One and a half cheers

This July I wrote in The Western Mail that the enduringly weak performance in our schools system was partly down to a significant cultural and political fragility: “The underlying malaise in Wales is one of a civil society that has lost its voice. Devolution has bred complacency”.

A look at the end of 2014 school year assessments reflects this fragility. Media coverage of these results has been inadequate. Our school performance continues to struggle in UK and international terms. This year’s painfully insightful OECD review of Welsh schooling is borne out. We still lack a long-term vision 15 years on, are weak and confused on assessment and our less able are taught worse than elsewhere.

I can raise only one and half cheers for Wales school improvement in 2014, unlike the media pack which, aping a barely adequate teacher, overstated progress and misconstrued data. Western Mail, BBC and ITV overpraised and under-analysed. There is a growing trend (not only in Wales), where the August exam results coverage descends more each year into human interest stories encapsulated in quotes from braying headteachers and acres of images of whooping teenagers (mostly leaping girls).

This year’s Welsh media coverage recalls Garrison Keilor’s satire of Lake Woebegon, where “all the children are above average”.

The interpretation of exams stats this summer has been more “noise than signal”, as Nate Silver puts it. The ‘A’ levels were greeted as some sort of triumph. The Western Mail talked of an ‘impressive surge’ in top grades and referred overall to ‘our upward trajectory’. Given that top grades (A*-A) had fallen every year since 2009, no comparisons were made over the longer timescale and from a depressed base. But the main indicator of national performance, the rate of actual success in gaining a pass grade, across A*-E, got little attention in Wales. That is because it actually fell, as it did UK wide. Too much was made about ‘narrowing the gap with England’. Mr Gove had actually set out to make achievement levels lower there! And it was left to the England-based TES to provide devolutionary context about the increase in the very top grade: “Despite A-level students in Northern Ireland and Wales having still been able to take resits in January, they were outperformed by their English peers in terms of the proportion of A* grades achieved.”

A week later GCSE coverage characterised performance overall as something even more joy-bringing than the ‘A’ levels’ ‘significant improvement’. The bald facts are these:

  • A*-C pass rates were up 0.9% up on 2013. That is 0.1% up since 2011, the previous high since devolution.

  • The overall pass rate of A*-G fell in the annual period by 0.2%.

  • English language results were up but Maths’s were well down.

  • Science did well; Modern Foreign Languages continue to implode.

As with ‘A’ levels, the focus on achievement standards in respect of all learners, by the media, the professionals, unions and the government was sacrificed for exaggerated headlines in both the press and the BBC about ‘top grades’ and narrowing UK national gaps. ITV were a tad more measured. But there is a further twist to the tale. Nobody truly knows the results at GCSE as yet. That’s because all the August figures touted are based on entry not cohort. What really counts is how well the whole student population has performed (after all, we pay for every student in our taxes), not simply those entered for individual exams. And the really important  story was about GCSE English and Maths, core PISA comparator areas. As you missed it, read on.

The Minister, Huw Lewis, redirected any media spotlight on the slide in Maths A*-C (down by 2.2% overall, down on top grades also and now 12.4% lower than England’s results; our kids are 20% more likely to fail in Maths than over the border) by extolling the achievements in English, up by 0.6% against 2013, allowing for early entry adjustment. Lewis’s contentment was actually just one huge sigh of relief. The spectre of another summer fiasco about English as in 2012 had been averted. The turbulence of unprecedented volatility in modules sat in January 2014 had all been seemingly smoothed out quite miraculously How? The Minister had orchestrated what he called broadly comparable results to the previous year. The key word is ‘comparable’. He had instructed the application of a mechanism for levelling off results year-on-year which is called “comparable outcomes”.

“Comparable outcomes” works like some wondrous exams combine harvester on the yearly crop (the scripts). At the touch of a button, the lines between ‘grades of wheat and actual wheat and chaff’ can be adjusted. So much for more rigour. The media  failed to report the application of this mechanism. English results in England actually dropped by 1.9 percentage points and volatility across schools there was considerable (enough to force ASCL, the Heads’ union, to initiate a formal inquiry {but not including Wales}). England renounced “comparable outcomes” fixing in 2013.

Our Minister then bravely commented about an absence of volatility in ‘his’ English results. But ITV had produced valuable footnote information on results day to gainsay notions of stability school-by school in WJEC English, compared to 2013:

  • 13.7% of centres saw an decrease of over 10 percentage points

  • 15.1% of centres saw an increase of over 10 percentage

English results are all over the place this year. 1 in just over 7 of our schools plummeted in English. Even more schools surged forward unexpectedly. 10 percentage points is an exceptional amount of volatility in one school year. Lewis may have succeeded in magicking more out of his ‘national crop’, but his comparable outcomes mechanism works as a blunt instrument that could not hope to differentiate between the parcels of fields that we call exam centres/schools.

And the overall effect of Maths dropping significantly and clear volatility in English? I deduce that a lot of Band 4/5 schools will be struggling so much on the main performance judgement criteria of ‘5 A*-C including Maths and English’ that they will be named and shamed again when the December bandings tables are trotted out. These schools were least equipped to cope with chaotically late syllabus and assessment changes enforced by our government.

What did the media make of all this? Nothing. And the teaching unions? Apart from the ATL, not a word. In rushing to bring out the bunting they all ignored actual data. ITV decided not to follow up their sterling work earlier this year on turbulent English unit tests. BBC offered no in-depth analysis and The Western Mail preferred to accentuate the positive. Gareth Evans, its Education Editor, went to awkward lengths to do so in a telling article headlined “Why no specialist journalist wants to write negative stories”. Evans, the brightest and best of his genre, commented: “Welsh education deserves a break and to see so many schools excel really was a welcome boost”. Is this the role now of our media, to engage in happy snapshots and boosterism?

Statistically, with so many schools struggling this year in GCSE Maths and English, all cannot have won prizes. Let’s put it more broadly and simply; if several of the larger LEAs are claiming 4% rises against a national uplift this year of 0.9%, many others must have done worse than last year. If GCSE A*-C are up 0.9% but 0.2% down on A*-G, could the media not do the maths for the fall D-G? Or don’t we care about about those less able children’s standards? OECD’s report rightly lambasted Wales for letting down these kids.

Framing some broad analysis around the preposterous Government target for 2015 for GCSE success of 65% A*-C including Maths and English/Welsh First Language (2014 is going to turn out a country mile away from that, not even reaching 54%) would also have been intellectually more respectable. Leighton Andrews dreamed up that most inadvisable of targets (TES had warned: “He shoots for the moon”) and Lewis has cleaved to it. When PISA 2015 is published in 2016 our ignominy could exceed our incompetence. We will remain The Slow Learning Country.

Liberal Democrat Lord Thomas of Gresford recently complained in The Lords: “The press and media in Wales allow a dominant Labour government to get away with it……..One wonders whether the politicians and the Welsh media are too closely aligned and too ready to exchange roles.”

Publicly funded schooling cannot improve without searching external scrutiny and challenge. It also needs trade unions in creative tension with the government and not indulged by the media. It certainly does not profit from an innumerate and deferential media, prone to cheerleading. If devolved is not the same as intelligently involved, everybody loses, starting with the learners.

Terry Mackie is director of educational consultancy EmpathiCymru and former head of school improvement and inclusion for Newport council.

27 thoughts on “One and a half cheers

  1. Well argued Terry and I do agree with you that a robust and transparent scrutiny of Welsh education in the post devolution period has been abysmal and on par with the equally abysmal performance of our education system, but neither you nor any other Welsh media outlet wants to look at the principal or the root problem that has created this situation.

    Wales had a good education system prior to devolution and often better than its counter part in England but then it all changed as the Welsh Labour Government unilaterally decided that Wales shall become a Bilingual nation and the education overnight became the principal tool to achieve that aim.

    Parallel to this a number of measures that monitored educational performance were removed whether deliberately or not I do not know but what I know and for that matter most of us is that Welsh education system has failed our children and made them significantly illiterate in the English language and numeracy.

    I have nothing against the Welsh language and see it as a valuable minority’s cultural language that needs protecting and supporting with all practical and reasonable measures but in my view it’s wrong to impose it through compulsion as this doesn’t square up with any notion of democracy that I know or value.

    We now have detailed statistic on all aspects of Welsh education performance covering nearly 15 years and freely available from the Welsh Government sources to all and for analysts and other interested parties it offers a depressing picture that is not going to change unless we bring freedom of choice to parents to choose WM or EM education for their children.

    Having this freedom will ensure success in both streams and I’m absolutely sure this would happen quickly and it should and must happen for the sake of our children and their future.

    Make the Invisible Elephant visible as its more than evident that the vast majority of kids simply do not have affinity or any interest in the Welsh language and most drop it as soon as they reach the secondary education.

    Teaching time is FINATE and immensely important in primary years and what we do? – We reduce teaching time of core subjects to pursue a vision that no matter how noble or deserving is simply unworkable and for the reasons as outlined above – Remember the old saying ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink!!

  2. ‘One wonders whether the politicians and the Welsh media are too closely aligned and too ready to exchange roles’…Why do you wonder? The Western Mail has a shrunken circulation and is financially entirely dependent on advertisements/notices from the Welsh government to keep going. They would close in a day if those were withdrawn. People only read it for the rugby. As for the BBC and TV media is it really their role or mandate to scrutinise the education system? I don’t think so.

    The fault for ‘under performance’, if that is the word, may lie with the teaching profession itself who should be capable of raising their own standards, ‘keeping’ up with the rest or arguing/defending their case effectively against the ‘political’ expediency. Correction, if that is needed, of this must reside with them because politicians or anybody else can’t really ‘impose’ it although they seem to try. Also, I am dubious about whether apparent under performance against the peculiar ‘standards’ of PISA is necessarily a relevant or desirable measurement of the innate abilities of children to participate in a modern evolving society where adaptive skills, intelligence and social engagement qualities (including language) should be more valued. Mind you the mental training to give correct change in a busy bar and to spell properly would be appreciated.

  3. Concentrating on GCSE results just diverts attention away from the real problem which is that education in Wales is broken by the end of KS2!

    It is most broken for kids from L1 English homes subjected to WM immersion education from the Foundation Stage onwards – only kids from L1 Welsh homes come through that relatively unscathed. The rest often lose out in English and maths because they don’t make the grade in Welsh in the first place. Too many L1 English kids just sit there like little mice too scared to admit that they don’t understand what the teacher is trying to teach them and they go into a downward spiral from which the only escape is to be taught once again in their own language – English. Their parents can’t help them directly with their WM school-work either – all they can do is to set up an alternative education either by doing it themselves or by paying for private tuition. In places like Gwynedd with no choice of EM primary education is an absolute scandal and it remains virtually unchallenged.

    Unsolicited/compulsory Welsh remains a waste of valuable desk-time for the vast majority and negatively impacts English, maths, and science. I’m not against Welsh as an option. After that it is all downhill with secondary schools basically doing remedial education for kids who have been failed by the primary schools.

    Does Estyn recognise this? Not really and it absolutely does not seem to accept the damage that WM primary education is doing to a significant proportion of L1 English kids across most of the ability range – instead it praises schools inflicting this damage on victims who are increasingly captives in a non-market system with diminishing choice of English medium primary education. Estyn is now a major part of the problem. Education in Wales is increasingly driven by ideology not best practice. We now have a generation significantly semi-literate in 2 languages and functionally innumerate. We have the PISA results we deserve.

    The social and educational disaster that Gwynedd Councils have been allowed to inflict on several decades of L1 English primary school kids is now unfolding throughout Wales and it is set to get much, much, worse if the current rate of increase in WM provision is allowed to continue. I saw this in Gwynedd as long ago as the late 1980s but every time I raise it I’m called anti-Welsh. I’m going to carry on being called anti-Welsh until this damaging ideology-driven education policy is over-turned.

  4. Strangely enough Terry I was making the rather strident point in a meeting in our secondary school that aiming for 68% level2 inclusive was foolish because it was unobtainable. It seems that the local school’s consortium is giving out Brownie points for “Ambition” and no one seemed concerned that the anagement team would look as though they had been lobotomised for translating that ambition into a projection. How it has happened is a mystery to me but on falling Maths and English GCSE A*-C outcomes we appear to have an enhanced Level2 inclusive figure. One possible explanation lies in the very good Welsh L1 figures and another in agressive demands for remarks on borderline D/C Maths and English papers. I will be interested to see how many schools demanded remarks on the contentious English GCSE. One thing was evident in the run up to this year’s exam; teachers were not well prepared…or maybe I should say that in my limited area they were not prepared. Last minute panics as some teachers realised that questions previously attracting only a few marks now attracted considerably more were much in evidence and of course things like SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) are skills built up (or neglected) over years not “crammed” in year 11.

    I have to say, and I have posted this before, I am actually relieved that Huw Lewis allowed the GCSE grades to fall. It would have been easy to put on pressure to adjust grade boundaries and it is more positive to grasp the nettle and look for real improvement in teaching and in monitoring of individual pupils through SIMS or similar systems.

    Although no doubt the posters above will be vilified for raising the Welsh Medium spectre I have to say that J.Walker is not wrong. I have monitored WM school’s performance and, in particular, the performance of pupils from English speaking homes within those schools. The grim truth is that pupils from English speaking homes would be far more likely to fulfill their educational potential in English medium schools. If you wait a week or two you can pick up my FOI for comparisons on this year’s KS2 2014. It makes it so clear that WM schools are disadvantaging half their pupils that if there was a “Class action” against the Welsh Government for deceiving parents about WM they would end up paying out millions.

  5. Terry’s piece is sensible enough as far as it goes (although it makes the toes curl to see some of the usual suspects still attributing to the Welsh language the maleficent powers once ascribed to hobgoblins), but I would hold that many of his strictures apply much more widely than the field of education and training. One consequence of the dark Eighties was that we became less ready to criticize one another in public for fear of lending comfort and sustenance to the enemy without. As a result, many of us in positions of power (however petty) and authority (however undeserving they may have been) came to understand the muting of criticism as an indication of deference. Far too many people in our public life no longer believe their own view to be right, and other views to be wrong: they simply cannot conceive that another view is possible.

    While acknowledging that Huw Lewis can be very hard work, I would hesitate to point a finger at him in particular. This mentality has been building up for decades. We like to think of Wales as a radical, self-aware society where dissent drives innovation. Dissent has always been present, but has always had to cope with a compacency of sometimes overwhelming power. And there have been quite glorious episodes of innovation, but these tend to occur between longer and longer phases of stagnation.

    The more I look at education in this country, and compare with education in other countries, the more convinced I become that swallowing English education wholesale in Victorian times was several mistakes rolled into one. Such modalities as early specialization, bizarre attitudes to science and technology, obsession with perpetuating recently-reinvented traditions of class superiority, and an innate hostility to thinking two successive coherent thoughts, have deleterious enough effects in a country the size of England. (Alan Bennett is very good on this.) Here, the results are quite devastating.

    What is the answer? If I knew, I’d be out propagating it. But letting things continue to drift as at present is not an option.

  6. Sorry, just a brief correction; when I said “I am actually relieved that Huw Lewis allowed the GCSE grades to fall” I was referring to the maths figure. The English result was guaranteed to be comparable with 2013 as you say.

    Since maths A*-C is about 3% below English (on full cohort figures) maths is clearly the key to Level2 inclusive improvement. In the last two years the maths GCSE has moved to more “literary” content, that is the questions are more likely to mirror PISA examinations. It takes time for pupils to adjust to this change and poor literacy is now having an impact on Maths outcomes.

    Too often I have noticed that we in Wales, and particularly in the media, look only at external examinations. The failure to maintain testing or even effective moderation at key stages 1 and 2 has given primary schools an opportunity to back-slide. Even in secondary schools I see an attitude that education is REALLY important in year 10 but in years 7-9 (KS3) it’s OK to be more relaxed. If there is a teacher absent you can fairly guarantee that the gap is plugged by a supply teacher (or PE teacher) in KS3. To me failing to put a trained maths teacher in front of a maths class at any time in school is criminal. The same is true in English. The two core pillars on which all education is built should be taught with religious fervour from the beginning of a child’s school life.

  7. I know there is no hope that Welsh education will improve when blogs like this one do not produce forensic analysis of our current lousy system but blame the Welsh language. Swiss kids have to operate in at least three languages and time being finite does not prevent them reaching acceptable standards. Our teachers are defeatist, our press is complacent and our politicians prefer to make excuses than admit to problems that then have to be tackled. And instead of worrying about that, people go on about Welsh. If Welsh did not exist (and in a couple of generations it may not) I wonder what bogeyman they’ll find to moan about and project their own sense of exclusion on to.

  8. R Tredwyn,

    With all due respect the real, factual and tangible evidence is abundant to pin down the demise of Welsh education in the post devolution period to one single issue – The Welsh Language Imposition.

    Welsh Labour Government in my view is guilty of putting an ill thought ideology before all else and is getting away with the proverbial ‘murder’ but in this context there are the real victims and the victims are children, whose right to good education is being denied and with the extreme prejudice too.

    In post devolution Wales we seem to have a significant Democracy Deficit and we no longer have Freedom of Thought or the Freedom of Expression as far as the Welsh Media is concerned!

    I fully respect your passion for your language but you fail to recognise a simple fact that Welsh is a cultural language of a minority with little or no relevance in the real world and can never be rationally compared or even equated with any Main Foreign Language used in multilingual societies like Switzerland and elsewhere.

    In my view Wales should be proud of having ability to live through English as its main language, after all English is one of the greatest languages that ever existed and English is a language that’s sought out all over the world, but what we do in Wales?

    We downgrade it and we redefine the meaning of ‘Being Welsh’ to imply that one can only be Welsh if one speaks the ancient British language long overtaken and confined to margins of significant irrelevance by the evolution and history.

    This is not meant to say that Wales should not be proud of promoting and protecting one of the few remaining world’s ancient languages that is still a living cultural language in parts of rural Wales – I would advocate and support use of all reasonable and practical measures to keep Welsh language alive and prospering.

    Finally, we must not forget that Welsh people never had a chance or a choice to debate or argue the merits of initially elevating Welsh language to equality with English to now ‘Welsh being More Equal than English’!

    All Welsh language measures were imposed on Welsh people by Westminster and in my view the issue of the first language of Wales should only be decided by Welsh people through a referendum – Then if Welsh language becomes the national language so be it as then it would be the will of the people of Wales and not the will of a Political Ideology.

  9. As you say Ross, the Welsh language cannot be held responsible for the poor performance of Welsh schools but when WM secondaries underperform similar EM schools on average and when those WM schools have just the pupils that countries look to to excel in PISA and in later life we should be concerned.
    We should also be concerned that the government is encouraging parents to send their children to WM schools when they know full well that pupils from non Welsh speaking homes do better in EM schools.
    Ultimately the aim is to have all Welsh immersion primary schools and, at that point, 92% of pupils will be underperforming because of the language medium of instruction.

  10. Can anybody explain what ‘FINATE’ teaching time is?

    The best I can find is that it is an Esperanto word. Surely we do not need compulsory Esperanto when teaching time is finite?

  11. Well spotted D L Owen – A simple typo – It should have read FINITE.

    Also, I omitted to say that in addition to losing precious educational time on the Welsh language the core subjects (Maths and Science) are often taught to kids through a ‘Foreign Language’ – So, no wonder most of year 7 kids fall within the REMIDIAL category when they enter secondary education and never recover.

    It’s a great shame that ESTYN are silent on this very issue but as J Walker said they are very much part of the problem and have a disproportionate number of ‘bilingual inspectors’ who put promotion of Welsh language above all other considerations.

    Have seen ESTYN primary school reports which in summary terms say: English POOR / Maths POOR / Science POOR / Welsh language EXCELLENT – Overall rating: A GOOD SCHOOL!

  12. Aha, there is a ‘College of of art science and remidial studies’ near the city of Kano in Nigeria.

  13. Can I controversially suggest that the problems of education (and other public services) in Wales are a consequence of the fact that we live it what is essentially a one party state? The Labour Party has been in power in Wales since the start of devolution either, independently or in coalition. Some Welsh Government Ministers have been in post for longer periods of time than those in North Korea, Zimbabwe or China, those well know democracies.

    As in Scotland, in many parts of Wales the Tory Party is a toxic brand meaning it can never form a government on its own. The Liberal Democrats are probably doomed to virtual extinction following their unpopular period of cohabitation with the Tories at Westminster. That leave Plaid Cymru. In Scotland, the SNP is the governing party while in Wales Plaid Cymru is getting nowhere simply because it is hoisted on the horns of a dilemma over the Welsh Language. It currently has three MPs, the same as it had forty years ago. It currently has eleven AMs well down from the figure at the first Welsh Assembly elections in 1999.

    Personally I am a great supporter of measures for the protection and development of the Welsh language – it is a key part of our heritage. However, I do not see the Welsh language as the only issue to be considered. There are many other issues to consider such as; the economy, the NHS, the environment. Unfortunately, for Plaid Cymru, there is a large constituency within the party which is only concerned with the Welsh language and is oblivious to other issues. This means the party is constrained in what it can do and in keeping in with its Welsh language constituency (which it must do) the party completely alienates itself from many other voters in many parts of Wales, particularly in the South East. However much Plaid Cymru leaders may protest, the party is still seen as primarily an organ of the Welsh language movement by many in Wales. Moreover, it is difficult to see how Plaid Cymru can ever escape from this dilemma over the language which is, of course, a problem the SNP doesn’t have to face and hence means it is capable of forming, initially, an effective opposition and subsequently a government, and almost a separate nation.

    Overall, for the foreseeable future, I can see no strong challenges to Welsh Labour at the Welsh Assembly and therefore no threats to its political power. If your political base is secure why bother offending a large part of your membership and your other sponsors (e.g. trade unions) by initiating the sorts of changes needed to improve education (or any other public service) in Wales.

  14. I endorse much of what Malcolm Prowle commented, as he has given some thought to what might be valuable background and context to my proposition that Wales is not only making insufficient progress in schools education but it is ill-served by a voiceless civil society and rampant complacency. The article I posted gave warning that our media is not trying enough to challenge sufficiently its longstanding policy-makers and senior public servants/professionals. This is not to say we are operating undemocratically in any sense; it’s just that it’s low-level, mediocre democracy -and it don’t look like changing, to paraphrase Malcolm. Two further points:

    Bilingualism policy is not the cause of enduringly low educational standards in Wales -and it may not even be a salient correlation. But no one can argue that Welsh as Second Language has been remotely successful or value for money. Those problems persist. The policy in English medium schools is flunking. And Foundation Phase is suffering directly as a result of curriculum overload, of which Welsh is one complex component in ‘the bad mix’.

    Lastly, my article could be interpreted by some as an attack on The Western Mail. I apologise if that misapprehension comes across. My critique is about the whole media of Wales, not the press. I think there exists all the problems of a small country new to ‘federalism’ and a lack of a tradition of tough scrutiny. In some senses the media still gets too caught up in identity issues to the detriment of services monitoring and evaluation. This does reflect what people out there think (just look at the above comments!) but for me the media has to give an intellectual lead and stand tall. I don’t see that happening at all with the BBC in Wales, for example. The Western Mail under Gareth Evans these past four years has been overall challenging but my view is that all the media got it badly wrong this summer -they looked too hard for a bright side which just is not there.

  15. The difficulty is how good is the evaluation of past mistakes and what does the future hold? I have maintained consistently that when Wales went along a separate path over Key stage testing they began a cycle of decline. In Primary schools in particular, without testing, teachers were content to show how well they had performed by inflating the numbers of pupils reaching Key stage 2, level 4 in year 6. Only recently was some degree of moderation brought in and both Estyn and an Australian company who researched this on behalf of the Welsh government pointed to the admitted dishonesty of teachers as a factor in true educational decline.
    Is there a political factor? Well yes; Labour and their one time government partners, Plaid, are heavily dependent on the teaching unions and the votes of individual teachers. The drive for nation building and opposition to conservative policies nationally dictated that Wales would “go its own way” and capitulate to demands from teachers to scrap testing and of course not bring in League tables. Of course both KS testing and League tables are flawed but to say a measure is imperfect without acknowledging its worth is a mistake.

    On league tables, Bristol University did an in depth comparison of this great educational experiment that is Wales:

    “A natural experiment in school accountability:
    the impact of school performance information on pupil
    progress and sorting.”

    I recall that this document was roundly denounced at the time with such statements as “What does Bristol know about Welsh schooling?” The sensible answer would have been; evidently quite a lot. It was the Welsh press that led the denunciation of some thoughtful research taking the line that “League tables are a blunt instrument”.

    In the fulness of time we now have testing (literacy and numeracy) throughout school life. We have just finished with the school banding experiment which, I would, say was a huge success in that it put the information of the Core Data sets in the public domain. Banding had a flawed algorithm of course; teachers pointed to the extreme volatility that saw tiny schools (Tryfan 2011-2012, Ysgol Moelwyn 2013-2014) go from “Best school in Wales” to band 4 in a single year. Now we have a more anodyne “colour coding” system.

    I believe that we have turned the corner. Leighton Andrews did the unthinkable…much the same as England had done a decade before.
    Terry Mackie is evidently annoyed that his piece has been hijacked by people (like me) who see the bilingual schooling experiment in Wales but, more particularly, compulsory WM education in the Fro Cymraeg, as a government perpetrated attack on the children of non Welsh-speaking parents.
    Well Terry, let me ask you; are there ANY journalists who have the cojones to actually come out and challenge the creep towards all WM schooling?

  16. Surprised at your intervention Terry and in my opinion what you said initially was an accurate summary of the Democracy Deficit in Wales.

    I think it’s fair to say that Welsh education became a subject of a huge change under the devolved governance as soon as the Welsh language imposition became its foremost priority and a tool to create a Bilingual Nation.

    I call this Social Engineering, others may have a different view but equally I do not recall any public debate or any Welsh media intervention to challenge or to even examine the merits if such a fundamental change to our education system can ever work or if it fails at what cost to the Welsh children and their future?

    Welsh Government has excelled at stifling the debate and again in my view with collusion, complicity and support of the Welsh media and this needs to change.

    We have abundant statistics to prove that children from English speaking homes are disadvantaged by Welsh language imposition and are underperforming and we as a society owe them to say let’s open up the debate and examine the facts.

    Curious how many people are aware or know that we now have a new breed of teachers who are a product of WM Higher Education that are being unleashed on our unsuspecting children – These teachers who mainly come from ‘Bilingual homes’ often have inadequate English language and numeracy skills, but excel in Welsh?

    Finally, we need and we must have parental freedom of choice to choose educational language for their children including the freedom to have best teachers in separate EM or WM schools that can inspire and motivate youngsters to excel and not only have teachers in ‘jobs for life’ system that can impart Welsh into unwilling and disinterested little minds?

  17. “Publicly funded schooling cannot improve without searching external scrutiny and challenge.”

    As if that will encourage more highly skilled individuals into the teaching profession? As if this will empower families to value education outside of the classroom? As if this will ensure that labour market outcomes demonstrate the pragmatic value of learning?

    I’m sorry, but the problems facing the education system in Wales are much greater than how our media report exam results. If the whole PISA comparison exercise has taught us anything at all, it is that those countries that we SHOULD seek to emulate, (i.e. not England), build their success on cultural values in which educators and education are respected. Teachers are not spied on, parents are not empowered to question pedagogic practice at the drop of a hat, heads do not dominate the flow of knowledge.

    If we want better teachers, we need to make teaching an attractive option for bright graduates in the same way that medicine, media, finance or law are. Is yet more scrutiny going to achieve that? I’m not suggesting that the stats are meaningless (I have conducted educational analysis professionally in the past and know that attainment can provide a benchmark), but cohort factors, socio-economic factors and the constant cycle of changing policy and curriculum arrangements makes real evaluation or comparison based on attainment almost impossible. As frightening as it may sound, I think that to tackle the root problems of education, we actually need to let go a little and trust our recruitment a little better.

    A final point that is often crucially overlooked – what do we actually want from education? Labour in Wales seems to see it as a panacea for social mobility. Education is part of this agenda no doubt, but an unbalanced labour market will not right itself just because 65% of young people attained A*-C in maths and English. Until we can decide on suitable goals and concurrent evaluative measurements that are tied to the kind of real life outcomes that young people and their families can buy into (ideally in a situation where work exists for those who attain Level 3 qualifications), educating Welsh young people will be an uphill struggle that no self-respecting educator would opt for.

  18. J Jones

    I really don’t think we are that far apart, except geographically. Your context is the North heartland, of which I have scant experience personally. That does not excuse me in any way.

    First, let me take up your challenge. I am totally and unequivocally against compulsory and universal WM schooling. Can I say that any more plainly or more publicly? I remember reading John Osmond’s wish list when he said he looked forward to such a situation of all WM in the future. I believe that aspiration is not only unattainable but fundamentally undemocratic. And it will never happen. Unless we drift into autocracy, God forbid. Secondly, current structured denial of parental preference as you describe it is unacceptable for me. I am a pluralist till the day I die. And that does not mean I believe the state has all the answers, far from it.

    On assessment and banding I am with you all the way and have a body of publications to back up my consistent record on these two. I wrote a very strong piece praising banding I remember. I am highly sceptical of Welsh teacher assessment history (from first hand experience in LEAs). For instance the recently announced Foundation Phase to KS3 attainments (all zooming up this year) are highly dubious. I don’t feel the same about the centrally organised literacy and numeracy testing. But I do feel Leighton Andrews flattered to deceive us; he did not finish the job; he got targets very wrong; he ran with the hare and the hounds; he waged stupid war with Gove for identity promotion, and; he worshipped at the false altar of bilingualism. But we all know he’s the best we have ever had in 15 years. What does that say for our nation and government? In broad terms, we are inexperienced at practical governance, denied economic levers of consequence and prone to tribal in-fighting. Early days of federalism. It will get better but it’s all taking too long.

    Lastly, I do feel the article was hijacked but hey ho, that’s blogging in Wales. Have you got any views on my proposition that our media got it wrong this summer and is generally weak in terms of policy and practice scrutiny?

    Thanks for all your very considered exchanges and maybe we can meet up sometime.

  19. Yes Terry, there’s a lot that I can agree with there.And yes again the Welsh Media got it very wrong and quite probably because it has become politically impossible (and soon actually impossible) to compare our outcomes with England.

    What I did when the GCSE results had come out and I had finished haranguing the Head of the local school, was to go to the JCQ archive tables and compare progress in Maths, not with England, but with Northern Ireland. A*-C percentages.
    NI, 2011 60.9%…..2014, 66.2%
    Wales 2011, 56.4%……2014 50.6%

    So if we in Wales don’t like to compare ourselves with the Great Satan let’s aim to equal Northern Ireland…..just 16% to go.

  20. Ho Hum. I think that I would know if I was Jacques Protic. No disrespect to Jacques but I’m prettier. Glasnost is Jacques but he has never made a secret of that. Neither of us is John Walker.

  21. Hi Anon,

    Heard this before plus few other names attributed to me, so no surprises at least for me what you had to say!

    As I see it, it appears that the Y Fro fraternity simply can’t accept or understand that there is more than just one person who is challenging Social Engineering in Wales where the less equal should accept dominance and privileges of the Welsh speakers as extended to them by Welsh speaking leaders of the Welsh Labour Party.

    Equally, you are doing a great disservice both to John R Walker and J. Jones who are highly astute political observers and not afraid to speak their minds in a similar way to what I do!

    Not sure what your aim is through this intervention as putting it simply your statement is absurd under any definition and in my view whatever interests you represent they would be better served if you came up with valid, rational and well argued counter arguments assuming you have any?

    I have coped your comment to J R Walker and J Jones and it’s up to them should they chose to reply to you.

    Jacques Protic

  22. @JessicaBlair

    “Hi J. Jones, We’d really like to talk to you about writing something for Click/Agenda..”

    Hopefully it can include stuff like this from a recent paper comparing an EM and a WM secondary school in S. Wales? Guess which school this extract describes? No prizes though ‘cos it’s just too easy!

    ‘Therefore, within this environment, language is problematised but, more
    specifically, English is problematised. This suggests a protectionist ideology, creating
    an enclave for the Welsh language, which inevitably tends to exclude and to build
    ideological barriers. The normative sanction, as reported by these students, is that
    they will ‘get a row’; they will get told off, for speaking English at school. This
    implies that there is no freedom of language choice and that language use is managed
    normatively; the ideology of choice is apparently inoperative at the level of practice
    in school. This is particularly salient given the apparent threat that, if students do not
    want to buy into the school’s ideology of language, then they can always go to the
    English school as the ultimate realisation of social separation, them and us. At line
    11 of Extract 4, a student voices an overtly nationalist discourse, the ‘language is
    dying out’, suggesting that the school is heavily invested in the revitalisation effort.
    The political ideology is very clear to the students but note that they attribute it to
    the teachers, not to themselves. The school constructs and implements its linguistic
    norms, which are understood as part of the school’s political and nationalist mission,
    embedded within a minority struggle for power.’

    Trouble is, academics who tell the truth about education in Wales don’t tend to stay in Wales very long!

  23. @ John R Walker

    Why do you not quote the source for this article? Something to hide, John?

  24. Rumbled! Welsh speakers are so sick of being disparaged (not a real European language like French or German) and accused of running Wales when no top civil servants and very few top politicians even speak the language, they are hitting back with an evil plot. They are conning unsuspecting English-speaking parents into sending their children to WM schools with the express intention of ensuring they underperform. Having converted all the English speakers into idiots the Welsh speakers can then really take over the country. A fantasy? In good company on this blog. The data show that Welsh educational standards have been declining relative to England since the 1970s. Got that? 1970s. A long time before devolution. The reasons have nothing to do with bilingualism. Find another dead horse to flog.

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