Minister says DfES still needs to reform

8th July 2011 at 01:00
Andrews admits cultural changes he demanded not in place four months on

A major overhaul of the Welsh Government's education department must be speeded up if school standards are to improve, educationalists have warned.

In a major speech last week, education minister Leighton Andrews admitted that significant cultural changes he demanded at the recently renamed Department for Education and Skills (DfES) have still not been fully implemented, despite four months' work.

In February, Mr Andrews said his department was "culturally and geographically fragmented without a clear focus", and in March a report on the structure of education services found a "distinct lack of joined-up thinking".

Although the report recommended reorganisation to be in place by September, many educationalists are concerned at the slow pace of change.

Dr Philip Dixon, director of teaching union ATL Cymru, said: "The minister has outlined the change he wants to see in schools, but it must not be forgotten that his department must become the exemplar of the changes demanded. It should be much more swift, efficient and decisive in its response to issues."

David Evans, secretary of NUT Cymru, said: "There's still not a unified approach, and there doesn't seem to be any real joined-up thinking."

Rex Phillips, Wales organiser of the NASUWT, claimed the DfES was struggling to catch up with the minister's demands. "That's one of the problems we face with this minister - he comes up with ideas and expects everybody to implement them," he said.

"The Department is making changes and trying to get its act together, but it's very difficult to do that when the minister keeps throwing up ideas."

When Dr Emyr Roberts was appointed director general of the then Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills (DCELLS) last October, he was told to give the department a clear sense of direction.

Since April two groups have been charged with running education in Wales: Chris Tweedale heads the children, young people and school effectiveness group, while Owen Evans leads the skills, higher education and lifelong learning group.

In the last 12 months the number of staff in the Department - permanent, temporary and seconded - has been cut from 773 to 640.

In his speech to the Institute of Welsh Affairs last week, Mr Andrews said: "It is a leaner department with a sharper focus. Are the cultural changes I have demanded of the Department fully embedded yet? No, but we have come a long way."

But David Reynolds, professor of educational effectiveness at Southampton University, said: "When you get change of that pace and scale it takes a while to settle down. From the autumn it is essential that the Department embeds the changes it needs. It has to be more joined up."

In his speech, the minister outlined progress made on the 20-point action plan he announced in February in response to Wales's poor performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) test results.

Mr Andrews said there has been "significant progress" in implementing the Pisa tests into school assessment at age 15 for literacy, maths and science.

Teaching unions NUT Cymru and NASUWT Cymru both expressed concern that this could lead to teachers "teaching to the test" to gain high scores with no real improvement in standards.

But Mr Andrews said: "This is not about scoring well in an international test. The test provides the benchmark. This is about equipping our young people with the skills they need for future study in the workplace."

He said national reading tests for six to 14-year-olds will be implemented from September this year on a voluntary basis and will become mandatory next year. Similar maths tests will be introduced in 201213.

The controversial school grading system, to be operated by local authorities and regional consortia, has become a "banding system". All primary and secondary schools will know the band in which they are currently placed in the autumn term.

Educationalists, who have expressed concern over a possible return to league tables and the potential "naming and shaming" of underperforming schools, have demanded more information.

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