Chief inspector Ann Keane told an audience of around 170 Welsh secondary headteachers that new English, Welsh and maths qualifications – which schools will begin teaching next year – would better prepare students for higher and further education as well as employment, but warned that teachers would have to adapt.
Speaking at one of the biggest education conferences ever held in Wales, the head of education inspectorate Estyn said the PISA exams taken by more than 500,000 15-year-olds in 68 countries tested “the skills that a good education should deliver”.
Ms Keane, who is nearing the end of her five-year term in office, said: “It’s become clear to me that the skills being taught in our schools have not been aligned with PISA skills ... I don’t believe we’ve been supporting pupils well enough.”
She added that the “next generation of GCSEs” would place a huge responsibility on the sector’s shoulders and Estyn would be amending its current inspection process to take account of curriculum changes.
She said teachers would need to “revisit their skills of work and the balance of what they have been teaching” in the past.
Around 300 delegates from the Welsh education workforce attended the conference in Cardiff entitled Qualified for Life: Embedding PISA skills in Welsh education.
The Welsh government has made it one of its key targets to improve Wales’ ranking in the international tests.
Since 2007, Wales has slipped down the PISA rankings. As more countries have joined, it has slumped from 22nd in science to joint 36th, dropped 10 places in maths and fallen from 29th in reading to 41st. It is currently the lowest ranked of all the UK countries.
Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which runs the PISA tests, said 30 per cent of Welsh teenagers “are not demonstrating the outcomes that you need to be successful in today’s world and today’s economy”.
Mr Schleicher, who was one of the speakers at the conference, said there was a “very significant share of low performing students” in Wales and improving learner outcomes was the biggest challenge facing the nation’s education system. But he added that Wales was capable of reaching the Welsh government’s target of being in the world’s top 20 nations when the next PISA results are published in 2016.
First minister Carwyn Jones said it was time to put some pride back into the Welsh education system: “PISA skills are the skills our young people need to succeed not only in Wales, but anywhere in the world. They’re the attributes that employers tell us they want; they are the key to preparing our young people for being learners for life.
“They tell us as a country how we’re doing by our young people. That’s why we’re putting so much stock in them and why they’re going to be a key component in Welsh education for many years to come.”