‘I think a lot of teachers will just get out’: What does the future of education look like in Wales?

  • Written by ITV Wales Journalist Zaynub Akbar

The pressure on teachers across Wales has continued to increase as the exam season approaches.

One teachers' union has explained teachers are "absolutely exhausted" after having to upskill, adapt to distance learning and cope with health and safety mitigations.

In a new series of Wales This Week, we take a look at the impact lockdowns in Wales have had on both pupils and teachers.

‘Wales This Week: Back to School?’ which focuses on the impact of lockdown on education in Wales, is on at 7:30pm on Tuesday 15th February 2022. 

It will also be available after transmission on the Wales This Week programme page.

Neil Butler, from the union NASUWT, said: "I see and speak to teachers most days, and they report to me that they are absolutely exhausted.

"On top of all of this, the Welsh Government has said we’re launching into an entirely new curriculum in September. It’s been very difficult to be able to concentrate on those needs when basically holding the whole ship together has been the priority.

"There’s a lot of work being done on the mental health and wellbeing of the learners, but precious little on teachers and support staff. And I think the response will be that a lot of teachers will just get out."

ITV Wales research revealed that in some parts of Wales, as many as one in ten teachers and school staff missed the first day back after the new year. It’s a figure which has been recorded by various councils in Wales throughout the last half term.

Bev Cheetham, Headteacher at Y Pant, says she has struggled to find supply teachers to cover absences throughout the pandemic. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Bev Cheetham, headteacher at Y Pant Comprehensive in Rhondda Cynon Taf, said she’s been worried about the potential impact this could have had on pupils and their studies.

She believes that it's an issue which has also taken a toll on teachers themselves.

"When you ring up for a supply teacher of a morning, there’s nobody there," she said.

"We would not have stayed open throughout this time if it weren’t for our fantastic team of learning coaches, of learning support assistants, many of whom are very very experienced, so if we’ve been struggling to cover a class they’ve stepped in, and that’s the only reason we’ve been able to stay open."

Language lessons were hit particularly hard by online learning with the limited ability to practice oral skills and pronunciation.

Head of Welsh, Sarah Fredrick, said: "It has been difficult. It’s been a new experience for us as well, as staff. Obviously we’re used to teaching pupils face to face, and we’ve had to adapt massively with online teaching.

"Due to data protection, pupils had to ensure that their cameras and their mics were off. So they were there, but we couldn’t really ensure that they were behind the screen."

She added: "And we were using the chat function a lot, so obviously that’s really different to them speaking in class and hearing their pronunciation, so it has had a big effect on their development there. 

"Our wellbeing as well through the pandemic has been a challenge."

One A-Level pupil has described the thought of exams at the end of this academic year as "terrifying".

Tehya Button has never sat an external exam before, after her GCSEs and AS-levels were cancelled.

A high achiever, Tehya explained how she struggled considerably with home learning.

"As much as I want to say I managed to stay motivated and stayed on top of everything, I didn’t. I couldn’t do it. As much as I wanted to, that motivation just wasn’t there for me," she said.

"I’ve always strived for the best grades and bettering myself in that way. And not being able to do that in the way that I would typically have done it, I found to be really challenging for myself.

"That sense of the unknown really just kept me on edge. Nothing felt constant."

Tehya added: "I don’t think we’ll ever be prepared enough after the lack of preparation we’ve had in the last few years.

"And now, because we’ve never done exams, the thought of having to sit an exam at the end of this year absolutely terrifies me."

Despite the uncertainty, Wales' Education Minister Jeremy Miles has said exams will go ahead this summer unless it’s "physically impossible to do that".

He added: "There’s a contingency plan that teachers have been working to for some months, but I’ve said throughout that we will be doing exams.

"They’re not going to be exams as they were in 2019, they can’t be for obvious reasons, so the grades will reflect the disruption the school system has been through."

The education minister explained that whilst teachers have been asked to do more than is expected during normal times, there is some support in place.

When asked about communication levels between schools and the government, he insisted it has been good.

"That’s not to say we’ve always seen eye to eye on everything. Naturally, we must remember that we’ve been through a period of two years where decisions necessarily had to be taken very, very quickly.

"Normally, throughout that time, we’ve set ourselves the goal of trying to give a couple of weeks notice of changes when that’s been possible. But there have been times when that just wasn’t possible. I do recognise how challenging that is."

Looking ahead to the future, Mr Miles said the Welsh Government is committed to providing funding for school, regardless of financial support from Westminster.

"Over the last two years we’ve put in, in each of those two years, 220-230 million pounds per year.

"The funding has been weighted to reflect schools which have a higher number of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"Next year and the following years, we haven’t got that funding from Westminster, but we will be committing funding to carry on."

‘Wales This Week: Back to School?’, which focuses on the impact of lockdown on education in Wales, is on at 7:30pm on Tuesday 15th February 2022. 

It will also be available after transmission on the Wales This Week programme page.