‘Education on the Cheap’ Claim As Teacher Numbers in Wales Fall ; More Teaching Assistants Employed
By Moira Sharkey
THE Welsh Assembly Government has been accused of “trying to get education on the cheap” after figures showed a drop in the number of teachers and a rise in teaching assistants.
The criticism was made by the Welsh Conservatives after latest statistics showed teacher numbers in Wales’ schools fell from27,065 in 2007 to 26,880 in 2008. During the same period, the number of teaching assistants rose by 865, to 9,583.
While recognising the role teaching assistants play in schools, Shadow Education Minister Andrew Davies said the Assembly Government needed to strike the right balance between qualified teachers and teaching assistants.
Figures obtained by the Welsh Conservatives also showed there were 1,520 teacher vacancies last year. Last month it was revealed that almost 200 newly qualified teachers in Wales failed to find a job.
David Evans, secretary of NUT Cymru, said the difference in the numbers of teachers to teaching assistants could be explained by the fact that there has been a decrease in the number of teachers due to the fall in rolls in schools across Wales and an increase in teaching assistants to meet the demands of a changing curriculum such as the Foundation Phase.
He added: “There had been concerns that the workload agreement would see an over-reliance on teaching assistants to cover for the preparation time given to teachers, but this has not happened.
“The fall in the number of teachers is linked to the way we are dealing with falling rolls. We would like to seem more emphasis on cutting class sizes rather than on cutting teaching posts.
“If the Welsh Assembly Government is intent on bringing class sizes down to the minimum levels then we believe it should be holding onto the teachers we have.
“There is currently a huge demand for every teaching job. In my experience as a school governor I have seen up to 78 applicants applying for one job. There is no doubt that there are lots of qualified teachers looking for the jobs.”
Mr Davies added: “If there are hundreds of vacancies on any one day in schools across Wales then it begs the question, who is teaching our children? What makes no sense to me is that with so many vacancies and teacher numbers dropping, why is it so many graduates cannot find jobs? We need to improve teaching terms and conditions and giving more classroom support is a major part of that.
“But there is no point in filling schools with assistants when there are not enough teachers in classrooms. The Assembly Government needs to make sure that every school in Wales has the necessary number of teachers.”
A WAG spokeswoman said: “We have made a firm commitment to tackle teachers’ workloads and raise standards in education across the board. We want teachers to be able to focus on their professional duties of teaching and learning and in order to achieve this we want school to deploy their support staff more flexibly – but accountability for learning outcomes for children will always rest with qualified teachers. Support staff at any level and teachers are not interchangeable.”
The General Teaching Council for Wales (GTCW) supports the NUT view that the reduction in teachers is related to the reduction in pupil numbers and in turn the closure of schools in Wales but the professional standards body echoed WAG’s position that teachers and support staff are not interchangeable.
A GTCW spokesman added: “Results from the 2008 Assembly census indicate that the teacher recruitment and retention picture in Wales is healthy, with a steady improvement in the number of applicants for teaching posts since 2005, for example, in the secondary phase, there has been an increase in the average number of applications for teaching posts advertised in each subject between 2005 and 2008.
“Following Professor John Furlong’s Review of Initial Teacher Training in Wales, the Council supports the WAG’s decision to cut the number of trainee teacher places in Wales by50%in primary and 25% in secondary by 2010-11.
“This will result in a greater parity between the numbers trained in Wales and the availability of teaching posts for Newly Qualified Teachers in Wales and stop the situation where new teachers are being trained for unemployment.
However, the council believes that all newly qualified teachers in Wales should receive a guaranteed post to complete their statutory induction period, mirroring the position in Scotland.”
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