This is the place to go to discuss the issues facing education in Wales. You'll also find the TES Cymru blog; home to the latest news, views and comment about the Welsh education system, brought to you by the TES News Team.
Almost three quarters of school heads and teachers in Wales feel recent changes to the education system have had a negative impact on their morale and motivation, an exclusive TES poll reveals today.
Education in Wales has undergone unprecedented reform in recent years in an effort to improve standards and accountability, including the introduction of a school banding system and national reading and maths tests.
But as schools reopen their doors for the autumn term this week, our survey reveals 73.2 per cent of teachers and 75 per cent of heads feel these changes have decreased morale and motivation.
Common complaints included extra pressure, increased criticism and lack of leadership.
One school leader said there had been too many changes in a short space of time: “Staff are doing their best to cope with all this but constant criticism in the press and by Estyn affects morale.”
Others talked of a lack of political leadership, and that education had become a “political football.”
One classroom teacher said: “Teachers are constantly being scrutinised, criticised and held responsible for many of the ills in society, it grinds us down.”
Another said: “There are too many changes happening too often and being brought in by people who seem to have little or no understanding of children and their needs and the changes in society as a whole.
The poll, conducted over the summer and taking in the views of 941 staff, also reveals wide dissatisfaction with the banding system and local authority support for schools.
The majority of respondents – 62.2 per cent of teachers and 75.4 per cent of heads – said they did not believe the introduction of banding had helped improve school standards.
Many respondents complained that the system is divisive and of little benefit to schools or parents.
One teacher said: “It does not seem like a fair system that fully reflects the efforts and capabilities of pupils.”
One head called banding “worse than a waste of time”. “The data used is meaningless and the result certainly does not reflect the quality of education within the school.”
The survey also revealed varying levels of support for schools from Wales’ 22 local authorities.
While slightly more than half said their authority was quite supportive or very supportive, a quarter (25.1 per cent) said they worked with their authority occasionally, but support was poor, while more than ten per cent said they had no relationship with their authority at all.
All of Wales’ major teaching unions – including the Association of School and College Leaders, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the NUT, the NAHT heads’ union, the NASUWT and UCAC – said that the survey highlighted important issues that the government needed to address.
Philip Dixon, director of ATL Cymru, said the government should be “very concerned” at the banding findings in particular.
“I doubt that the new minister would have the courage to scrap the banding system completely but it will hopefully be adapted so that it gives a far more accurate picture of a school's performance,” he said.
Rebecca Williams, policy officer with Welsh teaching union UCAC, said: “There's a clear message that banding has, at best, been a distraction, and at worst has been divisive and damaging. Schools are crying out for skills development and subject-specific support, but just haven't got the budgets or the external support to make it possible.”
Meanwhile, Rex Phillips, Wales organiser for the NASUWT, said that the best way to improve standards was to give teachers a period of stability and access to high quality training.
A Welsh government spokesperson said adapting to change could prove difficult, and that education was no exception.
“We understand that introducing any new process to the education system can take time to bed in. However, banding remains at the heart of our school improvement agenda,” the spokesperson said.
“As a key part of our programme for government, it gives us and parents across Wales a clear picture of how our schools are performing.”
The government said a package of support measures was in place for teachers to help them adapt to changes that have been introduced.