We all need a break for learning

12th March 2004 at 00:00
Susan Lewis, the Welsh chief inspector, has called for a rethink of the way the school year is organised. But one aspect that has not received much, if any, attention is what "terms" would serve the teachers - as well as the learners - best.

We have a mad system where learners lose out because their teachers are attending training on how to teach them better. Teachers are losing out because they are doing their utmost to provide learning while they themselves try to cram in professional development when they should be teaching.

Teachers who attend courses and activities during the school day work additional hours preparing work for the classes that they would otherwise be teaching. They then have to deal with the set work on their return.

Twilight, after-school sessions are fitted in between school hours and quality family time or, more likely, further marking and preparation work undertaken in the evening. The professional development days - or so-called closure days - are insufficient, hence the need to use teaching days and after school hours.

Many crucial initiatives led by the Welsh Assembly and supported by teachers require much additional training to be introduced effectively.

These already include the introduction of the new foundation stage, retraining teachers to implement the new Estyn inspection framework, and the substantial planning and collaboration needed to take forward the crucial 14-19 "learning pathways" agenda. Just over the horizon will be the challenges of the Daugherty inquiry, the Tomlinson review and the introduction of the Welsh baccalaureate.

But what if the student year were separated from an extended professional year for teachers? The pupil year could be reduced from 190 to 185 days.

Or, more radically, the official teacher year could be increased from 195 to 200 days. Or variations of both. Learners would have better continuity in their learning. Teachers have their learning and teaching commitment more clearly separated. Money currently spent on supply teachers could be used to oil the necessary negotiations to achieve a mutually acceptable model amenable to all parties.

Don't learners and teachers deserve better terms?

The author is head of Ysgol Gyfun Gymunedol Penweddig, Aberystwyth, and was a member of Her Majesty's Inspectorate (Wales) from 1984 to 1989

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