This week's Economist carried a sad tale of a decade of scholastic stagnation in Wales following the teacher unions' (entirely selfless) success in persuading a credulous government that it was in young people's interests that national league tables of schools be abandoned. In a fine phrase, David Reynolds has described this, and the Welsh reluctance to take school reform seriously, as "producerism's last hurrah". If only. Anyway, with the evidence of failure now in c/o the OECD, new league tables of a sort are emerging from the Welsh government, though only for secondary schools.
But what's the evidence of this failure? Well, GCSE scores are lower than those in England (but not by much: 3 percentage points). However, students in Wales achieved lower PISA scores in 2009 than they did in 2006, whilst faring much worse than students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England, and the number of students going to university has fallen despite an increase in the size of the cohort. Inevitably, a lot of this will be explained away by vested interests by recourse to contextual factors. However, the PISA report on Wales (available from the NFER) contains a comparison of the UK as a whole [ section 8] which shows Wales at the wrong end of every measure. In relation to reading, the report says:
Wales had only a slightly higher number of low-attaining pupils compared to the other parts of the UK, but had fewer high-attaining pupils
The difference in the OECD's PISA scores are a huge challenge, especially as these include a measure of how well 15 year olds can integrate and interpret, and reflect and evaluate – which brings me to ESDGC. Aren't these competences core elements of what ESDGC is trying to do as it sets what young people learn in schools into the wider global context? If so, why, given the national and government endorsement of ESDGC, hasn't it had the positive impact on PISA scores that might have been anticipated? Or perhaps it has, and it's just that everything else was so dire. Does anyone know?
Answers on no more than two sides of A4; your time starts now ...
POSTSCRIPT February 3rd
This morning's Today programme on BBC Radio 4 finally caught up with this story and had a discussion between David Reynolds and a teacher union chap whose name I forget.
Part of the background to this it seems is that the Welsh government significantly underfunds its schools (compared to England) which all goes to show that there's no such thing as a free prescription. Nobody thought, however, that this was the only cause of the rapid decline in achievement outlined above, though Reynolds said that it was probably those students at the top and bottom of the Welsh school scrum who would be disadvantaged by the funding loss.
Nobody mentioned ESDCG.