Ty Golding responds to Mel Ainscow on Schools Challenge Cymru.
Challenge Cymru focusses upon schools who experience a range of social disadvantages but it is important to note that they are schools who have been under-performing. Where does this under performance in our schools stem from? Has historical under-performance in our system compounded any ‘social disadvantage’ or has it been born out of low expectations for those ‘disadvantaged’ learners in our system?
Unfortunately, my own experiences point me all too often towards the latter. It is high expectations and high performance that Challenge Cymru must bring. Isn’t that what it’s predecessors brought with The London and Manchester Challenges? The change in both results and learning culture would indicate that the answer is a resounding ‘Yes’. We need to take the lessons learnt in these city-based victories and apply them to our national context – no easy feat.
I don’t believe we are asking enough of the right questions. What are the quantitative gains that these Challenge Cymru schools are experiencing? What have schools, Local Authorities and Regional Consortia put into place to ensure that any progress is sustainable? How will we distil any success and distribute it with effect across the system? As of yet there are no definitive results to quell these questions. In fairness, it is still early days in terms of Challenge Cymru. This Summer’s school performance data won’t go a long way to assuring us as a profession that this particular vehicle of change is paying the same dividends as it did over the border, but it should be enough of a glimpse to judge if it is taking us in the right direction.
I hope progress will come from simply applying off the peg expertise from the London and Manchester Challenges to great effect. Nonetheless, sustained success can only come from a greater degree of tailoring, acknowledgement of the nuances and a fit that is much more bespoke to us here in Wales. My fear is that the improvement in results will come thick and fast but be short lived if we cannot ensure a timely infrastructure of curriculum, assessment, first class teacher training producing first class practitioners, high quality continued professional development and excellence in school leadership.
Excellence in practitioners and leadership has the greatest potential to make a difference to learner outcomes, but it is also our area of greatest need. There is not only a lack of excellence in existing leadership but more worryingly, and as an outcome of this, there is limited ability to develop excellence in future leaders. There has long been a void when it comes to genuine high quality support and development of our current and future leaders.
We must be clear on two questions. What lessons have we learnt from past mistakes? What are we doing differently as a result of these lessons?
Only time will tell if Challenge Cymru will have the desired impact and improve outcomes and prospects for learners in Wales. Professor Ainscow extols the potential that our education system has to improve itself and for this we should be grateful. That gratitude should however be short lived and replaced by action. Action to improve on the part of our current practitioners and school leaders; to not settle for mediocrity whether it be in top down regional consortia or local authority led initiatives, standards of practitioners alongside us in schools or the expectations and aspirations that we deliver every day for our learners.