The Future Delivery of Education Services in Wales
Voice Cymru welcomes the opportunity to consider Robert Hill’s report and comments as follows:
Quality of Teaching
Voice Cymru would agree that it is the quality of teaching which will determine the quality of education, and so would welcome most of the suggestions put forward in Mr Hill’s report. We should like to see teaching a profession of first choice for good graduates with the necessary personal qualities, and would welcome initiatives which promote this. We welcome, too, the proposal to link the training of new teachers and the professional development of existing teachers. It is important that serving teachers are aware of and remain open to new thinking and retain their enthusiasm for and enjoyment of teaching. Aligning aspects of initial and in-service training might help to minimise the mismatch between the expectations of new teachers and the realities in the schools they join. It is important also that teachers are encouraged to continue to develop their understanding of and enthusiasm for their specialist subjects as this, too, can improve the quality of the teaching of those subjects. Promoting collaboration between teachers in schools and between schools also has Voice Cymru’s support as a means of stimulating fresh thinking. In addition, if good graduates are to be attracted to the profession, there must be scope for individuality, initiative, inspiration and flair in the classroom. Too often at present it seems that teachers are being demotivated by excessive planning and recording and by a boring conformity that comes from an expectation that they must teach in a particular way.
Voice Cymru welcomes many of the report’s proposals for improving leadership in schools, including improved training and support for aspiring and emerging leaders. We agree that a key role of school leaders should be to support and encourage improvement in the classroom, and that the emphasis should be on teaching and learning. We note, however, the tension here between greater autonomy for institutions and the consequent proliferation of responsibilities which makes it more difficult for the emphasis to be on teaching and learning. It is noticeable that applications for headship have declined dramatically in the past twenty five years, perhaps because those whose prime interest is in teaching and learning feel that the job is no longer about that. Voice Cymru would also query the assertion that leaders are coming to headship too late. We have experience of outstanding young teachers becoming headteachers at an early age only to appear tired by fifty while those appointed at a more mature age have been able to bring a freshness and enthusiasm to the role informed by sound experience and reflection. It is important that all who have the potential to lead should be encouraged to consider it.
Role of Good Schools
It clearly makes sense to draw on expertise wherever it is to help improve standards, provided the implications for personnel and resources are appreciated. There are dangers, though, in placing too much reliance on ‘good’ schools. Schools which have been regarded as good, and sometimes the preferred choice for parents, have lost favour, while those previously scorned have become the new stars. A school does not necessarily remain good or bad; sometimes a new headteacher can change perceptions. And for some, a ‘good school’ is one which has the right kind of intake. It may be unwise, therefore, to construct partnerships on the questionable assumption that strong schools will always be strong.
If “developing an extensive network of teachers with strong coaching skills is (going) to be fundamental to improving teaching and learning in the classroom”, there are important practical questions which will need to be addressed. Who will be their employer and determine their pay? How much time will they have to give to other schools? How will this affect their attention to their own classes? Will the host schools lose some of their expertise and will this have an impact on the performance of those schools? Again there is a tension between autonomy and exploiting the potential of those who may be ‘lead practitioners’ in the interest of the wider education service.
Voice Cymru agrees with Mr Hill that “the quality of support for school improvement is a particular concern”. This may be because it is a relatively new function and challenges some fundamental traditions. Just as some teachers regard their classroom as their fiefdom, so some headteachers claimed absolute authority in their schools, and rejected any suggestion that other professionals had anything to offer them or their staff. In this they have been encouraged in recent years by those politicians who have asserted that it is headteachers who know what is best for their schools. And in the independent sector headteachers do have such authority. Just as it is the quality of teachers which determines the quality of learning, it is the quality of those in school improvement/advisory services which will persuade headteachers and teachers that they do have something to offer. How to improve that quality and organise the services so that they can influence practice and performance effectively needs to be a priority for those responsible for education in Wales.
Voice Cymru would agree that “inspection of schools should take place on a more proportionate and less predictable basis”.
Voice Cymru would wish to engage constructively in any discussions on changes to capability procedures where these are felt to be wanting. It is important, however, that expectations are realistic. Our casework suggests that some older teachers in their fifties reach a point where they find it difficult to adopt further changes. These are not poor or failing teachers. Often they have been the backbone of their schools, sometimes in trying circumstances, have given years of good and loyal service and have adapted to changes in approaches. It is important for school leaders to build on their strengths and positive qualities and not expect them to be what they cannot be. For individuals as well as schools, Voice Cymru would agree that on occasion “there is too much emphasis on challenge and not enough on providing support”. We are puzzled, however, at the suggestion that specialist HR advisers should be located in clusters or regional consortia “to support leaders and governors in discharging their obligations as employers”. Does this mean that LEAs will cease to be the employer? If so, what are the implications?
It is the suggestions on the future governance of the education service and the organisation of the school improvement functions that Voice Cymru finds least convincing. We recognise, as Mr Hill intimates, that that the current arrangements are confusing and unsatisfactory. We share his concern about the “variable quality and skills of governing bodies”, and agree that there are too many small LEAs which lack the resources and expertise to function effectively. We agree also that “democratic accountability is a vital principle”. It is difficult to see, however, how this principle is enhanced by the proposals to create clusters, partnerships and federations with two-tier governing bodies and an unclear relationship with local authorities, consortia or the Welsh Government. We are not persuaded that there is any evidence that these approaches would be workable. If anything they would make the system even more complicated and confusing, adding more layers to the structures of governance and posing yet more questions about legitimacy and accountability in the public education service. Voice Cymru shares Mr Hill’s view that “in an ideal world Wales would have local authorities with a vision and passion for young people growing up to be highly educated and skilled. Authorities……. would know what was happening in their schools and would help to develop school leadership, build school to school capacity and expect heads and governors to be responsible for school performance – though they would intervene where necessary”. The big questions are what those authorities should be and what powers and resources they would need to discharge their functions effectively. It may be that this can only be resolved satisfactorily in a general review of governance and delivery arrangements of public services in Wales. In the meantime, efforts should be concentrated on clarifying the relationship between local authorities, regional consortia and governing bodies.
Director for Wales