Is Education In Wales REALLY FAILING?! 😱

With education popping up in the headlines, talking about concerning budget cuts and behavioural disruptions in children, we can’t help but wonder if the system is failing. But, the truth is never as black and white as it looks. This is why I decided to dig a little deeper into what is going on in education within Wales, and what the hope is for the future. Here at B.E.S.T, I spoke to our company director; Stephanie Wood-Gilbert, and discussed the future of education.

Agency Work, Why Should It Be Considered?

One of the most burning questions, most will have when faced with agencies such as ourselves, would be “Why should I choose to work with an agency?”. In some cases some schools may wonder this themselves. Steph, why do you think schools should consider working with agencies such as ourselves?

” As a school, when you work with an agency, we essentially allow you to try-before-you-buy with staff. It’s hard to know if a teacher or TA will be a good fit, and advertising is very expensive. Working with an agency like us, cuts out the middle man, and takes any doubt out of the question. You don’t have to commit to working with a TA or teacher before you’ve even met them! Unlike the majority of supply agencies, we don’t even charge a finders fee, with all the financial difficulties we are facing these days, you save money. If you work with BEST, you won’t just be working with an agency, but you will working with an agency run by previous teachers with a focus on providing the best service”

What about teachers? Why do you think they should consider agency work?

“Honestly, it’s scary. Going in and teaching a class, right off the bat from university. Doing supply work with an agency such as ourselves gives the teacher some time to ease into the physical environment. It also means you’re not committing to just one school until you’re ready to. They can try out different age groups, areas, schools… This helps them gain experience, and find out where they fit.

The Future Of Education

If you could paint an ideal future for education, what would you paint? And what do you think would need to be done to make it into a reality?

“We need to work together; schools and supply agencies should collaborate more. We should look to allowing teachers to gain more opportunities, experience and knowledge and likewise, the schools need to bind together when it comes to acquiring more sector-specific funding. Classes are getting so much bigger, and in many cases there can be 25% of students who may be lower ability who can become lost in the high numbers.  

Teacher salaries also need to see an increase. Salaries do not collerate to teachers’ realistic working-hours. Teachers can expect to spend 22.5 hours a week actively teaching, and around 2.5 hours on PPA, more time is needed for PPA. Many teachers work well into the evening, planning and assessing, which eats into their home, family and social life.  

Salaries for these roles do need to match the effort put into the job to keep current teachers and attract new ones.  However, we also can’t ignore how teachers need access to more mental health care possibly as part of the Education Directorate.  So many teachers can end up susceptible to addiction due to stress and struggling to cope. Radical changes need to be adopted to improve teaching environments and the sector as a whole. We recently did a mental health article iterating how necessary this is.” 

Making Magic Happen

What do you think schools need most, keeping in mind modern factors such as behaviour and funding? How can we paint a picture of a future for education that incorporate modern values while building a better future?

Staff need to be more consistent, and staff retention needs to be higher. Funding definitely needs to improve, if for anything, to acquire resources. Some teachers will even spend their own money to be able to provide for the kids, which just makes already tight incomes, even tighter. Management of the school systems also needs more focus, in my opinion. I think schools would benefit more from spot inspections than inspections.

If we were to conduct a mystery shopper-type scheme it would allow the real strengths and flaws of schools to be shown. By doing this, it’d be easier to improve things where improvement is needed. During inspections, everyone gets stressed, and good teachers get nervous and make mistakes. Meanwhile, areas where improvement is needed get brushed under the carpet. A mystery-shopper approach would enable for the education board to see the reality of what schools REALLY need and what they are about.

Spot inspections seem to be a passion point for you. What makes you so passionate about this?

“Being able to properly convey the reality of the situation, I think. Nothing being brushed under the rug, and true talent in staff being properly showcased without pressure. For example, there may be an incredible team of staff, but on an average day, the head may be off-site. If an inspection is planned, the inspectors are none-the-wiser. I’m not saying that this happens all the time, but its a good thing for inspectors to consider. The things an inspector see’s during an inspection may very well not be in line with the every day running of a school. Planned inspections do not show the best, they show a painted picture of what the board wants to see.”

Behaviour & Making Changes

I have to ask, with so much chaos in the media surrounding behaviour at schools, do you think that we will be able navigate these issues in consideration of modern values?

“It is doable, but not an easy road. Police officers can go into schools, which is proven to help, but having the officers available to do so isn’t easy. It has been proven in a study that we need to catch kids out in behavioural problems before Year 8, this can prevent kids getting lost, as they’re still impressionable at that age.”

Do you think it is logistically possible though?

“Yes, but it’s not easy. Children spend a large part of the day in school, and if the environment isn’t conducive to learning, this alone can be a factor in poor behaviour.  Schools could start by conducting environment exchanges to see how children and teachers are in different schools. More funding should also be provided for schools that are assisting children who may need extra support. This could include children who suffer with mental health, have additional learning needs, or may come from a dysfunctional home or experience a high level of deprivation. It’s about finding ways to provide opportunity and showcase the value of education.

Some children may come from a family background where the parents don’t value education and often, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. But, if we can really demonstrate the value of education and the opportunities it can offer even the poorest child, they could change their future. But funding is the key, and it needs to have a more thorough focus. We need to have the freedom to ask children who are struggling to find the value of learning, what they would learn if they had a choice. Open the door, and the rest will follow. 

For teachers, this could mean going into a different classroom with different resources. In turn, they can experience things from an alternative perspective and they may learn something in doing so.” 

What is the first step, do you think?

“The first step to change for schools in Wales definitely starts at the top. The education minister should visit schools on a daily basis and see where change is needed. A day in the field. But, in local counties, attention needs to be paid to who oversees education in that county. For example, I know we’ve had ministers of education who haven’t been in a school since they sat their exams. The people in charge should be people from the industry and be in the loop regarding industry-specific issues in the county. That is where change needs to begin I think, and once that can be more focused on, we should be growth very quickly.”

About BEST

Why should schools choose to work with us at BEST?

“Well, we are a company headed by a primary and secondary teacher, so you can feel comfortable that we know what you need. We understand and empathise with the stress of our teachers and the value of our TA’s. TA’s are the backbone of the classroom, and this is why we always get feedback after putting a TA into a school, we want to know you are happy, they are happy, and they fit.

While teacher’s need qualifications to work with us, TA’s don’t. We consider a person who is calm, patient, and caring as qualified. A TA is in the personality, not in the paperwork. In fact, some of the best TA’s we have, who are in long-term placements don’t have a qualification between them, but they’re amazing! I was a teacher myself, and I couldn’t be a TA. I don’t have the qualifying personality for it. TA roles is all personality, heart and soul.”

What would you say to a school is on the fence about working with us?

Give us a try. We will always do our best to ensure you get what you need, and, if you don’t, you won’t be charged. However, that is unlikely to happen, as if you ask for someone, a specific skillset, or type of person, we will ensure you get the RIGHT person. For example, we are starting to work with an all A.L.N school, and know that not just anyone can work here. We make sure a school gets the correct person. We don’t place bums on seats for money, no one is putting people out to schools just to hit targets.

As a TA, teacher, or as a school, we are education match-makers, we want to couple up educators with schools perfectly to create a match made in heaven. Everyone benefits if we get it right, especially the children. We are also not afraid to be honest, and if we meet with someone who we believe may not be the best fit for a particular role, we will say so. We are not here to put ‘bums on seats’ or give false hopes, we want the best for you, the community, schools, and our staff.  

At B.E.S.T we hire for the heart and soul of the person, and are all about feedback and making improvements.”

What Is The Takeaway?

Speaking with Steph Wood-Gilbert provided an eye-opener that education is not failing. The education sector just needs a revamp to bring how we teach up to date with the speed and openness of the modern world. Education is not about strictness, or getting everyone to tick all the boxes, but seeing where people shine and helping them grow those skills. Much like how we approach TA’s, students should be recognised for their individuality and personal qualities too. If we bring this into education and acquire the funding to do so, the correct changes could happen.

But, does it really start with government and funding? Or, can we, the everyday average-joe start working forward towards substantial change now? Can we make school the best it’s ever been for kids all around Wales? I think so. We just need to find out how!