That was the damning verdict of a major independent review of education in Wales commissioned by the Welsh government following poor performance in the PISA tests.
While the report, entitled Improving Schools in Wales: An OECD perspective, praised “positive” learning conditions, good teacher-student relationships, and concluded that student performance is less dependent on a student’s school or background than the OECD average, it found many weaknesses in the wider system.
It was critical of the pace of change, stating it had added to “a growing sense that stakeholders are overwhelmed by the many changes and have no clear understanding of the long-term goals beyond the current aspiration to be among the 20 best-performing education systems on PISA in reading by 2015”.
The OECD review recommends that higher expectations are set for pupils, that targeted funding is simplified and calls for more investment in support staff, more continuous quality professional development as well as calling on the Welsh government to develop a long-term strategy.
OECD’s Beatriz Pont, senior policy analyst leading the OECD Wales review, commented: “Wales should keep its focus on a long-term and sustained school improvement strategy: investing in the teaching and school leadership profession and ensuring that schools and their staff can respond to the learning needs of all their students, underpinned by a coherent evaluation and assessment framework.”
The report was published as calls to allow students affected by the recent GCSE English grading fiasco in Wales to re-sit their exams for free, fell on deaf ears.
Education minister Huw Lewis said there would be no re-marking of papers and grades would stand. Schools reported results skewed by as much as 30 per cent. The new exam was brought in following concerns over results in the summer of 2012. January this year was the first assessment opportunity. It is just one of the reforms that the OECD was referring to in its two-year review.
Unions NAHT Cymru, ASCL Cymru and the NUT had all pleaded a case for students either to be allowed to re-sit for free or to be awarded the better of their January and June grades.
The Welsh government concluded that the high number of early entry students, insufficient support materials and tough marking were among the reasons why many pupils did not get their predicted grades. But it vowed that lessons would be learned.
A spokesman for the Welsh government said: “Free re-sits are not an option, the minister has made this clear. Schools entering pupils early for examinations in key subjects such as English language will not have taken these decisions lightly.
“Part of that decision-making process would have been an appreciation that those pupils ... may need to be re-entered in the summer.
“Schools would have been fully aware of the cost implication of entering pupils for both sittings. We therefore feel that it is not appropriate for us to step in.”