Not good enough for world stage

7th December 2007 at 00:00
If Wales can take any consolation from the shocking PISA results this week it is the fabulous teaching practice that shone through adversity - particularly in science (see page 1). What appears to be a bad news day for the nation has a silver lining in the quality of teaching in our schools.

The results did not only test 15-year-olds on their skills in reading, maths and science. The in-depth survey also looked at the bigger picture. And while heads gave a gloomy picture of resources in Wales compared with other home nations, the research also shows our science teachers are more innovative than anywhere else in the UK. Surely that bodes well for our nation, clearly the poor relation in all but spirit and passion?

However, it is a different story for the Assembly government, which may be hanging its head this week, if not in shame, at least in doubt over its vision of a Learning Country. Professor David Egan, a former special adviser in education to the government, puts it mildly when he says there must be concern. Fellow academic Professor David Reynolds, from Plymouth University, tells it how it is. To be on a par with Croatia is just abysmal, he says, and he is right.

But raw league tables rarely tell the full story. A further look at this week's results shows that our 15-year-olds at the lower end of the ability range are not doing so badly for a country that is disadvantaged in many ways. In science, we score the same average as England.

And overall government policy seems to be moving as intended. In time, with initiatives such as Flying Start for 0-3 year olds and the foundation phase for under-sevens, these figures should be better still, creating a nation where every child has the chance to do their best despite disadvantage.

But many will be asking this week at what price? The answer is in terms of high achievers, the cream of the crop, who can compete on a world stage. As officials take stock this week they may have wanted better results, higher world rankings, and a trophy in the cupboard. But the results actually reflect current educational priorities since devolution.

We need a country where all teenagers, regardless of background or race, have the chance to do their best. But we also need a new generation of high-calibre surgeons, linguists and politicians. Now is a good time to consider how we find that balance.

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