Monopolistic self-interest rules Welsh education

Malcolm Prowle says the only way to improve our schools is to introduce contestability and choice

Some fifteen years ago I worked on a project which concerned the improvement of primary education standards in the Indian state of West Bengal. At the outset of the project it was necessary to meet with ministers and senior civil servants in the Central Government Ministry of Education in New Delhi.

What an interesting experience that was. We were involved in deep conversations with Harvard educated civil servants who wished to talk about lofty matters such as curriculum design and international pedagogical standards. After more meetings with politicians and civil servants in the state government in Calcutta we eventually managed to get out and actually see some schools and have conversations with real-life teachers and parents. What we found included:

  • Schools without any roof because it had blown off in the wind and hadn’t been repaired.
  • Schools without books or very much in the way of curriculum materials.
  • Schools without a teacher because the teacher had a second job and had left someone in charge of the class.
  • Areas unable to recruit teachers because of failures in the teacher training system.

Seeing this it seemed to me that the senior people in New Delhi were operating on a different planet to those teachers based in schools in rural parts of India. They were completely out of touch with reality on the ground.

The experience reminds me of the situation with regards to schooling in Wales. Our education policy is detached from what is actually happening on the ground. Some months ago I drew attention to the parlous state of Welsh schooling and, in particular, the position of Wales in relation to PISA scores. (here). It seems to me that since that time the situation has probably got worse not better.

Let’s get real about this – schools improvement is absolutely critical for the future of Wales, but let’s remember, as a starting point, a number of facts:

  • Wales has a smaller population than any other part of the UK saving the North East Region of England and Northern Ireland.
  • The Welsh economy is the least productive in the UK. In terms of gross value added per head of population, Wales is at the bottom of the UK league table.
  • The Welsh economy cannot exist in isolation but is inextricably linked to the rest of the UK economy, the European economy and the global economy.
  • If Wales is to compete in economic terms our children must have educational attainment comparable to the rest of the UK and other countries in the world.

In terms of school performance what is the situation of Wales within the UK? Take the percentage of children who obtain grades A-C in their GCSE examinations, which is probably of most interest to parents. What we see is a picture of increasing pass rates in both Wales and the rest of the UK over a period of years in the first decade of the 21st Century. However, there was a sharp reversal in pass rates in 2012 with Wales showing a drop of 1.1 per cent compared to a drop of 0.4 per cent in the rest of the UK. The net effect of all this is that the pass rates in Wales still remains a full 4 per cent below the rest of the UK and the gap has widened. The Welsh Education Minister was quoted as describing this result as “encouraging”. How complacent can you get?

The Welsh Government provides a comprehensive range of information on all Welsh schools but while this information is interesting, it misses the point. There is little point just comparing an individual Welsh school against other schools in the locality and throughout Wales. What we need is information which compares Welsh school performance with the rest of the UK (and perhaps the rest of the world) so we can see where we stand against our international competitors. At the moment we do not stand very well and we urgently need to improve.

Anglesey, Blaenau Gwent, and Pembrokeshire are in special measures for education, with Torfaen, Merthyr Tydfil and Monmouthshire set to join them. Nearly a third of Welsh local education authorities are in special measures.  To this we can add a number of individual schools in special measures, plus another few local authorities who came pretty close to being placed in this situation (and probably would have been if there hadn’t already been an unacceptable number).

This seems to me to be a crisis situation for the Welsh schooling system. But if we look at the issues that are the focus of current debate we see such matters as GCSE examinations, curriculum structures, bilingualism, areas of learning, and pedagogy. These matters are certainly important, but they are unlikely to provide the solution to poor school standards in Wales. That is a systemic problem.

So what is to be done? Until Ministers realise that they won’t get the sort of change they want by issuing threats and edicts from on high we won’t make any progress. All the circulars, laws, inspections, special measures, advice, and commissioners won’t get anywhere until we get back to basics and consider the factors that inhibit improvements in the Welsh schools system. Then we have to make changes to the education system to remove those barriers and effect change for improvement.

A significant barrier to improvement must be overcoming what is termed “provider self-interest”. Writing in the 18th Century the famous economist Adam Smith said:

“The interest of the dealers in any particular branch of trade or manufactures is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public. To narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers. To widen the market may frequently be agreeable enough to the interest of the public; but to narrow the competition must always be against it.”

Smith is often described as a ‘right wing’ economist but that is a caricature he, himself, would never have recognised. He was a professor of moral philosophy who recognised the negative impacts on ordinary people of unfettered capitalism and the impact of monopolistic suppliers (including those in the public sector) on the public good. His views about the dangers of monopoly suppliers would have been shared by Marx and many other political scientists.

In many parts of the public sector (including schools) I suggest most of the reforms being proposed in Wales will be stifled by the negative responses of those working in the schools sector, namely the teaching professions and trade unions. Now while it is understandable that these organisations wish to look after the interests of their members, it is not necessary for the general public or the political classes to accept or support their views. 

If we really want to improve the schools system in Wales we have to introduce some degree of provider competition in order to shake up the existing monopolistic arrangements. Let’s face it, those who are unwilling or unable to send their children to private schools have only two choices – the schools run by their home local authority or home schooling. They have some freedom to choose individual schools but that is often severely constrained.

Why not permit other organisations (private, voluntary or faith-based) to bid for local authority funding to establish and run their own schools. In this way we would  break down the monopoly of local authorities using schools funding solely for the purposes of running their own schools. Such a move could improve the choices available to parents and provide the catalyst to breakdown monopolistic self-interest and raise standards. Endless objections will be raised to such a proposal but many of them will be found to arise from existing provider self-interest.

It is misleading to describe this as a Tory policy or an English policy, as is so often the case in Wales. It is a much-needed response to a calamitous situation. While some in the Labour Party may prefer a monopolistic provision of public services by the state on ideological grounds, this is not an underlying principle of Labour Party socialism in the UK. Many members of the Labour Party believe strongly that competition in public services is a good thing provided it is regulated Two well-known examples are Alan Milburn (former Labour Cabinet Minister and one-time Trotskyist) and the academic economist (and former Labour Government adviser) Professor Julian Le-Grand. While passionate about the “ethical case concerning user choice and competitive provision in quasi-markets” they also note that the available evidence supports its effectiveness.

If Welsh Ministers just sit on their hands and don’t make the sort of radical changes needed, I suspect that in three years’ time we will still be bemoaning the state of the Welsh schools system which may have got even worse. In a time of financial austerity (which isn’t going to go away) the only way we are going to get significant improvement in Welsh schooling is by radical change.

Isn’t it time the Welsh Government forgot about headline catching things like new law making powers or taking over responsibility for policing services in Wales, and concentrated on bread and butter issues like delivering substantial improvements on what is perhaps the most important public service of all and the one which has the greatest impact on the future of Wales.

Malcolm Prowle, who lives in Wales, is Professor of Business Performance at Nottingham Business School and a visiting professor at the Open University Business School.

24 thoughts on “Monopolistic self-interest rules Welsh education

  1. Probably the worst thing that Leighton Andrews has done is to make it impossible for schools that find themselves at odds with the Local Authority to “opt out” of Local Authority control. Now we are finding that the LAs themselves have been lazy and incompetent but we are dependent on them getting their house in order before schools can improve. I suggest that the authorities would be concentrating more closely if some schools were applying to opt out.

    The further problem is the ideological drive for a completely bilingual Wales which comes from the Government in Wales. Is this in the best interests of improving educational standards? Well we don’t actually know because there is no one who is tasked with analysing the data but there is an entire department dedicated to “Welsh in Education” who have no interest in educational standards, only in promoting Welsh in Schools. This is a kind of insanity where the country dedicates itself to an aim that is not supported by the majority and where we quite deliberately fail to monitor the effects of policy because we would rather see a Welsh speaking Wales than a well educated Wales.

    The mythology of bilingualism is breathtaking….while the Welsh in Education department gives guidelines to teachers to push the line that going to Welsh Medium schools increases the chance of a pupil learning a third language, CILT announces that last year only 22% of Welsh pupils took a GCSE in a modern foreign language and, as two studies have shown, it is in WM schools that pupils are least likely to take a MFL.

    The Welsh in education department declares that pupils in WM schools are as good at English as pupils in similar EM schools….but at every key stage the results suggest that pupils in WM schools are doing less well in English.

  2. The biggest problem in Welsh education is underfunding; the gap between funding per pupil in Wales and England being stark. Moves to regionalise education to remove duplication and target more cash at teaching are long overdue and should be welcome.

    Malcolme Prowle’s capitulation to the English model (oh yes, Malcolm, that is exactly what it is) is frankly not the solution in Wales, although I agree there is always a danger that Wales wants to be different to England for the sake of it rather than because we have different perspectives. There has clearly not been enough scrutiny of education standards in Welsh Local Authorities and any re-structured regional approach must have greater openness at the heart of its priorities. Local Councillors should also be held more responsible for the performance of their local school so that at election time, education is a topic at the top of the political agenda. Considering it is so crucial and so much of Local Government spend, how bizarre that it is often avoided as an election topic. It is high time to raise the profile of education in the community, better prioritise spending, significantly improve attendance rates and once more, ensure that Wales regains a reputation for a high quality and caring education system.

    Creating a marketplace is not I believe a viable solution in Wales.

  3. An excellent article Malcolm and the analogy between Indian and Welsh education is a brilliant way to drive the point home and especially to Leighton Andrews and Estyn that political dogma and use of education for political purposes without parental choices or parental support is a recipe for disaster.

    Malcolm has touched upon many fundamentals required to improve education in Wales and Welsh Government must take on board that the current policies are not working and this must change for the sake of our young people and future of Wales.

    The organisation I represent ( is heavily involved in Welsh education matters but we have taken a step back and delayed publishing our findings till comprehensive research mainly under the FoI provisions has been completed.

    With this work now done, we’ll start a series of articles on our web pages as of next week disclosing startling revelations that support Malcolm’s viewpoints 100%.

    Welsh Government is on a ‘high speed mission’ to further derail Welsh education with a new format of primary schools staffed only with teachers capable of delivering Welsh language curriculum and aimed for predominantly English speaking communities who so far have been reluctant to subscribe to the ‘bilingual nation’ concept and this brings me back to Malcolm’s principal point – Bring back Freedom of Choices that is missing in Welsh education.

  4. This article is capricious in the sense that quixotic ideology dominates reality or practicality. The ‘English model’, which Professor Prowle clearly reveres, has been rejected by most of the “international competitors” that he cites. How on earth can you compare the Welsh and English education systems?: one based on social values, the other on market conditions. Why not look at examples from, inter alia, Brittany, Denmark, and the Basque Country who have nurtured bi and tri-lingualism with a grounded socio-economic and historically based curriculum. To be fully advanced, progressive European citizens in the 21st Century it is holistic internationalism that our children require, not the myopic laissez faire economics and imperialistic British nationalism that the author espouses.

  5. Ian

    I am afraid we must agree to disagree. I am not capitulaing to an English model. I am proposing taking on a model which the evidence shows works well in other places.

    Re funding, I think you are on a loser here. The next UK spending review will very likely mean further austerity including the Welsh Government grant. There is already pressure to increase the funding going to the NHS in Wales and given the size of the schools budget I can see schools funding being reduced to give more to the NHS, not increased. We have to have systematic change.

    I certainly agree with your points about scrutiny, greater accountability etc but nothing will change unless there are changes in the model of provision.

  6. Noel

    As a matter of fact, there is much evidence about the positive impact of competition between schools on educational outcomes – see, for example, work done by the LSE.

    Leaving that aside, the issue still remains how to improve the dismal state of Welsh schools performance as described. What do you suggest – more Estyn inspections, more special measures, more Ministerial directives, more funding (there isn’t any).

  7. What on earth do ‘competition’ and ‘choice’ mean in large swathes of rural and semi-rural Wales? The author strikes me as a neoliberal ideologue, a market fundamentalist who advocates ultimately the fragmentation and privatisation of our education system and its handing over to for-profit corporations ie turning it into yet another expensive, outsourced corporate welfare scam along the lines of the US healthcare system and the UK’s privatised rail and energy sectors. The outcome in all these situations has been a litany of rising costs for consumers, taxpayer bailouts and corporate crookery. Ultimately, both privatization and statist top-down models have failed ordinary people. It’s time to address the very real problems faced by the Welsh education system through a genuinely cooperative, bottom-up approach which empowers parents, pupils and communities to actively take control of their own education, away from distant state or private bureaucrats.

  8. Jon Jones your narrow-mindedness against Welsh is ridiculous.

    There’s a great deal of research which shows bilingualism improves the brain. Being monoglot is no advantage whatsoever.

    The real problem with education is 2-fold.
    1. The Big Bang introduction of the Comprehensive System by Labour in 1965. It was stupid. It still ruins are education because Labour and the teacher’s Unions will not admit that it was a calamity (this does not mean I favour Grammar Schools).

    2. Not enough Welsh (and other languages).

  9. RTG

    A few comments if I may

    * competition and choice in rural areas – there isn’t any, that is the point. We need some to shake things up.

    * a neoliberal ideologue, a market fundamentalist – these are just labels and I am neither. I am just suggesting we need a bit of competition to overcome producer self-interest. Where have I suggested privatisation or handing over education to for-profit organisations? I am concerned with what changes will improve school standards not political ideology. As I emphasise, many of the proposals I make are supported by large swathes of the Labour Party.

    * genuinely cooperative, bottom-up approach which empowers parents, pupils and communities to actively take control of their own education, away from distant state or private bureaucrats – I absolutely agree. Let us empower parents and other groups to set up schools and have access to state funding currently monopolised by those distant state bureaucrats.

  10. Malcolm,

    Again I endorse your view point ‘ Let us empower parents and other groups to set up schools and have access to state funding currently monopolised by those distant state bureaucrats’. But, there is a big problem at present which is the school governance and Welsh school governance is in shambles as much as the English system is. In England they are recognising school governance failings and the issue is being debated and looked into some depth on how to improve it. In Wales we are doing nothing to make it better and LEA’s have too much power to interfere in school governance and ‘hand pick’ individuals who will shape school policies, staff appointment and some curriculum issues to suit the LEA’s vision what’s good for our children – Welsh Government should clear this mess and update Governance legislation which is ambiguous at best and open to malpractices!

  11. Professor Prowle makes a number of valid points but I would like to draw his attention to what the OECD’s PISA says about competition:

    ‘Countries that create a more competitive environment in which many schools compete for students do not systematically produce better results’

    ‘Within many countries, schools that compete for students tend to have higher performance, but this is often accounted for by the higher socio-economic status of students in these schools. Parents with a higher socio-economic status are more likely to take academic performance into consideration when choosing schools.’

    I suspect the market failure we should be most concerned about can be found in the educational labour market. Good, highly-motivated teachers are worth their weight in gold, make a massive contribution and deserve to be well-rewarded. Unfortunately, they receive and enjoy the same incremental pay increases and job security as ineffective, under-motivated colleagues.

  12. Malcolm,

    In terms of additional funding, the Barnett squeeze is certainly not helping, but I believe you would agree that additional funding and frankly a better service can and should be given by regionalising Education. With fewer Education structures, scrutiny will be easier and best practise easier to promote, not to mention the ability to spend proportionally more on actually educating. This of course is also relevant for Social Services and Waste Management. The time has come to regionalise the big spend areas of Welsh Local Government on a formal basis, as we simply cannot continue to pretend that we can manage with 22 separate systems. We are too poor.

  13. The author states that “A significant barrier to improvement must be overcoming what is termed “provider self-interest””. Must it? The assumption is supported by an 18th c quote from Adam Smith relating to “trade and manufactures” (erm, not to education) and no concrete evidence is provided of the supposed influence of “provider self-interest” on Welsh education outcomes. I’m not clear what field work this professor of business studies has done in Welsh schools (or read about second hand) or why he thinks his views on whether or not policing should be devolved are relevant to the topic.

  14. A well written article, however the whole point of devolution was to set us apart from what were perceived as ‘right wing’ policies, which sought to give individuals some control over the services they received from monopolistic state providers. The Welsh Government and its supporters in LA’s/Trade Unions are all part of the Labour Party and they will not release the power they have in education, no matter what the results from schools tell us about poor performances. We want to live in a cosy/comfortable little bubble and receive the subsidies we get, and always complain it’s not enough, instead of fundamental reform of all the public services. The RESPONSIBILITY for one’s childrens education should rest with parents, and therefore they should be energised and given power over schools, and away from political non-entities. The same goes for health services which should REQUIRE that people look after themselves, so as to reduce the demand on the public purse. There is one facet of Welsh education that is clearly aimed at a favoured, but vocal minority in the funding of WM schools in anglicised areas which seem to be socially selective, which I thought was the reason for the abolishing of grammar schools! I’d love to see the figures for children of the Welsh ELITE and where they attend school, and I would estimate 80% go to the very well funded WM ones, which of course are going to develop our future leaders. Power to individuals and not party hacks!

  15. Efrogwr – Apart from being a parent, of children in Welsh schools, a lot of consultancy work on the problems of schools dealing with falling pupil rolls and other problems. Also employed for a while in a Welsh local authority dealing with school finances. Also, as my blog points out, experience of schools management in other countries. The issue of policing is that the Welsh Government would be better served sorting out the serious problems of schools rather than pursuing devolved policing. If you would like to look at my submission to the devolution commission, I argue that before further devolution should be considered the Welsh Government should first improve its performance in relation to existing devolved services which to put it bluntly is awful. If you look at the submission from James Foreman-Peck of Cardiff University he makes similar points to me. Also I would have thought that the debate at this years NUT conference provide a good indicator of provider self-interest.

    Ian – I take your point about efficiencies though rationalisation of structures. The problem for me is that as someone who was closely involved in the 1974 and 1996 re-organisations of Welsh local government the level of disruption is enormous and costly in itself. It should be considered very carefully.

    IB Jones – an excellent point about remuneration. Perhaps more competition in the schools system would facilitate better remuneration structures for teachers.

  16. Sorry, Malcolm, can you be more precise about exactly how alleged producer self-interest is messing up, or is likely to mess up Welsh education?

  17. Malcom Prowle’s description of the situation in Welsh education is accurate. His diagnosis of a malign influence of teaching unions is also correct. They put members before pupils and encourage a destructive complacency. Standards are too poor in both English- and Welsh-medium schools. His prescription though is one that has disappointed in England. Meanwhile, there has been a tremendous improvement in school standards in London in recent years relative to the rest of the country. That improvement embraced state schools in poor areas. Improvement is possible without trying to introduce markets where the necessary conditions do not exist. We should study that example. When Frederick the Great made the Prussian army the most effective in Europe he did not do it by setting up parallel armies and getting them to compete. What is required is leadership and an uncompromising insistence on the highest standard in teaching as judged by independent assessment. All teachers should get paid more by scrapping school building – leaking roofs and smelly toilets are unimportant relative to teaching standards. Teachers who fail to deserve their higher pay should be rapidly retired. Things have got bad enough that parents would now support such rigorous management.

  18. “IB Jones – an excellent point about remuneration.” But what we have in Wales is a very imperfect market; we give value to teachers trained to teach in Welsh Medium schools, even though those schools produce poorer results in relation to English Medium schools with the same level of pupils on Free school meals. Granted those teachers in WM schools are not paid more but they are much more likely to be employed despite having significant weakness in their own qualifications. In 2012 for each WM primary position there were 11 applicants…for each EM primary position there were 33. In some counties (Conwy for instance) schools employ WM trained teachers for preference in English Medium Primary schools so that Non Welsh Medium trained teachers are in a minority in EM schools. Yet there is evidence that teachers who have been through WM schools have a weakness in English! When it comes to education costs which counties have steadfastly refused to rationalise schools to reflect falling pupil numbers? The Fro Cymraeg. So that now we have Ceredigion spending more money per pupil than any other county and certainly more than the England average. Is this cost effective in terms of examination success? No. Ceredigion, with one of the lowest levels of pupils from poor backgrounds fails repeatedly to reach benchmarked expectations. This year with a benchmarked prediction of 59% for level 2 inclusive GCSE they have reached 53%

    We in Wales are not just spending less we are spending stupidly. Cardiff this year has put £648,000 extra “Welsh Medium supplement” into schools that are stuffed with the children of the educated middle classes and very thin on ethnic minority pupils. If we are going to supplement schools let’s identify need rather than squander on the basis of political ideology. The Welsh Government generously awards £10,000 for a school which languishes in band 5 of our league table, to help them climb up the achievement ladder. Denbighshire County Council gives £293,845 more per year to Ysgol Brynhyfryd for being Welsh Medium than the same school would get if it were English Medium. It is already a successful school with few pupils on Free school meals and no ethnic minority pupils, Cardiff gives the equivalent of £954 per pupil to its newly established and almost empty Welsh Medium school, Ysgol Bro Edern.

    The Welsh education system will not generate the diversity and dynamic change necessary for improvement whilst it is ham strung by a central controlling ideology. Some schools have to be allowed to break free from the shackles to succeed or fail by different means. At the moment we cannot compare ourselves to anyone. How can we accurately judge what works and what doesn’t?

  19. Malcolm,

    I agree, as someone who actually went through it and did not enjoy the experience. However unlike ’96, there is a clear recognition for the need at the coalface, even if most of the Council leaders are not prepared to admit it in public. Many services can still be kept local in say ‘one stop shops’, but we can no longer ignore that funding shortfall.

  20. One of the most depressing things about being a teacher is that everyone thinks they can do the job better than you and tell you where you are going wrong.

    At Local Authority level we have advisors, ex-teachers who have gotten out of teaching in order to tell us who are still teaching what we should be doing.

    At Estyn we have long retired teachers who have suddenly decided what was really important a few years ago is no longer so vital.

    At the WJEC they change their minds every year over which hoops the kids should jump through this time.

    We have ‘experts’ inventing revolutionary teaching techniques based on no evidence whatsoever, such as ‘multiple intelligences’ or downright fabrications like Brain Gym.

    Now we have another non-evidence based assumption that competition makes better schools. There is a scandal in the USA at the moment of ‘educators’ being involved in a huge swindle to access bonuses for exceeding their targets. Here is evidence showing what competition brings. I’d like to see the evidence to the contrary.

    Overall, what I’d really like to see is the whole raft of educational bureaucrats get together and actually decide what they want us to do. Then we will be able to deliver it.

  21. Does anyone in Wales know why London schools have seen such a large relative improvement? Shouldn’t we find out rather than theorising?
    I understand Billy Pilgrim’s frustration. The solution is not micro-management but the setting of high standards, full public disclosure of schools relative performance, adjusted for intake (which unions have been resisting) and an acceptance that persistent low standards will result in changes of personnel. Teachers should have discretion over teaching methods and in how they hit the standards set; that is not a matter for bureaucratic dictation.

  22. Monopolies in the public sector are only a problem if they are either badly managed or if they are subject to external forces which negate the benefits of the monopoly. In the UK I would suggest that the single most destructive influence on monopoly industries and services in my lifetime has been the Marxist dominated Trade Union movement.

    British Steel, The Coal Board, British Rail etc. have all been rendered uncompetitive or disfunctional by hard-left Unions operating industry-destroying restrictive practices under constant threats of disruption if their frequently unrealistic demands were not met. Education seems to be in the same position. The monopoly gives the teaching Unions more power and influence than they should have and they have used this for political and ideological purposes which go far beyond the representation of their members.

    One solution is to introduce competition because it breaks the power of the Unions to interfere and puts management back in the driving seat. If competition can be introduced in a way that breaks the power of the teaching Unions completely then it could be a very good thing – an example would be the provision of so-called free schools which should, in theory, be free to set their own terms and conditions for staff. Some free schools in England have actually chosen to use unqualified teachers in some roles. On that subject, I am far from convinced that the current trend for 1-year PGCE teacher training is as effective in producing teachers for KS1-3 as the old 3-year dedicated teacher training courses. It seems to be in KS1-3 that Wales is weakest.

    That’s the upside. The downside is that it creates a need for more management and quality management appears to be at a premium in the UK. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the mangagement of education in Wales has been a disaster for several years and it goes right to the top. Wales has suffered from a succession of failed Ministers of Education and they are all from the same ‘socialist comprehensive’ mould. Ministers and their advisors have set the direction and clearly it hasn’t worked as the PISA results show.

    Wales seems to have had more of a top-down system which, more or less, over-rides the traditional role of the school governors. It used to be that the governors governed and the Head managed in a co-operative and consultative circle with parents that suited their own locality. It looks as if the current Welsh curriculum is too prescriptive for the governors to govern as many would like. Given the complexity of the current legislation, which is now a complete mess of cross-cutting English and Welsh laws and guidelines, then I’m not even sure that voluntary part-time governors stand much chance of keeping abreast of it all. Simplification is desperately needed!

    On the grounds that the status quo is so badly broken, and nobody seem to know how to fix it, then probably introducing competition would help to prove what works and what doesn’t. There is so much inertia in a monopoly education system that it cannot turn quickly. Free schools would provide the opportunity for ‘radical’ ideas to be tested relatively quickly and cheaply – after which there is no real excuse for anybody with their eyes open not being able to follow the schemes that work. The same is true for free schools that might fail – again the opportunity exists not to make the same mistakes again while only a small number of kids will suffer as a result.

    Now – can we start with a couple of English medium free schools in Gwynedd please? State-funded Schools which are free to teach outside the Welsh curriculum. I’m sure there will be no shortage of suitable, management, teachers, or prospective pupils!

  23. Mention the word ‘education’ and the usual suspects are there immediately to blame all Wales’ ills on the country’s native language. They echo the Treason of the Blue Books 1847. Nothing new, eh? One would think that it was the English language that was under threat from their comments. They just don’t like it that many parents, monoglot or otherwise, want their children raised to be bilingual in English and Welsh. They also resent the fact that all four Welsh parties support the Welsh language. Well, tough, I say, you’re living in Wales, accept the fact that there are two languages here.

  24. I think my blog has promoted useful discussion about the situation regarding the Welsh schools. There are obviously points of agreement and disagreement and I thank you all for your comments.

    I think I am right in saying that there was a broad consensus that there are significant problems with the Welsh schools and that something urgently needs to be done particularly given Wales’s position in the international league tables and the importance to the Welsh economy.

    I emphasised my concern about promoting changes in the Welsh schools system and the barriers caused by what I referred to as provider self-interest. I think most commentators accept this point to some degree.

    I am convinced that the existing top down approaches of: guidance, circulars, laws, inspections, special measures, advice, commissioners etc will not get us anywhere. Hence, I put forward the possibility of introducing some form of competition to promote changes in the schools system. I believe there is strong evidence that, across public services that some element of competition generates improvements in standards and efficiency. The evidence may not be as strong in relation to schools but I do believe it is there. I must emphasise that I am talking about regulated and limited competition NOT, as some seem to think; totally unregulated markets, rapacious multi-national companies and the destruction of the state education system. I did mention that the competition could come from: private, voluntary (including parents) or faith-based organisations and some commentators supported this.

    Others have proposed different changes such as: organisational restructuring, reduced bureaucracy, better leadership, recruitment of high quality teachers, support for teachers etc. Undoubtedly all of these have great merit and indeed one commentator mentioned the improvements in school standards in London using some of these methods. I still have concerns that the implementation of many of these changes would be resisted by existing vested interests in maintaining the status quo and also I am not sure if they are affordable in the current climate. Hence the need for competition to force changes.
    The negative point is that many commentators (including myself) have doubts about whether any of these proposals would ever be taken on board by the Welsh Government given its strong links with the vested interests involved.

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