Owen Hathway examines the results of Wales’ first national education survey
Last week the Education Workforce Council published the first ever National Education Survey. For a number of years teaching unions, and indeed others interested in seeing a full picture of the state of the sector, have argued for such a survey to be conducted. The Westminster Government, which has certainly not been seen as a friend to the teaching profession in recent years, has conducted these regularly, albeit at times only publishing the results when dragged kicking and screaming to do so. Yet despite this, successive Welsh Education Ministers have held steadfast against conducting a similar piece of research in Wales.
With the appointment of Kirsty Williams, and the commitment to an annual workload survey in the Welsh Lib Dem manifesto, this has changed. The current Cabinet Secretary for Education and the Welsh Government certainly do deserve credit for following through on that commitment. Furthermore what was produced was ultimately a far more in-depth and substantive piece of work than that which was originally outlined. In addition to the aforementioned parties the EWC itself also deserve praise for what we have brought forward.
That said there was not much of a fanfare from the Welsh Government around the launch. One reason this has potentially been given, for want of a better description, a ‘soft launch’ is that much of it makes for uncomfortable, if perhaps unsurprising, reading. From a school teacher’s perspective and by extension the perspectives of pupils and parents, there are some hugely concerning headline figures, such as:
- 78.1% of teachers felt workload was an issue.
- 88.3% of school teachers disagreed or disagreed strongly that they were able to effectively manage their existing workloads.
- Full-time school teachers revealed they regularly work an average of 50.7 hours during a working week.
- 33.6% of school teachers indicated they intended to leave the profession in the next three years.
These figures do not paint the picture of a sustainable workforce. That a third of teachers are intending to leave the role within the next three years, and such a significant proportion of the entire profession feel unable to cope should set the alarm bells ringing within the DfE. Quite clearly this can’t continue and a lack of action risks sending us to a crisis point.
Unions have been warning that the situation was unworkable for some time. The anecdotal evidence and case studies could fill the shelves of Cardiff library. We also know from research carried out by my own employer that this has had a dramatic and disturbing impact on the mental health of the teaching profession with an average of over 50,000 teaching days being lost every year due to stress related illnesses. What we now have is the concrete baseline statistics that back up that view. All of this of course is before we ask teachers to do even more with regards to the big changes they are facing. So what of those changes, the survey also offers some insights there:
- 45.5% of school teachers stated they were not very or not at all familiar with the new Welsh Government Digital Competency Framework.
- 71.1% of supply teachers and 38.6% of school teachers indicated they were not very or not at all familiar with the content and recommendations in Professor Donaldson’s report which forms the basis of the new Welsh curriculum.
The above statistics should encourage everyone to pause for thought when considering the effectiveness of implementing policies in the education sector in Wales. Too often in the past we have seen well-meaning and sometimes well-thought through ideas fall by the wayside because they have not been articulated to the profession properly; they have not taken into account the impact on other areas of work, they have not been adequately resourced, they have not gained the confidence of the teaching profession or they have simply not been given the time to show their worth. The views expressed here suggest we are at risk of making the same mistakes with policies that have, by and large, received universal buy in from stakeholders. There has been little dissent within the education sector about the principles and objectives of the Donaldson review. The Successful Futures document was widely welcomed but a number of people have publicly and privately been raising the fear that the rush to deliver could mean the failure to do so successfully. Getting this done right is more important than getting this done right now. The existing holes in knowledge and understanding around these key issues, especially in relation to the Digital Competency Framework which is already in existence, should be given a lot of consideration.
I don’t write these words to berate the Welsh Government, the Department for Education and certainly not the Cabinet Secretary. The workload burden and morale issues that are evident were not developed on her watch. Nonetheless they now exist within her landscape. The most important thing about this survey is not to carp on about the problems it has exposed. The results are not something to use for blame but as a point at which we can all ask the big questions about how we react. How can we encourage more professionals to want to remain in their teaching roles? How can we reduce the workload burden, especially the administrative side which does little to improve standards? How do we ensure the timing for delivery of the new curriculum is such that the sector is on board instead of attempting to shoe horn new ideas in blindly? These are the debates the survey must spark but that can only happen if those who commissioned it put it at the heart of their thinking. The responses tell us the home truths we least want to hear but perhaps the messages that must be given the most attention.