Editorial - End edu-babble by engaging the educators

12th June 2009 at 01:00
Nuffield is a boost, but officials must learn teacher-speak if Wales is to make headway

The conclusions of the mighty Nuffield review of 14-19 education are surely the biggest pat on the back for Welsh education policymakers yet. The report is also a welcome boost for Labour politicians at the forefront of education reforms since devolution during a week when their party were thumped at the ballot box. So bad were this week's results that First Minister Rhodri Morgan conceded they could not have been improved even if footballer Ryan Giggs had been standing.

At least we can take pride in our classrooms. Wales's refusal to follow England won the day with the Nuffield team. Its leaders, Professor Richard Pring and Dr Geoff Hayward of Oxford University, were full of praise. That our teachers are free to teach without constraints won major Brownie points, as did the Welsh baccalaureate, from which the English were advised to learn a lesson or two.

But for all that Wales is doing right and England wrong, Wales is still not getting back what it has put in. Our GCSE results lag behind our English neighbours and we have more young people drawing benefits. So what exactly is going wrong?

There are several potential spoilers: a lack of funding; the poverty of the Welsh people; and a government increasingly out of touch with the people it serves - in this case, teachers and their assistants.

Much has been said about Wales's poor funding per pupil compared with England's. It is almost universally accepted in non-official circles that well-directed extra funding - along with better sharing of good practice - would raise results.

But the words of educational sociologist Basil Bernstein, quoted in this important report, also ring true. He said "education cannot compensate for society", and these words are only too apt in Wales's case. Despite all the good intentions, poverty remains a huge barrier to achievement.

Professor Bernstein's words read like an obituary for Welsh Labour's efforts to tackle poverty through education, but society is also nothing without hope. It is imperative that Wales should not neglect its brightest in its desire to achieve equality of opportunity - a criticism often levelled at the Assembly government.

But we must also ask if the messages of the government's "superior policies" are being heard at the grassroots of teaching, where words are turned into action. The Nuffield report attacks "Orwellian" language for undermining education. "Edu-babble" is a huge problem, it seems. As government-speak becomes increasingly corporate, officials are in danger of alienating the teachers expected to take their policy forward. Just as politicians were out of touch with the electorate over expenses, education officials need to reconnect with schools and teachers.

Wales has its education policy about right, but other changes must be made if results are to improve. Of course, there needs to be more money in the system, but first Wales needs a government able to speak the language of its teachers, parents and employers. Only then will the policies that so impressed Nuffield reviewers start to work wonders.

Nicola Porter, Editor, TES Cymru E nicola.porter@tes.co.uk.

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