Wales has in its young people a great deal of potential, talent and skill. There’s no question about that. And when we talk about PISA results that’s something that we need to keep in mind. We must also pay tribute to all students for their hard work as well as all staff and teachers for their tireless efforts to ensure our young people achieve.
PISA tests are a measure of key skills; reading, maths and science. These are important skills for the Welsh economy that need to be developed if we are to reach our potential. They are also skills that young people need to get good jobs.
International PISA testing is one way of measuring progress but the data must be used wisely. The PISA results published yesterday were hailed as showing an ‘improvement’ and this is to some degree true.
There has been a slight increase across the three areas – maths, science and reading, since 2015, which is encouraging. But, compared with 2006, there was a slight increase in maths and reading, but a decrease in science.
It must be remembered that there was a decline in all three areas in 2009 and 2012 and we are now just getting back to where we were in 2006. It is good to see signs that the results could be back on track after a long period of decline. However, looking ahead, there are big challenges ahead for the next period.
There is a need to continue the small increase since 2015 in a time of massive change in our education system and make sure that the new curriculum has time to embed, providing adequate resources and opportunities for staff professional development.
And with the advent of a new curriculum, our schools are experiencing a major funding crisis.
Since 2010-11 there has been an 8% reduction in real terms of spending per pupil. Far too many of our most experienced teachers have to be made redundant as schools have to operate on less and less money as a result of cuts.
This results in large numbers of children in classes, less opportunity to address individual needs and pastoral work and in addition, there are recruitment problems and one in three new teachers leave the classroom within five years.
According to Estyn, pupils who attend half of the secondary schools in Wales fail to meet their full potential by the time they leave school.
Schools need a steady injection of money and teachers’ working conditions need improving. They need to be able to devote their time to educating and inspiring their pupils and the profession needs to be made attractive to potential teachers leading to more teachers being recruited into our schools.
That is why Plaid Cymru is pledging to provide an additional £300 million a year to our schools and colleges, so that long-term planning can be achieved, and resources are delivered to the front line in an effective and timely manner moving away from specific grants and last minute allocations.
Teachers inspiring children in our schools is crucial in raising standards and vital in our quest for a prosperous and fair Wales. We need an education system that emphasises the importance of the relationship between teacher and pupil and gives it space in which to flourish.
We must pursue all avenues in order to promote and protect that relationship, removing all unnecessary interference. The early years are vital and early intervention strategies are key to creating a level playing field for each child, whatever their background or circumstances
We in Plaid Cymru are committed to a comprehensive education system. The challenge is making the system work for every pupil and removing inconsistency between schools and we will continue to put our emphasis on preventative intervention to ensure that pupils who fall behind receive the support they need to improve and succeed.
Meanwhile, the recruitment and retention of teachers requires deliberate, long-term planning and the reduction of all bureaucratic paperwork and review of the work of all the bodies to which teachers report as there is far too much duplication and unnecessary reporting.
As Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, I look forward to becoming our Minister for Education and the Welsh Language after we form the next government in 2021.
Under Adam Price’s leadership as First Minister, that government will aim to transform Wales. Making our education system the best it can be will be crucial to that plan.
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