Tough targets to drive landmark reforms

4th February 2011 at 00:00
Failure not an option as minister demands rapid improvement

Schools in Wales will be transformed under a rigorous performance- driven system with a raft of tough new targets, the Assembly government said this week.

In a landmark speech, education minister Leighton Andrews warned that things must change fast if the country is to overcome the "systemic failure" that led to the disappointing Pisa results and last month's critical report by Estyn.

He accused the education system of being "complacent" and continually searching for "alibis and excuses" instead of learning from best practice.

The minister set out 20 action points that will be taken forward immediately, with the ultimate goal of Wales's school system gaining a top 20 ranking in the 2015 Pisa tests.

Although there will be no return to league tables an annual grading system for schools will be introduced and operated by all local authorities, with minimum "floor targets". Annual progress targets will also be introduced to make sure pupils are not slipping behind.

There will be statutory guidance for school improvement, setting out best practice available in Wales and elsewhere, which schools will be expected to implement through the school effectiveness framework (SEF).

Mr Andrews said he would close schools judged by Estyn as failing if he thinks the situation is irredeemable.

A national reading test will be introduced, and local authorities will be expected to make sure KS2 teacher assessments are more robust, especially in literacy.

All teachers and heads will have to have appropriate levels of literacy and numeracy as part of their professional accreditation, and all newly qualified teachers will have to pass literacy and numeracy skills tests.

There will also be closer monitoring of performance management, and continuing professional development will be focused on system-wide needs, including the need to improve literacy and numeracy.

The Department for Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills is also looking at whether teacher training can become a two-year masters degree with more classroom practice so that teachers are more familiar with advanced teaching skills.

Mr Andrews said: "There will, in future, be no hiding place for poor performance. There will be a single focus. We will raise standards. We will provide opportunities for all to learn to the best of their ability. Our young people deserve better and I believe that we can deliver."

Unions welcomed the speech and said they would work with the minister to implement change, but warned that the details of many of his action points had yet to emerge.

Headteacher and former ASCL Cymru president Nigel Stacey said: "This is a clear vision for the future and there is willingness in the profession to take it forward."

David Reynolds, professor of educational effectiveness at the University of Southampton, said: "The top 20 Pisa target is ambitious and it means there must be an awful lot of improvement very quickly. But if all the things the minister outlined happen and if the system seriously gets into modelling itself on the best, then the target is achievable."

But Paul Davies, Tory shadow education minister, said people would be "cynical" about the speech coming just months before the Assembly election. His Lib Dem counterpart, Jenny Randerson, called it an "admission of failure" that did not address underfunding.

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