Dunce’s hats for Wales, again.

Gareth Hughes examines today’s PISA results.

Wales are again the worse performing country in the United Kingdom in educational attainment. PISA results show that 15 year olds in Wales scored 468 points on average, compared with 498 in Scotland 495 in England and 487 in Northern Ireland.

PISA is a test conducted in 65 countries in the world for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) every three years. PISA tests fifteen year olds. The United Kingdom is ranked 26 in the world.

Breaking the scores down Wales is lower than the other UK countries in the three subjects tested.

• As in PISA 2009, mathematics performance in Wales was lower than the rest of the United Kingdom with a score of 468 points compared with 472 in PISA 2009. However, in both England (495) and Scotland (498) there was little change from 2009, where the scores were 493 and 499 respectively. Northern Ireland like Wales showed a decline 487, compared with a score of 492 in PISA 2009.

• Reading performance in Wales was lower than the rest of the United Kingdom, with a score of 480 points compared with 476 in 2009. The score for reading in Scotland was 506 points, slightly higher than that in England (500), and Northern Ireland (498). This compares with scores of 500 in Scotland, 495 in England and 499 in Northern Ireland in PISA 2009.

• Scores for science were 516 in England, 513 in Scotland and 507 in Northern Ireland. Again showing little change from the previous study in 2009, where the scores were 515, 514 and 511 respectively. Wales was lower than the rest with a score of 491 points compared with 496 in PISA 2009.

So what’s the recipe for success? According to PISA the best performers share some key characteristics: a belief in the potential of all their students, strong political will, and the capacity of all stakeholders to make sustained and concerted efforts towards improvement.

After the last results the then Welsh Minister, Leighton Andrews said it was a “wake-up call’ and set Wales the target of getting into the top 20 by they ear 2015. If that target was to be met the current results should show an improvement from 2009. Clearly, this is far from being the case, it seems quite the opposite, Welsh children are going backwards compared with the rest of the UK.

It’s no good the current Education Minister saying that he’s “confident that the measures we’ve put in place since the last set of PISA results are the right way forward for Wales and we won’t be distracted from delivering them. Today’s news simply reinforces our case for the ambitious reforms we have already developed and everyone across the education sector in Wales now needs to play their part.”

The measures they’ve put in place are are based on the Scandinavian systems, but these have been slipping down the rankings. The real success stories are to be found elsewhere. The top places in the rankings are based on the Asian schools system. It’s there where the answers should be looked for.

Many have blamed the woes on devolution and of course Labour in Wales have had 15 years to get things right. But Wales has been ploughing its own educational furrow for some time, the Welsh Office had control of our schools and the curriculum way before 1999. Serious questions have to be asked about the civil servants in Wales and the advice they have been giving Ministers. Are they fit for purpose?

Its not money that is needed as can be seen from the league tables, there are many countries who spend a great deal less that Wales does and get far better results. It’s a new approach that’s needed. Such an approach is unlikely from a group of bureaucrats that are responsible for the current mess.

The truth is that if our children fail in the long run Wales will fail. Results from the adult survey also show that highly skilled adults are twice as likely to be employed and almost three times more likely to earn an above-median salary than poorly skilled adults.

In other words, poor skills severely limit people’s access to better-paying and more rewarding jobs. Highly skilled people are also more likely to volunteer, see themselves as actors rather than as objects of political processes, and are more likely to trust others. Fairness, integrity and inclusiveness in public policy thus all hinge on the skills of citizens. God help our future citizens if we continue this downward spiral.

Gareth Hughes is a political commentator. This blog first appeared on Gareth's blog (http://welshpolitics.co.uk/2013/12/dunces-hat-for-wales-again/).

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