Reading tests for pupils part of Welsh school shake-up

National reading tests are to be introduced as part of a shake-up to Wales' schools system announced by the education minister.

Schools will be graded every year and expected to reach certain standards. Failing schools will face closure.

Education Minister Leighton Andrews said teachers themselves could face annual literacy and numeracy assessments as part of their training.

It follows a series of highly critical reports into Wales' education system.

At a speech in Cardiff, Mr Andrews promised to raise standards and said young people "deserve better".

The system for grading all schools will be operated by local councils. Mr Andrews said people need information about how their schools were performing, but that it would not mean a return to league tables.

From next year, no school will pass inspections unless it can show its governing body has discussed performance data and set in place actions to improve.

Mr Andrews said: "Where a school is found to be failing, and I regard the situation to be irredeemable, I will close it."

A national literacy plan, including reading tests, will be designed to make sure fewer pupils fall behind their reading age.

The plan will focus on seven-to-11-year-olds, will involve catch-up reading programmes and will stretch the most able pupils.

Similar plans for numeracy will be developed by the start of the 2012-13 academic year.

The minister has recently been critical of what he called a "systemic" failure in the education system after Wales was shown to be slipping down a worldwide league table.

The Pisa international assessments of 15-year-olds found Wales lagging well behind the rest of the UK - and the minister wants Wales to be in the top 20 of Pisa-ranked nations by 2015.

Mr Andrews has also asked officials to revise initial teacher training so it becomes a two-year masters course.

There will be a statutory requirement on all qualifying teachers to be trained in literacy and numeracy.

One teacher training day a year will focus on literacy and numeracy assessment for all teachers.

"I expect all teachers to be teachers of literacy," said Mr Andrews.

"Pisa has demonstrated that our classrooms are not delivering for our young people. Too few are able to apply the skills they are learning. We need to look again at initial teacher training and at continuous professional development."

He said Wales had introduced many of the changes that teachers wanted during a decade of devolution, including abolishing league tables and Sats.

"But if we believe in the comprehensive model in Wales then we have to make sure that it delivers for all our children," he said.

"The evidence of Pisa is that it is not. Performance has fallen back."

'Dangerous principle'

But Plaid Cymru - Labour's coalition partners in the assembly government - said failing schools should not be "abandoned".

The party's education spokeswoman Nerys Evans said: "The principle that any school should be beyond redemption or cannot be turned around is a very dangerous one.

"I am of the firm opinion that no matter how bad things get, with the right leadership and the right teachers, working together with the local community, any school can be turned round."

She said she "broadly welcomed" several of the minister's proposals, but added she was concerned his plans were not "adequately ambitious".

'Admission of failure'

Last month, the schools inspectorate Estyn warned standards were not good enough in nearly a third of schools.

It came a day before new figures revealed councils in Wales spend an average £604 less on each pupil compared to councils in England.

Conservative education spokesman Paul Davies said: "People will be forgiven for being a little cynical of a relaunch of Labour's education policies weeks before an election when Labour politicians have been running the education system in Wales for 12 years."

Welsh Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Jenny Randerson said: "This statement today, which has had to be prised out the education minister, is a response to two damning reports and it is clearly an admission of failure by the Labour-led administration over the past decade."

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