Trust us to nurture the future

8th December 2006 at 00:00
Wales could have up to 18 new laws in the next 18 months when additional powers are devolved after next spring's elections, according to Lord Ellis.

In a recent speech, the National Assembly's presiding officer invited the people of Wales to suggest in what areas these new powers should be used.

What would school leaders tell him? Our priority has not changed: providing the best education that we can for the students of today and tomorrow. This is more likely to happen where schools and teachers feel empowered, trusted and respected.

Survey after survey reports the high levels of satisfaction and trust that parents, students, governors and communities have of their local school.

But the message from government has been the opposite.

There are three things the Assembly government could do to demonstrate and build trust in the professionalism of teachers, and to support school leaders in raising standards of achievement and attainment.

First, regulation, whether in law or guidance, should focus on outcomes and not management. Tell us what is wanted in terms of realistic results, give us the necessary tools, and then trust the profession to deliver in a way that fits the context of the particular school.

No one disputes the value of transition planning and student councils, or the need for complaints to be heard. However, these do not require legislation and detailed guidance. The message from government is that governing bodies and leadership teams cannot be trusted to deliver.

Second, hold leadership teams accountable for their own and the school's performance intelligently, through a single conversation with a professional with relevant headship experience.

At present, heads have to report to the governing body, external adviser, local authority advisory service and Estyn inspectors. All of the views are relevant but the same outcome could be achieved without so many reports and meetings with representatives who have almost never held a senior management post.

Third, establish a funding mechanism which is fair, encourages innovation and problem-solving at the school level, and reduces resources wasted in admin.

The Assembly government, under pressure from the opposition, has acknowledged the need for funding change but all that has been promised is a review of the arrangements. There is agreement that a funding mechanism should be based on an analysis of delivery costs rather than history.

However, there is no agreement as to how or when change will happen.

Wales has followed its own path since devolution and avoided many of the problems that beset education in England. But on the issue of finance, we should consider the best elements of the national funding mechanisms over the border.

The targets set in documents such as the Assembly government's The Learning Country: rights to action, have set a clear direction for the future. If Wales is to prosper in a competitive global economy, the workforce of the future will need to have good interpersonal skills and a positive approach to solving problems in the workplace or home.

An education which equips the young of today for tomorrow's challenges means generating an ethos in our schools where these skills and attitudes are demonstrated on a daily basis. Let us end the culture of micro-management and in its place have a government strategy which starts from the basis that well-trained and experienced professionals can be trusted to deliver the high standards of education which the young people of Wales need and deserve.

Gareth Jones Is Secretary Of The Association Of School And College Leaders Cymru And Former Head Of Bryn Celynnog Comprehensive, Pontypridd

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