Discussing the future of education in Wales | 20/3/17 | Gorwel Dinner Forum

Discussing the future of education in Wales | 20/3/17 | Gorwel Dinner Forum

On Monday 20th March, Gorwel held a dinner, kindly sponsored by Northmace & Hendon Limited, to which it invited senior figures from the world of education in Wales. A number of issues were discussed relating to the state and future of education in Wales. A downloadable document containing the Summary Notes can be found beneath the Summary Notes of this page.

If you would like to discuss any of these issues further please email the chair of Gorwel:m.morgan@gorwel.co

Education Policy dinner , Manor Parc Hotel, Cardiff  20th March 2017

Summary notes

On Monday 20th March, Gorwel held a dinner, kindly sponsored by Northmace & Hendon Limited, to which it invited senior figures from the world of education in Wales. One attendee was a year 11 learner, currently studying for her GCSEs – she provided excellent and much appreciated input as a ‘customer’ of Wales’ education system.

At previous dinners held by Gorwel, there has been broad agreement around the table around ways in which Wales and the Welsh Government can address the issues raised. At this education dinner, there was notably less clarity: education professionals – teachers, headmasters, academics analysing the impact of education policy and so on – sometimes presented quite diverse opinions. For employers, education seemed to have its own vernacular disconnected from their world of work. The point was made that various partnerships across Wales had been created to bridge the educator-employer relationship but the effectiveness of these was questioned.

Each Minister for Education has stamped his or her mark on policy and that raised the concomitant issue of education being a political football. There was certainly a sense that, in its early days, the strapline for Welsh Government’s education policy was “we’re not doing what England is doing” rather than “we’re doing what’s best for Wales”. Education policy has created its own set of metrics with which schools must comply and a flawed inspection process by Estyn. Having 22 unitary authorities was also felt to be an impediment, with a real need for far fewer. There was a sense that all these aspects of the current system create headaches and it is certainly not optimal for the education of Wales’ pupils and students.

One employer felt Wales offered him a well-educated workforce but other employers felt some core skills and behaviours – for example, sound punctuality and basic presentation ability – were absent in those emerging from Wales’ schools and colleges. The question was raised of whether the deficit resulted from failings in our education system or outside of it, with an absence of sound role models negatively impacting a child’s learning, those role models not simply being parents, but also extended family and others in the child’s community. It was noted that as in many cases both parents work, care for children outside school hours is frequently provided by grandparents and they were the child’s principal role models.

Given broader UK government focus on governance in corporations and charities, surprise was expressed that more hadn’t been made of school governance. Although guidelines exist on the role of governors, much would seem to depend on the nature of the headmaster. Indeed the primacy of the headmaster came to the fore when discussing schools deal with disruptive pupils, with a sense that the failure to deal with even a single disruptive pupil expediently can have a significant negative impact on teaching for the rest of a class.

One employer raised a question about school funding and distribution of the funding across subjects: this would appear to be beyond the remit of the governing body. Further education colleges have greater autonomy in funding and the question was raised as to whether such a model would be appropriate for schools; there was certainly no unanimity in the answer to that. Governors are frequently disconnected from the broader school population, particularly pupils, and receive little in the way of formal training. Given such a disconnection and the possibility of supine governing body the question was raised of whether the school governance model really works at all.

Technology, in all its forms, continues to present challenges for both educators and pupils. Adoption of technology in classroom-based teaching varies from school to school, and although the GCSE student at our dinner received lessons on programming, she received none on the use of spreadsheets. Teaching on the latter would have been far more use to her, she felt. One participant questioned whether programming could be taught effectively given its highly practical nature and a broad lack of industrial or commercial programming experience among teachers.

The commitment and passion of all those in education came through strongly at the dinner; indeed the diversity of opinion and the candour with which it was expressed shows how complex their world is, partly as a result of the policies and processes to which they are subject. There was certainly a sense these impact teachers in their capacity to do the one thing they most want to do – teach. The education system in Wales will be undergoing significant reform over the next few years following the Donaldson Review and while some at the dinner were optimistic about the reforms, others were less so.

Overall, one point became crystal clear towards the end of the dinner: education will sadly remain a hot political issue and it is incumbent on our politicians and their advisors to listen closely to the needs of education professionals. Gorwel can play an active role in providing that feedback and doing so anonymously where need be.

As noted earlier, the dinner was kindly sponsored by Northmace & Hendon Limited. Gorwel relies on its sponsors and members for financial support and is not in receipt of any grants from the Welsh or UK Governments. Should you wish to support Gorwel’s activities, please contact us on rdeacon@gorwel.co

Gorwel – Education Dinner Summary notes

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