Over the last five years, Wales has embarked on an ambitious series of initiatives to strengthen teaching and learning in our nation. The things which capture the headlines tend to be those focussed on curriculum issues, funding, results and performance – but behind the scenes, away from the headlines, in the classrooms around Wales is where the hard work is being done and where, less visible to the public, some of the initiatives of the last five years have started to make a serious impact.
Most of those initiatives were driven by teachers, headteachers and support staff themselves. Take the highly successful Hwb and Hwb+ All Wales Learning Platform, which we launched in 2012. Planning for that came from the report of the Task and Finish Group led by Janet Hayward, headteacher at Cadoxton Primary in Barry, made up of people from education. Hwb now has 600,000 users across schools in Wales, guided by the National Digital Learning Council, another of the report’s recommendations. At Barry Island Primary (the school where I started as a five-year old in 1962), the school’s usage of Hwb+ was commended in its recent Estyn report. It’s a learning platform with high-quality content which the rest of the UK lacks – and we know they are envious of it and that Hwb+ is seen as a success around the world.
The new Digital Competence Framework derives from another report, chaired by Janet Hayward, Professor Tom Crick from Cardiff Metropolitan University, and Stuart Arthur, then a director of the software business Box UK Across Wales, digital leaders in our schools – teachers and pupils – are using technology in the classroom in innovative ways, as I saw in Darran Park Primary in Ferndale in my former Rhondda constituency.
The Welsh Government also invested of course in online resources for teachers to support initiatives such as the National Literacy and Numeracy Framework, teacher peer group initiatives such as professional learning communities and other career development materials, including modules linked to the Master’s in Educational Practice via Learning Wales.
None of this could have worked, of course, if the Welsh Government had not taken decisive action and spent £39 million to fund better broadband links to schools, after years of failure by local authorities to address school needs in this area.
Does Wales shout loudly enough about these developments? I’m not sure it does, and yet it has provided the infrastructure that can support an emerging Edtech community in Wales, as I saw recently in Cardiff. Hwb+ has been seen as an exemplar around the world.
The technological developments have been driven throughout by pedagogical needs – something Janet Hayward rightly insisted on from the beginning. We developed a number of other initiatives to strengthen teaching performance, including raising the entry qualifications for teachers, strengthening professional standards requirements , reviewing the headship qualification, and introducing Teach First to Wales to bring into teaching graduates who might have chosen other careers. 600 newly qualified teachers have gone through or are going through the Master’s in Educational Practice, starting the transition to an all-Master’s profession.
More fundamentally, we commissioned a review of Initial Teacher Training by Professor Ralph Tabberer, which led to the work by Professor John Furlong, as part of my successor Huw Lewis’s ‘new deal for teachers’ along with the professional learning passport. Professor Furlong’s review noted, shockingly, how none of the higher education institutions delivering initial teacher training had entered any education research for the last Research Excellence Framework. My colleagues in the Public Policy Institute for Wales just down the corridor in the Business School published a detailed review of the research needs of the Welsh Education system earlier this year. Strengthening initial teacher training is a continuing priority for the Welsh Government, as the new Cabinet Secretary Kirsty Williams announced in July, along with the development of leadership in education through the proposed Leadership Academy, building on Robert Hill’s work which established the National Leadership Development Board.
A further development, of course, has been the creation of the Education Workforce Council. It’s important to remember how this originated. As I explain in my book, Ministering to Education in 2010 the incoming UK coalition government announced early on its intention to abolish the GTC in England. Subsequently, in 2012, Michael Gove removed the requirement for teachers to be registered in England. I was conscious that 40% of the school workforce in Wales was now made up of teaching assistants and there was a desire for their contribution to be better recognised at a national level, not least by the unions.. So we moved along the road to the creation of the EWC, which I believe will be an important institution in building the education and youth workforce for the 21st century, and unlike in England, our staff will have the security of professional registration. I look forward to watching its development.
Professor in Public Service Leadership and Innovation, Cardiff Business School, and former Minister for Education and Skills.