School education in Wales braces itself for more cuts and attacks

PISA results seized on by governments to distort the real picture

Part of the successful campaign to save Lansdowne school in Cardiff

Teachers in Wales are bracing themselves for a new round of attacks on their teaching abilities after the latest Pisa test results. Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) is a set of tests in reading, maths and science carried out in 65 countries.

The PISA survey is often referred to as international league tables. This is misleading because even the OECD that runs the tests does not think the results can be used in this way. Firstly some languages are more phonetic than others and so higher standards of reading are easier to achieve. Also not all countries completed all parts of the tests and statistical methods are used to guess the results they would have had based on other tests. Not all countries include the whole cohort of fifteen year olds and it is the most disadvantaged that are excluded. Different curriculums make it hard to test effectively with some countries that have a narrower curriculum having an advantage if those are the areas tested.

Wales has done worse than the rest of the UK in the tests and has not improved since the last tests in 2009. But this reflects the dire economic situation in Wales which has the highest level of poverty of any country in the UK. Many young people are growing up in poverty and facing a jobless future or a lifetime of low paid and insecure work. This affects both their ability to study and their motivation. On top of that many Welsh schools are in a poor state of repair and are no longer fit for purpose.

No account is taken of the disruption to the education of children in more deprived families through having to repeatedly move accommodation and find new school places. There is huge pressure on school places in some parts of Wales with many families in Cardiff waiting for a school place or having their young children in several different schools nowhere near where they live.

£600 less per pupil in Wales is spent than in England. The education 'experts' wheeled out by the BBC say that spending extra money does not guarantee success, but it sure helps! The 'experts' claim that countries that spent more did not necessarily do better in the tests, and yes, there are other factors, but all other things being equal, spending more on school conditions, the right books, equipment and above all on helping and training teachers does get results. Cutting them all back usually worsens the situation.

It has been said that Wales needs results like those of South Korea in order to attract businesses to Wales. But pupils in South Korea are also among the unhappiest in school and have a high suicide rate. Is that what we want for our kids?

The response of the Welsh government to this situation is to increase the pressure on teachers who are already dealing everyday with the consequences of growing poverty in their classrooms and to blame them for the situation. Teachers are also struggling to deal with a constant barrage of new initiatives and curriculum changes and facing attacks on their pensions and performance related pay which could destroy collaborative working between teachers. One undisputed improvement that assists children to progress in school at an early age is introducing full time nursery education for three year olds (especially for children in lower income groups). But prompted by government cutbacks, Rhondda Cynon Taff Labour council is cutting nursery education for its three year olds. How can that help improve education?

Instead of standing up to Gove’s neo liberal agenda for education and fighting for more resources for Wales, the Labour government is going down the route of applying a narrow standards agenda which has an emphasis on testing and measuring progress of both pupils and teachers. We need to stop making false comparisons and narrowing down what pupils are taught to what can be measured easily. Our children and young people deserve better than this.

An NUT Cymru member


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