Editorial - Reforms must keep building on the Bac of success

25th September 2009 at 01:00
Wales must take a further testing leap of faith if it wants to become a world-class act

The Welsh Bac should be considered one of the great achievements since devolution allowed for the creation of the Cardiff Bay talking shop.

All involved must be rightly proud. It is, frankly, a huge leap forward in terms of qualifications that the other home nations look at enviously. Peering across the Severn is many a green-eyed English eduationist, watching as the Diploma - their equivalent - collapses under the twin pressures of a cynical teaching profession and the Tory government-in-waiting.

To repeat, all involved in Welsh education should be chuffed that Wales has seemingly broken the back of the great vocational debate. Schools, pupils, teachers and parents seem to take it seriously. And amen to that.

But David Egan, professor of education at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, last week called for a greater leap of faith. He demanded the end of GCSEs and A-levels in this country. It would mean the end to the testing regime that sees students sit national exams three times in their last three years of school.

He - and others - believe that while the education reforms so far enacted by the Assembly government are worthwhile, they do not go far enough. A truly bold step, including the one he proposed this week, would further illustrate how serious it is about a complete overhaul of Wales's (still underperforming) schools.

At first glance, Professor Egan's demands appear about as likely as a successful return to frontline politics by former Wales Secretary Ron Davies in the immediate aftermath of his badger-watching escapade.

Yet those with this attitude show a distinct lack of ambition. It is, for example, easy to forget how courageous it was to bin the key stage 2 Sats back in 2004.

It is also very possible to overestimate how difficult it would be. Take England: many there would love to get rid of these anachronistic exams but point to the size, conservatism and unwieldiness of a country of close to 50 million people. The same observers would also say the reason Scandinavian schools can appear so progressive is the size of the populations of Norway, Sweden and Finland. Small countries, it would seem, can be light on their feet. Perhaps Wales can be too.

So maybe we ought to step up to Professor Egan's challenge. After all, what was the point of devolution if we are still to be hamstrung by our much larger neighbour? Let's set our schools free to produce the best, brightest and most inquisitive kids they can. Wales has little hope of succeeding in an international context without developing schools that will make international companies and corporations sit up and take note, and which will provide the ideas collateral that will drive our own home-grown entrepreneurship.

If this can be achieved, anything is possible. Another small Celtic country - the one where the men wear skirts - has set itself an interesting target: to become the best small country in the world. It's just possible that with brave and drastic education reforms, Wales might be able to beat them to it.

Ed Dorrell, News editor, TES, E: ed.dorrell@tes.co.uk.

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