Training and trust top even cash on teachers' wishlist
These are changing times for education in Wales. Encouragingly, the new First Minister, Carwyn Jones, and the new minister at the department for children, education and lifelong learning (DCELL), Leighton Andrews, have been making the right noises.
Mr Jones used his first major speech to signal that education was in future to be at the top of his political agenda. He stated his belief that "education is the route out of poverty". Therefore, he pledged to increase public spending to combat child deprivation.
The new "education" minister is also talking up its increased importance in the cabinet's thinking. He has been hinting strongly that spending on schools is to have a higher priority than over the past few years and has ordered an urgent review to report within two months into the claim that every Welsh pupil receives approximately #163;532 a year less than their counterparts in England.
Part of the blame for this situation is being placed on the fact that although Wales is a small country, it has 22 local authorities, many of them very small. The argument is that too much potential funding for schools is being lost through bureaucracy.
But this can only be part of the argument. Many parts of Wales also have greater needs than other parts of the UK, partly because they have disproportionately high numbers of pupils and parents emanating from low and deprived social backgrounds. Many of these families have an increased need for support from social services, health and voluntary organisations. Balancing budgets between the conflicting needs of different departments is never easy as the former education minister, Jane Hutt, in her new role as finance minister, is about to find out.
But the issues for teachers and schools go much deeper. It is about trust, support and confidence as much as finances. Too many teachers in schools in Wales presently feel deflated, devalued and overwhelmed by all the change that is taking place.
Generally speaking, teachers are not against change. They learn to live with it as part of the job. Butthey are against the lack of common sense which is presently blighting schooling in Wales. Any straw poll of teachers will tell you that political correctness and health and safety issues have got out of hand and have become counterproductive.
Teachers believe that schooling should first and foremost be about pupils' learning. Meeting pupils' needs includes provision for pastoral care, aesthetic, cultural and sporting activities.
In Wales, teachers are trained once for life through their initial teacher education (ITET) courses. Provision for probationary and early years professional development training varies from school to school and local authority to local authority. Subsequent provision for middle and later-years professional training in Wales is, at best, haphazard.
A structured in-service training to meet the professional development needs of teachers and other support and caring professionals in Wales is something that is long overdue. The National Behaviour and Attendance Review (NBAR) found that the highest priority of staff in Wales was on training for managing pupils' behaviour at a variety of levels. It is surely wrong that teachers in Wales have no or little opportunity to undergo such training by comparison with their counterparts in England and Scotland.
The recurrent theme throughout the evidence-gathering phase of the NBAR work was on the need for training and development for all staff, at all levels, irrespective of their status and experience. The point was repeatedly made throughout Wales that initial teacher training courses provided little practical information or guidance on behaviour management as a professional issue for teachers. Yet, without the skills and capacity to manage a class of around 30 pupils, some of whom may have behavioural difficulties, the teacher who has invested heavily in their lesson preparation may still fail to teach the class effectively.
The NBAR evidence was that there is insufficient focus upon the development of behaviour management skills in teachers' immediate post-qualifying and later phases of their careers. Improving training for behavioural support and management should not be too difficult for the Welsh Assembly government to achieve. An internal review of in-service training is currently taking place within DCELL. To have fully effective schools in Wales, pupils need to be well managed. Therefore, finding and implementing a budget stream for behaviour management should be an early priority for the new minister.
The second priority should be on resolving how such training should be implemented, the content and delivery of such programmes, as well as upon ensuring that as many professionals as possible in Wales receive and benefit from the training. Given the rising need for it in Wales, partly fuelled by familial breakdown and related social needs, teachers would appreciate the Welsh Assembly government listening to their plea for help. This might signal that the new administration is making education their number one priority. In turn, this may lead to a better relationship between the Welsh Assembly government and teachers in Wales - one based on trust and confidence.
Professor Ken Reid, Former chair of the National Behaviour and Attendance Review in Wales.