Tuesday, 14 March 2017

We need to be honest about our schools

Column published in Llanelli Herald on March 10th 2017


I get sent lots of reports. To be honest I don’t read all of them - it would take up all of my time.

But I did make sure I read the annual report of the Welsh School inspectorate, Estyn, ahead of a debate in the Senedd about it this week..

There were many positives about the state of our schools - for example, 70% of the primary schools inspected this year are rated as Good or better.

There is some world class teaching in Welsh schools - in fact the Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams sung the praises of Maes y Morfa Head Joe Cudd in the Assembly debate for his passion about providing the best possible education for his pupils. There are many Heads like Mr Cudd who do not take the deprivation of their communities as an excuse for poor performance, but as a spur for excellence.

But as the Estyn report points out there is far too much variation.“The gap between providers that are doing well and those that are not is still too wide” the Chief Inspector of Schools says in his report.

I’m particularly worried that our schools aren’t equipping our children with the digital skills they’ll need to succeed. The Inspector’s report says only a “very few schools” are excelling in digital skills, and many are completely failing to equip young people with these essential skills for the modern world.

Its widely agreed that the quality of leadership is the key to high performing schools. The best Heads develop thinking skills, not just exam-sitting skills.

Being a Headteacher is an enormously challenging role. I am always amazed at the range of skills needed to be an excellent Head - a mastery of everything from the plumbing to pedagogy. You can spot a great one a mile off, and I am in awe of them.

But the Estyn report highlights that there are too many across Wales who don’t have a grip on what needs improving in their schools. And there just aren't enough of them -  I am very concerned that there are 23 schools in Carmarthenshire without their own permanent headteacher.

The Welsh Government are now making a big push on developing new Heads, and on improving teacher training.

I’d like to see a far greater emphasis on classroom assistants too. They make up almost half the school workforce and we don’t do enough to support them, or train them, and we don’t pay them enough. They are a key part of our schools and we need to nurture them if we want to improve our education system.

The lesson of the last 20 years of devolution of education policy is that we can innovate and achieve excellence, but only when we are searingly honest with ourselves about how the whole system is performing. And this year’s annual Estyn report is invaluable in reminding us that there is much still to be done.


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