'Today's Pupils Are Being Taught by the Best Generation of Teachers We've Ever Had, Committed to Raising Standards' Today It's the Turn of Education Policy-Maker Gary Brace of the General Teaching Council for Wales to Dissect Our Statement - Education in Wales Must Do Better. Discuss

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education Iof the T IS an undeniable fact that a well-qualified, motivated and committed teacher is the most important influence on the quality of education in a school.

Teaching -We all remember our own school teachers - the good ones, the strict ones, the eccentric ones, the ones we could easily 'wind up' and the ones that made us feel as if we were on top of the world.

do I am pleased to say that today's pupils in Wales are being taught by the best generation of teachers we've ever had.

That's a bold statement, I know, but headteachers consistently tell me that those entering the profession now arrive with a clear sense of direction, a strong commitment to providing a high quality education for all their pupils and a passion for teaching and learning.

They are committed to raising standards, despite increasingly pressurised classroom situations.

However, the Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) results in reading, maths and science have sent shockwaves through the education system in Wales generally.

The Pisa results, while not previously acknowledged as a barometer of performance in the same way as the GCSE or A-level grades, have been a sharp reminder that we are in a competitive international environment.

So how did we end up with these results? Questions need to be asked - why did we rank lowest out of the four UK countries? And why have we ranked significantly below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average in reading and mathematics and lower than we did last time around? The answer is certainly not due to a lack of commitment from our teachers.

Our teachers are excellent in preparing students for examinations when they are clear about syllabus, past questions and priorities, as our GCSE and A-level results show.

But our GCSE style of assessment is not good preparation for the sorts of higher level skills that Pisa assesses.

As a result of the greater emphasis that will no doubt be paid to preparing next year's 15-year-olds for the Pisa assessments, we will start to see some dividends.

However, "teaching to the Pisa test" won't be a long-term answer to raising standards unless there is a good match with the skills we truly want to develop through the curriculum.

But there is no reason why Pisa questions should not help to develop our skills-based curriculum.

Teachers' performance defines educational attainment. As McKinsey reported: "a country's education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers".

But teachers need support to succeed.

When our teachers complete their initial teacher training, it is not the end of the story.

In the same way as doctors need to continue with their professional development through research and training to stay on top of their game, utilise the latest in resources and ideas, so, too, do teachers.

It is vital that teachers receive encouragement and support in the form of continuing professional development throughout their careers.

Having the opportunity to improve professionally is key to ensuring teachers are confident in their abilities and maintain their motivation.

This directly influences a teacher's competence in the classroom and their ability to enable pupils to reach their full potential.

The fact that there is no set path for continued skills development as teachers advance through their careers remains a weakness.

What is needed in Wales is a genuine professional continuum, which enables all teachers to build on their skills and experience year by year, and one in which teachers have a degree of control.

The funding programme for individual CPD, unfortunately closed by the Welsh Government last year, had opportunities for professional networks and schoolbased group bursaries in which more than 7,000 teachers worked together in more than 700 collaborative networks. …