The results of Wales’ first National Education Workforce Survey have been published and, according to Gareth Evans, cannot be ignored…

 

Against a backdrop of shrinking budgets, concerns around accountability and a steady stream of negative press, it was perhaps no surprise that Wales’ first National Education Workforce Survey returned something of a mixed bag.

But it was nonetheless an important exercise that needed undertaking.

By gauging the temperature of the education system, we can better understand the underlying challenges to successful implementation of policy.

In short, we can identify problems and look for solutions.

Commissioned by the Welsh Government and facilitated by the Education Workforce Council (EWC), the survey gave every registered education practitioner – some 72,497 of them – the chance to put forward their views, grievances and wants for education moving forward.

And they could do so anonymously, without fear or favour.

It was disappointing therefore that only 14% (10,408) of those eligible to take part did so.

The vast majority of registered practitioners spurned the opportunity to make their voices heard – proof, if we needed it, that there is far more to be done in terms of positively engaging the profession.

Whatever its collective findings, the survey would have been far harder to ignore had it attracted a more significant number of participants.

That said, one suspects it will not be forgotten any time soon.

Headline findings included:

  • 33.6% of school teachers plan to leave the profession within the next three years;
  • 45.4% of school teachers are not very or not at all familiar with the new Digital Competency Framework;
  • 37.2% of school teachers enjoy trying new and innovative teaching methods;
  • 78.1% of school teachers said workload was the least rewarding aspect of their role;
  • 88.3% of school teachers disagreed or disagreed strongly that they were able to effectively manage their existing workload;
  • 68.7% of school teachers said cost was one of the main obstacles to professional development;
  • 38.6% of school teachers are not very or not at all familiar with the content and recommendations in Professor Graham Donaldson’s ‘Successful Futures’ report;
  • Full-time school teachers said they worked an average of 50.7 hours during a normal working week;
  • 57.9% of school teachers had not used the existing ‘Practising Teacher’ standards or leadership standards in setting objectives, planning development or reviewing performance in the last 12 months;
  • 84.9% of school teachers were fairly or very confident in the use of ICT in their work;
  • 93.5% of school teachers considered teaching and seeing learners progress the most rewarding part of their role;
  • 47.3% of school teachers plan to continue developing their practice over the next three years;
  • 20.2% of school teachers said that relevant professional development was either not available or of sufficient quality;
  • 77.4% of school teachers said administration and paperwork most impacted on their ability to effectively manage their workload;
  • 52.2% of school teachers said they would like more time to be able to discuss work with learners and 51.8% said they wanted more time for lesson planning and preparation;
  • 17.8% of school teachers teach either solely or mainly through the medium of Welsh, while 76.6% teach either solely or mainly through the medium of English.

Education Secretary Kirsty Williams cited access to professional learning and confidence in the delivery and use of ICT as positives emanating from the survey.

But there will doubtless be concerns over teacher workload and their lack of familiarity with curriculum reform and the new Digital Competency Framework.

The fact a third of teachers are planning to quit the profession in the next three years is a shot across the bows to all of us.

In some respects, the survey’s publication could not have come at a worse time.

A new national campaign fronted by Wales’ four regional education consortia calling on professionals to ‘Discover Teaching’ has recently been launched and last week’s statistics are not the best advert for working in schools.

But there is never a good time for such a harsh reality check – and an honest and frank appraisal of the realities of working in Welsh education needed to be aired.

It is for that reason Ms Williams and her officials deserve a great deal of credit.

There were always going to be elements of the survey that made for difficult reading.

There were sure to be skeletons in the closet and by opening the door to critical analysis, the Welsh Government has shone a light on a number of important shortcomings.

There is plenty to ponder and Ms Williams should be applauded for taking such a bold move none of her predecessors saw fit to take.

But that’s not to say many of the findings will be totally alien and have not been raised before, as EWC Chief Executive Hayden Llewellyn made clear on the day of release.

He said: “These results lift the lid on many of the professional challenges our school and FE staff face and offer robust data to back up some of the anecdotes we often hear.”

In fact, Ms Williams acknowledged last week during a meeting of the Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee that the Welsh Government had not yet cracked the “long-running issue of workload” and was “open to suggestions”.

Her revelation that a ‘Beauracracy Project’ – “testing ourselves to make sure that we’re not demanding of the profession things that really aren’t adding value to teaching and learning” – is underway, is both heartening and proof policymakers are willing to adapt.

Nevertheless, there is much more work to be done and the survey suggests Wales is to some extent still suffering the hangover of what the OECD in 2014 called “reform fatigue”.

Lessons have since been learned but moving forward it is vital Ms Williams seeks to put right what our education workforce perceives to be going wrong.

The culture of collaboration Ms Williams has tried gallantly to instil since her appointment last May is prevalent across all facets of policy development.

And it is based on the premise that we are all partners in the “national mission” to raise standards.

She now has at her fingertips the evidence base on which to build her reform agenda.

There is no value in hiding from statistics and the views of the workforce must remain front and centre as we continue along our improvement journey.

  • Gareth Evans is Executive Director of Education Policy at Yr Athrofa, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

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