Stricter regulation of independent schools likely in light of Ruthin School row

(Title Image: Ruthin School)

Here’s a round-up of the main questions to the Education Minister, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), this afternoon.

Challenges recruiting and retaining teachers

Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) quoted Welsh Government statistics which showed that secondary school recruitment for trainee teachers was down 40% on targets. There were further statistics which highlighted particular problems within the Welsh-medium sector, with only 17.5% of teachers who started teacher training in 2017-18 doing so in the Welsh language.

The Minister accepted there was a challenge, but it wasn’t unique to Wales and there wasn’t any single thing that could be done to address it. On what was being done, the Minister said measures were being taken to widen access to teacher training for those without traditional qualifications.

“We are looking at new ways in which we can support qualification for teachers. So, the Member will be aware of the recent accreditation of the Open University scheme to train teachers. We’re looking particularly there to attract career changers – those people for whom perhaps a traditional way of qualification is not appropriate, but have a desire and a passion to teach.”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams

The Welsh Government aims for 30% of trainee teachers to do so through Welsh and highlighted the work that’s being done to enhance bilingual skills amongst teachers and school support staff too.

Blame game on education funding

Shadow Skills Minister, Mohammad Asghar AM (Con, South Wales East), told the chamber that headteachers have called for the Welsh Government to ringfence any additional money (that may or may not be coming Wales’ way in the forthcoming UK budget) for education to make up for years of cuts.

The Minister was, however, very clear where the blame for underfunding lies. Naturally, it wasn’t her:

“I have to say their (headteachers) first concern is the inability of your government in Westminster to give this government an appropriate level of public expenditure. One example, Presiding Officer: we received no consequential this year to pay for the teachers’ pay rise. We were short-changed again this year to pay for teachers’ pensions, which is not a devolved matter. It was the Finance Minister….that had to fund the shortfall, and that’s money that could have been spent on other aspects of education….”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams

Ruthin headteacher row raises concerns about the regulation of private schools

Responding to recent news that the independent Ruthin School sacked its former headteacher, Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) said it raises concerns about the rules by which private schools have to follow:

“….some of the things that have been suggested to me that need addressing include making sure that those who teach in independent schools should be registered with the Education Workforce Council (EWC). We need to look at ways of ensuring more rigid requirements on councils of management, or governing bodies as most of us would describe them….need to extend the powers of Estyn so that they can remove governors and senior leadership when there are issues around professional concerns.”
– Llyr Gruffydd AM

Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) echoed this, raising the possibility that the former headteacher could end up at another independent school because he’s not registered with the EWC.

The Minister said the Ruthin School case raised several fundamental points about how independent schools were regulated and some changes are out for consultation, including an official register of pupils at independent schools and possible registration of staff with the EWC.

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