising the Assembly government spoke about the importance of the School Effectiveness Framework and the professional learning communities, which will be the foundation to deliver many of the reforms

David Hopkins, professor emeritus at London University's Institute of Education, said: "There's fantastic world-class practice in Wales. The sadness is that the best is not our standard. There have to be strenuous efforts to make sure that it is. We must raise the status of the profession so it becomes a "to die for" job.

His colleague Alma Harris said that many "shiny bright initiatives" had failed to make a difference in the classroom in Wales, and it was the "hard slog of implementation" that would make things work.

Mr Andrews used the event to start a "wide national debate" about the future of A-level and vocational qualifications in Wales, and questioned whether students were being given the right guidance.

He asked whether a narrower range of A-level subjects and vocational qualifications should be considered after concerns from both top universities and employers.

"Is it acceptable that we have subjects taught by teachers not qualified in those subjects?

"Isn't it time that we focused on quality and rigour, rather than an apparent choice which simply doesn't meet the real needs of learners but panders to the alphabet's soup of qualifications set up by the private examination boards?"

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