By John Till, Professional Officer (Wales)
In Estyn’s Annual Report for 2014-2015 there is a clear message that it is not a good idea for teachers and schools/colleges to work in isolation.
Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales, Meilyr Rowlands, refers to the challenge of ‘variability’ – the contrast between the best (of which there are some in all sectors) and the weakest – and to the importance of ensuring that all providers share examples of good and excellent practice and learn from them.
He does not find that this variability is due primarily to socio-economic factors, as some of the best are in relatively deprived areas. Nor does he blame the current curriculum for stifling innovation or limiting the creativity of staff or pupils. In fact he is scathing about any reluctance to interpret the curriculum boldly and flexibly and about any tendency to revert to what he calls:
‘desk-bound formal methods, heavy-handed approaches to literacy and numeracy developments aimed at boosting performance data and the outcomes of annual tests, leading to a narrowing of the curriculum which does not necessarily result in better outcomes’.
There is a suggestion, too, that struggling schools have not always been identified early enough and effective support provided. The ability of local education authorities and consortia to do this needs to be improved.
Mr Rowlands believes that it is time to refresh and modernise the curriculum, and finds that there seems to be much agreement on Professor Donaldson’s Successful Futures report. But he emphasises the importance of offering broader experiences beyond the formal curriculum, with extra-curricular activities of high quality and encouragement for pupils to become involved in a wide range of activities.
He recognises, however, that developments and initiatives are only as good as the people who implement them. Teachers need secure subject knowledge and to know how to engage and motivate pupils. In excellent schools, leaders take an imaginative approach to curriculum design and do not allow curriculum requirements to place too many constraints on curriculum planning or reduce the autonomy of teachers to develop cross-curricular learning.
The Welsh Government is seeking to address some of these concerns and priorities in the proposed ‘New Deal’, which will offer continuing professional development for teachers throughout their careers. It is to be hoped that sufficient funding will be forthcoming to allow this to be implemented sensibly.
In their turn, teachers should be prepared to take advantage of opportunities for professional development and improving subject expertise. As HMCI says:
“a self-improving system is one where staff and leaders take responsibility for their own improvement and development and for the development of their colleagues”.
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