Rather disappointing news this morning, with the publication of the latest results of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment – hereafter referred to as PISA!
It would seem that Wales is falling down the league table of nations according to this measure. This is rather worrying in the current economic climate because – unfortunately – it stands to reason that a poorly educated workforce is likely to be a poorer one.
(@ Careers Wales, discussing ways to increase opportunities for young people in Wales)
When companies are looking at investing in an area, once they have looked at the costs they will inevitably be looking at the levels of basic skills such as literacy and numeracy. As such, this does highlight a worrying trend; with the gap between Wales and its competing OECD peers growing each year.
If we are going to address this then we need a new approach because Wales cannot be allowed to continue to fall behind other nations, as it currently appears to be under Labour and Plaid. Being the worst performing nation in the United Kingdom means that all of those involved in the education of our children need to look closely at their own roles, reflecting on the changes that need to be made to bring about significant improvements.
We need to foster in our young the basic skills that they need to succeed in life and that starts with literacy and numeracy. Tony Blair often spoke of the importance of the three R’s; reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmetics. (I’m hopeful that he appreciated the irony!) However, as appears to be the case under Labour and Plaid here in Wales, the initiatives brought forward were all too often overly-centralised and ridden with red tape. What is needed is the empowerment of the teachers and parents who are inherently best placed to understand the needs of pupils.
It's vital that parents and teachers have the ability to understand how their school is performing and, above all, how it performs against other schools. Giving those schools the power to respond to comparative examples of success/failings is also essential if we are going to improve educational outcomes in the long term. The ability to develop 'free schools' is something that I have championed since my first days in the Assembly, and it is no coincidence that Scandinavian countries (the first to pilot the concept) very often lead the field in educational excellence!
I know that the Shadow Minister for Education, Paul Davies, has some great ideas in this this area and with the policy launch that is taking place tomorrow I am very much looking forward to getting stuck into the debate that will inevitably follow…
In the end, it will be the people of Wales who decide and we must always be mindful of the need to give them a genuine choice at the forthcoming election.