When, in January 2016, I was first asked to engage with Welsh Government in developing new professional standards for teachers, I was enthusiastic and highly motivated to play a part in such an influential task but had no idea of the magnitude of what would be involved.
As a professional learning pioneer school, I was very aware of the many changes that were happening within Welsh education. The Minister for Education and Skills had published ‘Qualified for Life’ (2014) a six-year education improvement plan for Wales. This was closely followed by the publication of ‘Successful Futures’ which focused on the new curriculum for Wales and ‘Teaching Tomorrow’s Teachers’ which looked at how initial teacher education (ITE) would ensure the workforce of Wales was fit for purpose (February and March 2015 respectively).
There was a missing link, a piece of work around ensuring that the teachers of Wales were well supported to be excellent practitioners with a strong understanding of pedagogy and what works well for learners across Wales. The existing ‘Teaching Standards’ were no longer fit for purpose in the changing landscape of Welsh education. There was a need for new professional standards to support practitioners to develop professionally and strive for sustained excellent practice from initial training through to school leadership, especially now the new curriculum was on its way. The standards were critical to achieving the Welsh Government’s vision for education in Wales and would also need to reflect the reforms in ITE, the developing qualifications framework and the launch of the National Academy for Educational Leadership.
My very first meeting was as a part of a small group where we met Professor Mick Waters as the consultant for the development of the new standards. Mick told us that first and foremost he was a teacher and was proud to call himself such. I was the only primary representative at that time and there was a secondary Head Teacher representative also. The task was to write professional standards for teachers, in the first instance, that would focus on the essential elements of every teacher’s work and describe the knowledge, skills and behaviours that characterise excellent practice and support professional growth. And so began eighteen months of intensive, iterative work across the Principality. Each aspect of the teaching standards, the dimensions and the descriptors was arrived at through a process of extensive workshops with current practitioners.
The key dimensions were agreed quite quickly as it was clear that pedagogy was paramount as the starting point. The need for collaboration was essential to allow pedagogy to spread and that was easily recognised from the early work of the pioneer schools. Professional learning was crucial to ensure that pedagogy is taken deeper through research and enquiry. Professional learning is seen as a dual responsibility for teachers – to develop their own learning and to contribute towards the learning of colleagues. Innovation was recognised as being key to moving pedagogy forward and finally leadership was essential to help it grow.
It was also recognised early on that in addition to the five dimensions, there was a need for six overarching values and descriptors that would apply to all adults working in the classroom with learners in Wales.
The development of the descriptors was much more complex. The first debate was what ‘milestones’ were needed. Many colleagues were conscious of the then QTS, end of induction/ NQT and threshold milestones that were in place. The decision was made that this did not need to be replicated. Entry level descriptors would be QTS and there would be an end of induction (NQT) descriptor followed by a ‘sustained highly effective practice’ descriptor which would be both ambitious and aspirational. The base-line for performance would be the NQT descriptors and it was reasonable to expect that teachers should not fall below what is expected of an NQT.
This is where the intensity of the work escalated as descriptors were drafted by teachers to describe their work and to shape their further professional growth and development. The descriptors were written to connect the dimensions, and then rigorous, intensive and extensive workshops with practitioners saw them agreed as draft, fed back upon, refined and fed back. It ensured that Professor Waters arrived at a consensus from all phases of education across Wales prior to consultation.
The consultation on the Standards was undertaken in 2017, prior to their publication in September 2017. In addition to the consultation there were ‘roadshows’. Senior leaders and teachers were invited to venues across Wales to listen to a detailed presentation from Professor Waters about the rationale behind the new standards, their development through co-construction with teachers and leaders across Wales, and the refining at every stage until they became the draft standards that were being consulted upon. At each ‘roadshow’ professionals involved in the writing process, including me, also spoke of our experiences to date. There was a recurring message that the standards had been written by teachers for teachers! The draft standards were then adjusted following analysis of the consultation responses prior to publication.
The new teaching standards are still in their infancy but have given very clear messages of what is expected from all teachers across Wales, regardless of sector or specialism. There are very clear non-negotiables that ensure that we all constantly evolve to meet the needs of the children and young adults in our care. The Leadership Standards and the draft Assisting Teaching Standards have since been written, reflecting the same five dimensions and overarching values and dispositions ensuring equity and progression for the workforce.
What we want for our teachers mirrors what we want for our learners and is explicit in the purposes of the new curriculum. These are exciting times in Welsh education; the new professional standards will help us all to enjoy the challenges of the road ahead.
Head Teacher, Langstone Primary School, Newport.