The winds of change can be welcome, pushing you to a better world. For many teachers in Wales today the current climate feels more like a storm. In 1999 the first elections to the newly established Welsh Assembly were held, and ever since, Wales has embarked on its own learning curve. As with every learning process, the country has experienced successes, as well as failures. Soon after the first decade of devolution, PISA and other results, caused much soul searching and criticism of national policy. A series of powerful winds blew through the system. A new process of school categorization, a qualifications review, establishment of regional education consortia, an initial teacher education review, and a major review of the school curriculum by Professor Graham Donaldson, were all held within a short space of time. Professor Donaldson has challenged Wales to build for a successful future. In response, we must be confident that we can build windmills rather than walls.
‘If professional learning in Wales is to move…the whole system needs to come together to build a self-belief that we are doing the right thing in the right way’
A key factor will be the creation of a research-rich, self-improving education system in which evidence informs practice and policy, and in which teachers and the wider educational research and policy communities work together to deliver the best outcomes for learners1. If professional learning in Wales is to move from being training to implement to becoming the key driver of sustainable change, then the whole system needs to come together to build a self-belief that we are doing the right thing in the right way. It will necessitate a mind shift for a profession. The new Donaldson curriculum asks teachers to develop ambitious, capable learners, ready to learn throughout their lives. Teachers in Wales must also be helped to model this pupil behaviour. The freedom provided within the new curriculum can be both empowering and scary, but together we must grasp this opportunity and ensure the information and knowledge scaffold that will help this positive response. The Scottish Government’s Literature Review of teacher education in the 21st Century discusses four models of teacher professionalism, all of which have some strengths:
- the effective teacher;
- the reflective teacher;
- the enquiring teacher;
- the transformative teacher.
All four are essential but very rarely are teachers encouraged to become transformative in their initial training. Some programmes produce effective teachers; most produce reflective teachers; the best produce enquiring teachers but few reach the goal of transformation. Given the journey of our education policy since 1999 I believe that Wales needs to ensure that our professional learning achieves that goal of producing transformative teachers.
Our contribution has been to set up Yr Athrofa: Institute of Education: http://athrofa.cymru/. Established by the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Yr Athrofa has three component parts – A Professional Learning Partnership, Centres of Research and Innovation, that give us the research base, and the Wales Education Commission, which allows us to reflect on international best practice. All build on the proud history of teacher education in South West Wales. A major new venture is our assessment project, in conjunction with Glasgow University and Welsh Government, working with schools to develop progression steps within the new curriculum.
The Professional Learning Partnership [PLP] involves over 100 schools from across Wales. It is co-producing programmes for teachers at all stages in their professional lives and for leaders who are classroom-based, leading institutions, or who are system leaders. These programmes are delivered and assessed in partnership and accredited through the University. The PLP has a strong combination of expertise, experience and capacity to focus on achieving the changes needed to embed the recommendations of ‘Teaching Tomorrow’s Teachers’2 alongside the wider ambitions of the Welsh Government and its agenda for change. For over three years, there has been substantial innovation in our teacher education programmes. The engagement of school-based professionals in working with the outcomes of research and embedding research within programmes of professional learning has been at the centre of this work. As Voltaire has said, “Think for yourself and let others enjoy the privilege of doing so too.”
1BERA-RSA (2014) Research and the Teaching Profession; building the capacity for a self-improving education system. Final report of the BERA-RSA Inquiry into the role of research in teacher education. London: BERA
2FURLONG.J. (2015) Teaching Tomorrow’s Teachers -options for the future of initial teacher education in Wales.
Literature Review on Teacher Education in the 21st Century. (2010) Scottish Government Social Research http://www.gov.scot/Resource/Doc/325663/0105011.pdf