Ann Keane, head of education inspectorate Estyn, said she was “frustrated” by the pace of improvement but acknowledged that it was always going to be a slow process.
“The initiatives that are supposed to shift the direction of things in schools are only just emerging,” she said. “The National Support Programme (NSP) hasn’t started properly and the Literacy and Numeracy Framework (LNF) only becomes statutory in September.
“It’s frustrating for me because I want to see standards improving and I want our inspections to be reflecting that improvement – but when I think about the fact these initiatives will not actually be having an impact until September onward, I can understand that this is a big ship and it’s going to take a while to turn it around.”
But Ms Keane said there is now “more power in the engine room” and new regional consortia “have an energy and a focus” which bodes well for the future.
Ms Keane, who has been in post three years, said she was confident that measures put in place by the Welsh government to raise standards “can make a big difference” and Wales has the ability to create a “world-class” education system.
Education has been under the spotlight in Wales since 2010 when the international education survey, PISA, found Welsh pupils were performing below their UK peers. In response, Wales education minister Leighton Andrews has introduced a 20-point plan to raise standards.
The NSP and LNF initiatives will identify clear annual expected outcomes in literacy and numeracy for all learners aged from five to 14.
Dr Philip Dixon, director of teaching union ATL Cymru, said Ms Keane’s assessment of progress was fair, adding: “We share the chief inspector’s frustration at the pace of change but are glad that she recognises that worthwhile reform takes time and can’t be rushed.”
A spokesman for the Welsh government said: “The minister has been absolutely clear that standards and performance in Wales, particularly in literacy in numeracy, need to improve and we are already introducing measures to make sure this happens.”