What are the teaching and learning priorities in Welsh schools?
Last week, I spent three days travelling across Wales – a beautiful and bilingual region of the U.K. – working with ~100 teachers and school leaders in Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Cardiff.
During the three days I have been working across Wales, I was curious to ask teachers if the reality fo working in Welsh schools matches up with what their politicians say…
Teaching in Pembrokeshire
Departing North London, I drove for 5½ hours to the western tip of Wales to reach Haverfordwest, working with the local authority in Pembrokeshire with ~50 teachers from across the region, sharing highlights from Just Great Teaching. This included key issues and ideas on marking, assessment, research-led practice and teacher wellbeing. There was a lot of content to share in such a short space of time, and the challenge as a visiting teacher trainer is to meet the needs of teachers and school leaders from a wide variety of settings. I was reassured that the new Welsh curriculum intentions promise autonomy for teachers, yet I gained a sense that perceptions, reduction in funding which is controlled by local authorities and the expectations imposed on by Estyn (the Welsh inspection organisation for schools) appear to be limiting innovation in some respects.
What does the Welsh government say?
It was only last week when I interviewed Kirsty Williams AM, Secretary of State for education in Wales, who reassured me in our interview that the curriculum was to remain broad and balanced to give schools autonomy from September 2022. I remain optimistic about the future of Welsh education and do believe the ‘power to bring it all to life’ lies with the workforce itself, not those who measure and evaluate the system.
Teaching in Ceredigion
On Thursday, I found myself back at Ysgol Henry Richard in Tregaron, Ceredigion in West Wales – a rural school with 350 pupils, featuring as a case study in my new research/book, Just Great Teaching. It was a real honour to be back at the school, feeling part of the family, showcasing some of the great work that they do in their unique circumstances. Together, 20 colleagues came from across Wales to hear more about the work that they are doing, as well as a tour of the school, meeting pupils and staff. During the training, we heard from the school about their planning and curriculum choices aligned to the requirements of the government and how this translates into practice for a small, rural school. We spent the day discussing research around appraisal, performance management and action research I have been conducting in schools. Our intention was to make these current issues more pragmatic for teachers working in our schools…
Teaching in Cardiff
On Friday, I found myself back at Llanishen High School in Cardiff, kickstarting day two of our coaching programme with the intention of rolling coaching out to all staff in a bid to reform teaching and learning culture, enquiry and pedagogical conversations at a classroom level. It is exciting work and it is still in its infancy, and having seen the magic happen in other school settings I know the impact is yet to be seen, but initial work suggests there is huge potential and I’m very excited to see how this particular project unfolds over the next six months. The school has an enormous footprint and 1,500 pupils, supporting a large number of autistic pupils with a quarter of pupils from low-income families.
Reasons to be optimistic…
Overall, after four days on the road and after 500 miles across Wales and back home to London, I had a great deal of time to think as I drove through the Welsh countryside. I am optimistic about the future challenges of our Welsh schools, the dialogue within the teaching workforce and how they will meet those challenges. It is apparent to me that all schools are facing the same challenges, and how they deal with these issues are specific to individuals working within those settings. Our Welsh schools are currently struggling to recruit as teacher applications decline; to deal with the challenges of marking, curriculum and research-led practice.
What our teachers need to believe, is that they do already have the answers…
Teaching is a people industry and those who support schools from an external perspective would do well to remember that if you want to see a change within the system, you need to invest your time and energy with the people who work within it.