Top civil servant praises Welsh achievements and says England could learn a thing or two

15th May 2009 at 01:00
David Hawker commends the many successful post-devolution education strategies to an audience of teachers in London

England could learn valuable lessons for the classroom from Wales, a London audience was due to be told yesterday.

As TES Cymru went to press, David Hawker, Wales's top education civil servant, was set to delivered a staunch defence of Welsh education policy during a lecture entitled "Education Policy: What Could England Possibly Learn from Wales?"

Speaking to fellow members of the College of Teachers in his capacity as professor, he praised Wales's schools, but attacked England's record on vocational learning and children's rights.

Professor Hawker, who has been director of the Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills for 10 months, told his audience that, "far from being a slightly quaint offshoot of England, Wales is a vibrant and proud nation in its own right".

On testing, the former languages teacher and one-time contender for the leadership of the NAHT headteachers' union said Wales had "pretty much" got it right by scrapping Sats - something England has now done at key stage 3.

In praise of the Welsh baccalaureate, he said: "It has neatly got around the knotty issue of the academic-vocational divide, which has dogged the English system for years. It has done this not by trying to prove their equivalence, but by including both within a larger package built on a philosophy of learning that places life skills - in the broadest sense - at the centre.

"It is a powerful narrative, made more so by the fact it is not restricted as a particular phase of learning, but runs like lettering in a stick of rock through all the phases ... this is a lesson that Wales could share with England."

He also made a strong case for the play-led foundation phase for under-sevens, despite the cost of meeting staff to pupil ratios of 1:8. It had created an "Aladdin's cave" of activity in primary classes in Wales, he said, which was far removed from formal learning.

He contrasted it favourably with the English foundation stage, which stops after reception.

He also expressed his pride in Wales's record on children's rights since devolution.

"In terms of official policy, children and young people are respected more obviously here than they are in England," he said.

But Professor Hawker did not intend to shy away from the realities of Wales's less then perfect exam results since devolution, particularly the 2006 Pisa international comparison study, which showed Wales's 15-year-olds trailed other home nations in science, reading and writing.

He also admitted that Wales's education journey since devolution had been an expensive one, with teachers having to work smarter with fewer resources.

On the number of education initiatives that had been launched, he said Wales "has a fraction of the people to dream them up ... so it has to concentrate on a small number that have been proved to work".

But he was adamant Wales should not compete with England. "It is really no longer possible to lump them as a single system with a few minor differences," he said.

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