Tables turned as Wales orders independent review of inspectorate Estyn

Written by: Greg Lewis | Published:

Teachers can return to their desks this week safe in the knowledge that education chiefs in Wales will, for one term at least, shift their focus from schools to finding out how inspectors can work better.

The architect of sweeping education reforms in Wales, Professor Graham Donaldson, has just begun a review to assess how Estyn and its inspectors can better meet the demands of a new curriculum.

The independent review, which was agreed by the chief inspector Meilyr Rowlands and education secretary Kirsty Williams, aims to identify the implications for Estyn of the educational reform programme in Wales and to make recommendations for its future role and operation.

Mr Rowlands said: “Significant changes are happening to the education landscape in Wales and inspection is also changing. With Estyn’s mission to achieve excellence for all learners in Wales, we believe it will be helpful to gain an independent view from Prof Donaldson.”

Prof Donaldson will present his report early in 2018.

As he begins work, the education secretary is set to face an uncomfortable return to the Senedd as opposition politicians call for all the reforms to be scrapped in light of Wales recording its lowest GCSE results in 10 years.

Ms Williams remains resolute and has vowed to push forward with reform although she has not ruled out some tweaks to the exam system.
Dismissing calls from the Conservative shadow education secretary Darren Millar to ditch the school curriculum reforms in light of the results, Ms Williams said the two could not be linked.

“I am not sure how he conflates curriculum reforms with GCSE results. I will continue to push forward with our reform programme.”

She added: “As I have stated, we are on a national mission to improve education standards.”

However, she admits further change will be needed and has refused to rule out stopping early GCSE entry, as this was blamed in part for the dip in results.

Current levels of early entry are “unsustainable” she warned as she insisted the results could not be compared with previous years because of them.
Changes to some qualifications this year will also have had an impact and she said it was “unfair” to compare this year’s results with previous years because of these changes.

“Schools, students and teachers have had to continue with the major change in core subjects examined,” she said.

“Qualifications Wales and the (examination board) WJEC say results are pretty stable and the system has responded well to the challenge.”

Despite her determination to push forward the education secretary will be under pressure to look again at whether Wales needs to follow England’s lead and have a new top grade at GCSE as well as consider carefully the impact of having four core subjects at GCSE – two maths plus English language and Welsh.

Commentators say this system has resulted in a fall in entries in history and geography, music, art and design, design and technology, and drama as well as modern foreign languages across Wales this year. In contrast entries were up for ICT, PE and business studies.


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