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
    0

    Comment number 46.

    Sedwot has misquoted his figures (comment 28). The figures are that children in the WM schools (taught Welsh as a first language) consistently outperform those in the EM schools (taught Welsh as a second language) when FSMs are taken into account. Those reaching the expected Level 4 in 2012 were:

    91.1% to 83.2% for those not entitled to FSMs
    73.6% to 67.3% for those entitled to FSMs

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 45.

    how lovely to see that the Welsh and English middle class are so alike, droning on about the education of their offspring. See we are just like the English after all, who would have known??

  • rate this
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    Comment number 44.

    Does the Polish Student who gets an A* Grade in his own language and not English count? Welsh Universities accept either English or Welsh.So why not do it in your own lang.. This argument that Welsh is the cause of all Educational failures in Wales is nonsense. There are Good WM and EM schools and there are poor ones also. Lecturing you I'm not Sedwot Pathetic Time to go if you being abusive

  • rate this
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    Comment number 43.

    Now you change tack again Woodsey....Key stage 1 now. Well you can stop lecturing me about WM schools because all four of my kids have gone through WM schools...the same schools that I went to. Using your son as a "so there.." is a little pathetic, do you suppose that no pupils from EM schools went to Oxford? Which Bangor school teaches Mandarin Woodsey?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 42.

    I notice that you were lauding YG Cwm Rhymni in your banding hall of fame. They had 14 pupils qualify for the level2 inclusive score who didn't pass English at A*-C and it is obvious that they benefitted with the either or Maths Eng/Welsh points tally. These little benefits are not available to EM schools which is why banding favours Welsh Medium schools.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 41.

    38.SEDWOT
    WM Schools are in the Minority so you can't blame overall performance at their door You need to understand at KS1 these children use Welsh only. My son only used Welsh +he went to Oxford.Their English kicks in at later stage by the time they reach Sec. the WM often outperform EM. Whatever, the lang underlying probs are lack of parental support + yrs of govs messing around with ed.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 40.

    Which school in Bangor teaches Mandarin Woodsey? It is true that here we take the Welsh GCSE second language exam in year 9, two years early but remember that the pupils taking that second language exam have been in Welsh medium schools since reception class....and still would fail to get a C grade in Welsh first language. This is the joke; schools take a certain A at 2nd language rather than D...

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 39.

    Volatility is another shortcoming in the banding tables. Tryfan was the best school in Wales in 2011...band 4 in 2012. Nobody of course noticed that the cohort in 2011 was only 48 pupils but 80 in 2012. With a small cohort intensive teaching is easier and there is always a chance that none of them are from a deprived background or that there is an imbalance of girls.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 38.

    There is a problem with the banding algorithm. The level2 inclusive figure for WM schools allows them to use Welsh or English for each pupil to comply with the target. 3% of pupils gain Level2 inclusive without passing English at A*-C.
    The measure for points scored with maths and English/Welsh combined again favours the WM schools in the same way, by allowing the highest Welsh/ Eng. score.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 37.

    Woodsey I notice you move seamlessly from claiming that WM schools do better at Key stage 2 to making claims based on school banding based on KS4. I am an admirer of several Welsh Medium schools but this does not alter the fact that EM schools outperform WM schools on average, particularly in core subjects, at each Free School Meals benchmark.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 36.

    35.Indy2010
    i think you will find it was 3 out of top 7
    Good % ratio. The point is its not the language that is preventing progress as some would have it. European Countries do several languages. School in Bangor does Welsh, Mandarin and English and performs well. No one mentions the taboo subject of Parental support

  • rate this
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    Comment number 35.

    #33 i think you will find it was 3 out of top 7 as there was a tie for 5,6 an 7

    results here from bbc

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-20772793

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 34.

    #33 How can you trust that data when the top performing school in 2011 is now a band 4 school in 2012, there are some serious anomalies in that data.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 33.

    28.SEDWOT
    Not True!
    3 of the 5 Top performing secondary schools are WM YG Gwyr, YG Treorchi, YG Cwm Rhymni. Bottom 5 are English Schools e.g West Mon, Llantarnam and Denbigh High Rather than score points Sedwot don't portion blame be more constructive. Welsh is compulsory for an hour a week and if you had any knowledge of Ed. a lot of schools get the pupils sitting the exam in yrs 9 and 10

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 32.

    31 JohnTyler

    There can be no disagreement with your post.

    We have been misled constantly by the politicians in Wales and we seem to put up with it. Are we equally culpable through our votes? Just a thought!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 31.

    ... Andrews and chums would probably regard you to be a heretic SEDWOT, Wales needs heretics to hold politics to account, because for sure, there is little accountability at the Assembly.

    I believe every Assembly Member to be culpable, each and every one is responsible for the mess.

    .

  • rate this
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    Comment number 30.

    Leighton Andrews is actually doing the things that needed to be done. He has two other things to do...which he won't do. He should allow schools to "Opt out" of local Authority control. He should allow schools to vary the National Curriculum.....to drop compulsory RE or compulsory Welsh if parents wish.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 29.

    ... Ken Robinson concluded that the two primary causes of disengagement by pupils were narrow curriculum and poverty, it’s easy to agree with him.

    Boxer wrote class, I tend to agree with her but I believe poverty is a better measure. A labourer with a university education would find it difficult to find the energy to tutor a child whereas a lawyer would pay.


    .

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 28.

    Just to correct Woodsey at 21:

    In 2012 at keys stage 2 (11 years old) benchmarked results for English literacy are as follows:
    55.3% of WM schools underperformed comparable EM schools
    22.1% of WM schools had the same KS2 percentage.
    22.5% of WM schools had a better KS2 percentage.

    For many years now the WM lobby have been selling the theory that WM schools outperform EM schools.Not true

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 27.

    18 John Tyler
    "children worldwide fail to achieve their potential"? What is the measurement of potential?

    Put that to one side and ask yourself why Welsh children are under-performing as measured by PISA. The fault lies squarely with the WAG not with a subjective definition of what is and is not a wide curriculum.

 

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