Long road to improved global ranking


I was there, back in 2010, when the Education Minister Leighton Andrews, took a long, hard look at Wales' standing in world league tables and said that enough is enough. The Programme for International Student Assessment - or PISA tests - had found Wales' fifteen year old pupils wanting.

Everyone involved, he said, should be "alarmed". The figures were "unacceptable". Wales was spending more than countries that were outperforming us. How come? We were sliding down the tables at a speed bright Finnish teenagers could probably work out given the details about time and distance. Many Welsh pupils, sadly, could not ... even with a calculator.

The Welsh government, local authorities, teachers, parents were all in this together, said Mr Andrews. Now they had to sort out what was rapidly becoming a national humiliation.

On Sunday, I was there, at the kitchen table, taking a long, hard look at practice papers in numeracy and literacy, both in Welsh and in English. Alongside me, two children, aged eight and nine, who weren't even born when a previous Welsh education minister deemed tests for children their age or thereabouts to be less than helpful, and scrapped them. Sorry, children, bad timing.

This week they'll sit the brand new reading and literacy tests introduced by Leighton Andrews. The government's 'Learning Wales 'website' urged us to help raised standards by having a go at test papers at home. And so, the long road to improved PISA ranking started here. They calculated the speed of a dinosaur, the route of a spy and how many bottles fit into the box. When it came to literacy and diagrams of how to make a bird feeder, my son said (with some feeling) that this paper meant he didn't just have to spell words correctly. He had to understand what they meant! This, his father suggested to him, sounded like rather a good idea really.

They'll be marked by their teachers. That bit isn't new. What is, is the fact that all school children in Wales - from seven to fourteen - will be sitting the same tests. A system of testing that is "clear, consistent and rigorous" says Mr Andrews, is a vital element in the effort to claw our way back up those international league tables.

The problem, of course, is that another set of PISA results, based on tests taken in 2012, are set to be published later this year. The minister might be very 'active' now suggested Plaid's Leanne Wood and the Liberal Democrats' Kirsty Williams in last week's First Minister's Questions - but after fourteen years of unbroken rule by Labour education ministers, was there any chance at all these figures would be any better?

This was Kirsty Williams' question: "Is it still your expectation that, when those results are published later this year, results will have improved? If they do not, what will you do about it?"

The answer from the First Minister, is worth reading, and suggests he's long since learned that when it comes to testing questions, answer the question you want to, not the one asked ...

"We expect to see improvement in the results of any tests that are taking place and taken forward. The reading tests, if I remember rightly, start this week. That shows the commitment of this Government to ensure that our literacy and numeracy levels are there with the best in Europe. Many plans have been taken forward in order to improve literacy and numeracy in Wales, and the Minister for education has, indeed, done that."

Note the tense: "tests that are taking place". Mr Jones carefully avoided any direct reference to what Kirsty Williams was actually talking about - that set of already-taken PISA tests which, like it or not, will be a key barometer about whether the Welsh Government's getting to grips with the problems within the education system.

Talking of tense and testing, Leighton Andrews had a rare meeting with his Westminster counterpart today, Michael Gove. The two have not, it's fair to say, seen eye to eye on a number of issues since 2010. According to the Welsh Government, "Ministers enjoyed a frank but cordial discussion" on the issue of three-country agreement on qualification standards. In the league table of governmental euphemisms, "frank" is surely near the top in the "oh to have been a fly on the wall" stakes...

Betsan Powys, Political editor, Wales Article written by Betsan Powys Betsan Powys Former political editor, Wales

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  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    ... and who pray is appointed arbiter to determine what is knowledge and what is a falsity, who would be Solomon ?

    Sir Ken Robinson has a very interesting and contemporary lecture on TED, our Education Minister Leighton Andrews would take heart to listen ..


    .. and maybe understand the problem he inherited.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Beware of false knowledge and information it is more dangerous than ignorance."

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Plaid forget that during this period they were in power with Labour but, of course, they couldn't upset their voters in UCAC in any way..and so we drifted on in a spiral of decline until now 40% of pupils arriving at secondary school are 6 months or more behind in literacy. Those secondary schools know that they can't trust Key Stage 2 assessments and have been re-testing in year 7..

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Not the whole picture Celticfringe...we in Wales dropped testing in schools because teachers said "trust us". The teachers then found that it was easier to assess pupls as satisfactory than to increase the quality of teaching to MAKE pupils satisfactory. When England introduced league tables teachers said "trust us" don't put us under pressure. And school performance declined...

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    As an ex-grammar-school boy who went through the 11-plus, exams every term, 'O'-levels, 'A'-levels, 'S-levels and survived [ Never did me any harm !] I note that Tory Mr Gove and Labour Mr Andrews seem to be in agreement so "Back to the Future": spelling, grammar, the 11-plus, Exams that people actually fail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Let's see if I follow this..right here goes. WG (run by incompetents) gets rid of testing and then in a spectacualr about face by fundamently the same incompetents, reintroduces testing. Surreal.


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