What’s next for professional learning for teachers?

Published 09/11/2018   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

What’s next for professional learning for teachers in Wales? We should know more on Tuesday 13 November when the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams, is due to make a statement in Plenary on the ‘National Approach to Professional Learning’ (the National Approach). In her recent paper on the 2019-20 draft budget (PDF 2MB) to the Children, Young People and Education (CYPE) Committee, the Cabinet Secretary reported that

The success of the new curriculum is dependent on our teaching profession. That is why, I am finalising proposals to invest £15m to schools in 2019-20 which will provide well-resourced professional learning opportunities to prepare practitioners for the implementation of the new curriculum - this will be in addition to funding I will be providing this financial year. I will make a further announcement on this funding shortly.

In advance on that announcement, this blog provides some background to the current system of teachers’ professional learning in Wales and the moves to reform and improve the system to date.

The drive to develop teacher professional learning

Changes to teachers’ professional learning began as part of the ‘tripartite’ of educational reforms in Wales. The other two strands are the development of the new curriculum, a draft version of which is due to be published in April 2019, and introduction of a new initial teacher education system, which will begin training its first students in September 2019. These reforms were launched in 2015 by then Minister for Education, Huw Lewis.

The current Cabinet Secretary for Education is taking forward these reforms through the Welsh Government’s action plan Education: our national mission 2017-2021. One of the ‘four enabling objectives’ of the national mission is ‘developing a high quality education profession’. This objective is particularly pertinent given Estyn’s findings in 2017 that:

The quality of teaching is the biggest influence on how well learners learn, but it is the weakest aspect of provision across most areas of education in Wales.

Initially the changes to professional learning were branded as a ‘New Deal’ whereby all teachers would be entitled to world class training to support them to adapt to the changes that the wider reform programme would bring. In return teachers were expected to ‘seize these opportunities’. At the outset a number of pioneer schools were tasked with developing new approaches to professional learning.

These reforms had, in part, been influence by an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report, published in April 2014,entitled: Improving Schools in Wales (PDF 4MB). The OECD’s report highlighted the lack of options for career progression and professional development for the teaching workforce in Wales. Consequently it recommended that the Welsh Government:

Raise the status of the profession and commit to initial teacher training [… and] ensure quality continuous professional development at all career stages.

The OECD, at the Welsh Government’s request, has also published a rapid policy assessment of the Welsh Government’s ‘education reform journey’ in February 2017. This assessment recommended ‘further policy attention’ in regards to:

[…] developing a national approach to professional learning across all career stages and build capacity for implementation of the new curriculum, focusing on teachers’ formative assessment and differentiated teaching skills.

At that time the Welsh Government reported that it was ‘taking action on many of [the OECD’s] recommendations’, including ‘introducing a national approach to professional learning.’

This is not the only education policy in Wales that has been influenced by the Welsh Government’s ongoing engagement with the OECD.

The Assembly’s scrutiny of the journey so far

In December 2017, the Children, Young People and Education (CYPE) Committee published its report on Teachers’ Professional Learning and Education. This report found that the ‘education workforce is not currently prepared for the implementation of the new curriculum’, which is due for national roll out from September 2022, and recommended the Welsh Government amongst other actions, should:

  • explore how to better use INSET days, with time embedded for professional reflection for teachers;
  • consider promoting greater use of peer to peer learning, and to encourage more development and training within the classroom, to provide a better balance for professional development;
  • consider establishing a recognised accreditation system that ensures the quality of professional development on offer; and
  • ensure that there is full access to professional development for supply teachers.

The Cabinet Secretary accepted in principle the first three recommendations highlighted above and indicated that it was working toward these aims through various ongoing initiatives. It accepted that supply teachers need full access to professional learning and reported that ‘work is underway’ to increase access to learning for supply teachers.

What do we already know about the ‘National Approach’?

In a paper to the CYPE Committee in November 2016 (PDF 565KB), the Welsh Government highlighted that while some pioneer schools would continue to work on professional development:

[…] the New Deal for the Education Workforce is now being rebranded and refocused to advance a portfolio of professional development support which will extend capacity of the whole workforce to realise the new Curriculum.

That same paper stated that the Welsh Government was spending £5.65 million in 2017-18 on developing a ‘national Professional Learning Offer’ via the pioneer schools and the regional education consortia. The Cabinet Secretary’s paper to the CYPE Committee in November 2017 said that the 2018-19 budget for this was £5.8 million.

These figures appear to relate specifically to the development of the National Approach to Professional Learning. This is only part of the money the Welsh Government spends on teacher development and support more generally, which comprises in the current financial year around £19 million from a dedicated budget and £13 million from its 2016-2021 Programme for Government commitment (PDF 200KB) to spend £100 million on raising school standards. The extra £15 million in 2019-20 will go into the dedicated teacher development and support budget line.

In information provided to the CYPE Committee Inquiry, the Cabinet Secretary for Education indicated (PDF 1MB) that she is ‘focused on implementing a clear methodology for professional learning based around’:

  • reflective practice;
  • effective use of data and research evidence;
  • effective collaboration; and
  • coaching and mentoring.

In the same paper, Kirsty Williams reported ‘the launch of a fully integrated national approach by September 2018’. Her response to the CYPE Committee report also noted a proposed Estyn thematic review on professional learning following ‘the full implementation of the national approach to professional learning in September 2018’. Elsewhere in the paper it reported:

An initial national professional learning approach will be made available in 2018, with a fully implemented national approach from April 2020.

The Welsh Government website highlights the National Approach will be implemented in three phases in April 2018, April 2019 and April 2020. The Cabinet Secretary’s upcoming statement may clarify the content, delivery model and timescales of the National Approach.

Schools as Learning Organisations

The National Approach will be underpinned by the Schools as Learning Organisations (SLO) model, initially launched in November 2017, which is designed to ensure that learning and development is embedded across the school system. It is hoped that in doing so, schools will build their capacity to deliver the new, and fundamentally different, school curriculum.

The SLO model is also influenced by the OECD via its ‘What makes a school a learning organisation?’ (PDF 1MB) report, published in 2016. Furthermore, the OECD published a review of ‘developing schools as learning organisations in Wales’ in October 2018. One of the review’s main findings was:

The majority of schools in Wales seem well on their way towards developing as learning organisations…however, a considerable proportion of schools are still far removed from realising this objective.

The Cabinet Secretary has said (PDF 6MB) she will review the OECD’s most recent report and the 27 recommendations it makes for the Welsh Government, regional consortia and Estyn.

How to follow the debate

The debate by Assembly Members is scheduled for Tuesday 13 November 2018. The Plenary session will be broadcast on Senedd TV and a transcript will be available on the Assembly’s Record of Proceedings.

Article by Joseph Champion, National Assembly for Wales Research Service