Wales schools plan 'will not increase bureaucracy'

National reading tests for six-to-14-year-olds and a new system for grading schools will be rolled out in September.

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A framework to improve school performance across Wales will not mean more bureaucracy, says the education minister.

Leighton Andrews says standards in schools must improve and claims his newly created school standards unit will "drive up performance".

It comes five months after Mr Andrews announced a 20-point action plan for improvement in schools.

In a speech on Wednesday evening he was giving an update on the progress made.

The framework will provide schools with annual expected results in literacy and numeracy for learners aged five to 14.

The minister believes this will help inform teachers of all subjects on how they need to apply literacy and numeracy across the curriculum in order to raise levels of achievement.

Planned reading and numeracy tests will play a role and will provide teachers with clear indicators of skill development and progress.

The reading tests will be rolled out voluntarily in September and will become mandatory the following year.

Start Quote

The schools standards unit is central to the reforms we are putting in place”

End Quote Leighton Andrews Education Minister

They will be sat by six to 14-year-olds, who will take a test each year to monitor progress.

Similar maths tests will be introduced the following year.

The actual form of the tests is still being developed.

Grading for all primary and secondary schools will be in place in this year's autumn term.

"I have been clear in my intentions to improve standards and performance across the board, with a particular focus on literacy and numeracy," said Mr Andrews.

'Widely respected'

"This is vital if we are to ensure every child is able to reach their full potential."

Mr Andrews said good literacy and numeracy skills were the "bedrock of our plans to deliver educational improvement in Wales".

He told BBC Wales: "We've established a unit... it's led by former director of education in Newport Dr Brett Pugh, who is very widely respected across Wales.

"It's got some of the brightest and best civil servants form my department within it, and it's working very closely with the local authorities to establish, currently, stock takes of where they are, what the challenges are that they face and what they need to do to turn things around."

Start Quote

We do believe there are problems within the Welsh education system but is this a crisis and is there systemic failure?”

End Quote Tim Cox NASUWT union

He said the unit would help local authorities determine their own own targets for improvement.

"The schools standards unit is central to the reforms we are putting in place," he said.

"It will help us drive up performance and I think it will lead to very serious returns in due course."

He said he was determined to "drive out bureaucracy" and had a commitment from local authorities that they would increase the percentage of money delegated for schools.

Unions questioned whether too much emphasis was being placed on the results of the international Pisa tests for 15-year-olds.

Wales was again ranked lowest of the UK countries in the latest Pisa results last December.

Tim Cox, of the NASUWT in Wales, said: "We do believe there are problems within the Welsh education system but is this a crisis and is there systemic failure?

"It's interesting if you look at [school inspection body] Estyn's report from last year, they said that their report in 2004 said that examination results at GCSE had plateaued, by 2010 there had been significant improvements, so where is the actual problem?

"There seems to be an over-reliance on the Pisa results tests that pupils in Wales were not prepared for and which the curriculum didn't support."

Little impact

Mr Cox also questioned whether teachers were getting enough support, and pointed to a "£604 per pupil underfunding of the system in Wales compared with England".

Chris Llewelyn, from the Welsh Local Government Association, said he believed that local government had recognised it needed to do more to "improve performance and improve outcomes for children and young people".

"I think everybody needs to accept, and I think the various studies over the last year and beyond... and other measures of performance show that the system is under performing and I think we have to accept that that is unacceptable," he said.

"The reason we provide education is to enable children and young people to fulfil their potential and to contribute meaningfully to strong sustainable societies and, if we're not doing that, then I think that position is unacceptable."

On Wednesday an Estyn report found a Welsh Government programme to boost pupils' thinking and assessment skills has had little impact on standards.

Estyn said the scheme had raised confidence but found "little evidence" of better performance.

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