Jane Davidson defends Assembly government's ambitious education agenda
Nicola Porter Doom merchants who predict ambitious targets for educational attainment will fail have the wrong attitude, according to Jane Davidson.
The minister for education, lifelong learning and skills defended high targets set in the latest policy document to emerge from the Assembly government.
Unions had claimed that over-egging targets in the Learning Country 2 could lead schools to distort the assessment system by encouraging the use of GNVQs, worth four GCSE passes.
In England, some of the most improved schools in the Westminster government's performance tables have used this tactic. There are also fears that the well-intentioned aims in the post-consultation action plan Learning Country: a vision into action are not backed up with sufficient resources to carry them through.
Launching the document last week, Ms Davidson staunchly defended its new targets, which were not revised down following consultation this summer.
"There is absolutely no point in setting our standards too low and easily achieving them," she said.
But Gareth Jones, secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, said while the union supported the ambitious agenda, they had been left wondering whether the vision would be backed with the right level of support and resources.
Targets originally laid out in the 2001 Learning Country have already been revised downwards.
Officials put the changes down to targets inherited from previous administrations that were "not fit for purpose".
However, half-way into their 10-year plan to 2010, they now say they have enough evidence on which to base their expected outcomes for schools and colleges.
Ms Davidson vowed at last week's launch at New Tredegar Integrated Children's Centre, Rhymney Valley, south Wales: "There will be no more moving of the goalposts. This document is final and it marks the beginning of an education revolution in Wales. By 2011, Welsh education will be virtually unrecognisable."
One of the most ambitious targets in the document is that no children should leave school without a recognised academic or vocational qualification.
This summer, just under 7 per cent of 15-year-olds - 2,677 pupils - finished compulsory education without a single GCSE or vocational equivalent. In England, the percentage was 3.4. The administration also wants the pass rate for five GCSEs at grades A*-C to approach 60 per cent by 2010. The results in Wales this summer were 53 per cent - compared to 59 per cent in England.
The major difference between Learning Country: a vision into action and this summer's consultation document is that officials have abandoned the 2010 deadline for making schools fit for purpose. However, new initiatives given the green light since April have also been added, including roll-out of the Welsh baccalaureate from September 2007.
Also included is the announcement of a major review into further education; the development of six specialist regional centres for additional learning needs to be operational by next year; and the continuation of the Raise (raising attainment and individual standards in education) programme to improve outcomes for disadvantaged pupils.