Wales urged to stop 'obsessing’ over data

Written by: Greg Lewis | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Education policy in Wales has become “data-obsessed” to the detriment of pupils and teachers, according to a new report.

The Welsh independent, non-political think-tank the Bevan Foundation says education chiefs should stop “obsessing” over indicators such as PISA and start looking at a broader range of issues, such as the wellbeing of pupils.

It also recommends an end to the controversial school categorisation system, which it warns has led to “parent-flight” from what are perceived to be low-performing schools.

The report – After PISA: A way forward for education in Wales? – which is written by Professor David Egan, says it is essential that families and communities play a much greater role in schools.

It says that poverty and the impact that it has on achievement is the major challenge facing Wales’ education system, and calls for a significant increase in the support available to teachers.

Prof Egan, who has more than 40 years’ experience as a practitioner, researcher and policy-maker, recommends that there should be a renewed emphasis on a distinctive, Welsh approach to school improvement, a new approach to ensuring education works in partnership with communities, and a relentless focus on improving equity.

He said: “My report argues that we should reconsider our current commitment to what is known as the Global Education Reform Movement with its emphasis on high levels of accountability and performance measures such as PISA and return to the values set out in The Learning Country of 2001.

“This would enable us to develop our own made-in-Wales approach to education reform based on high levels of investment in teacher quality and much stronger involvement of our families and communities in education.”

Dr Victoria Winckler, director of the Bevan Foundation, added: “Educational attainment depends as much on what happens outside the school or college gates as inside them. We need to harness family and community resources to match our investment in educational establishments to really make a difference”.

The report was welcomed by teaching unions. NUT Cymru policy officer Owen Hathaway said: “Prof Egan is absolutely right to state that the obsession with a data-driven education system has had unintended but profound consequences on our approach.

“The best performing schools are those where there are good relationships with parents and communities, where teachers are respected and given access to high-quality continued professional development, and where the impacts of poverty are being tackled effectively.”

Rex Phillips, NASUWT national official for Wales, said the funding gap per-pupil, rather than poverty, was the main issue: “The focus in the report on the adverse impact of poverty on attainment also reflects the views of the NASUWT.”

Mr Phillips pointed to a recent survey of Welsh teachers which showed that 76 per cent of teachers have seen pupils coming to school hungry, 80 per cent have seen pupils who do not have the correct equipment for lessons and 81 per cent have seen pupils who are lacking in energy and concentration due to eating poorly.”

Wales’ education secretary Kirsty Williams said: “Our national mission is to raise standards and extend opportunities for all our young people no matter what their background. I have been clear about my priorities since day one in the job – let heads lead and teachers teach with the voice of parents and pupils at the heart of all that we do.

“PISA may divide opinion, but it is the recognised international benchmark for skills. It has never been more important to demonstrate to the world that our young people can compete with the best. Accountability, from exam results to categorisation, play an important part in helping our reforms to drive up standards for all."


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