Around the UK: Wales
Nigel Stacey, President of ASCL Cymru, outlines the key issues that distingush Welsh education policy from that in England.
There has been a quiet acceptance that differences in educational approach and provision between Wales and England are significant and growing. We are fortunate in Wales to have a system that facilitates partnership and allows school leaders to work together.
However, we have a very different relationship with local and national government than English schools. There is no escaping the funding issues that seem to be dominating our thoughts and limiting our capacity to facilitate school improvement measures in our schools.
For the first time, at the ASCL Cymru annual conference in December, the funding differential between England and Wales was acknowledged by a senior civil servant. We recognise the ambitious scale of reform in Wales but fear that we have inadequate financial support to deliver such a challenging agenda for change.
ASCL Cymru will continue to lobby for a more transparent funding approach at both local and national level, for a reduction in grant funding with a subsequent increase in core funding and consistent financial reporting which is so essential in ensuring transparency. Children in Wales deserve better, a consistent theme of the new Children's Commissioner.
The recent survey of ASCL members with respect to 14 to 19 learning pathways showed that there is considerable support for what could be an exciting opportunity. The vision underpinning this initiative is good and the potential for a wider, more relevant and cost-effective curricula experience is enormous.
However there are practical issues that are not being addressed that have the potential to lower standards in our schools. The timescales for implementation of the new local curricula and the agenda underpinning the Transforming Education document show a complete disregard for the difficulties at the school level.
Harmonisation of timetables, reduced flexibility in Key Stages 3 and 4 and the implications of sustainability once any grant is removed are coupled with the huge financial implications for transport, learning coaches and paying for courses outside of the school environment. Our Welsh medium colleagues and members in rural schools have real concerns associated with the travel issues implicit with collaborative working.
ASCL Cymru has called upon the Welsh Assembly Government to delay implementation of this initiative for all schools for a period of two years and to seek volunteer networks, in differing contexts, to take part in a full trial of the proposals contained in the draft Learning Skills Measure.
There are a number of other issues that are also going to require us to express a view. Wales will need to have a new performance management scheme that links more directly to the government's threshold standards.
We also need to ensure that teachers in Wales remain within the framework of the National Conditions of Service. Failure to achieve this goal could result in us becoming the 'Cinderella Service'.
We are also faced with the challenges of a new inspection framework, the assessment and verification processes linked to the removal of SATs, LEA partnership agreements and final stage of the workload agreement.
As we continue to diversify from England, the role of ASCL Cymru becomes more critical. We are a respected group of professionals with a proven track record of success. The opportunity exits for us to take a more proactive role in the wider educational debate in Wales.
We must respond to that challenge by working with our partner associations and collaborating with WAG and the Association of Directors of Education in Wales. As inspirational leaders, we have a key role to play in ensuring that all children in Wales have access to a world-class educational experience.
Nigel Stacey is ASCL Cymru president and head of Dwr-y-Felin School, Neath Port Talbot.
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