OECD – the people behind PISA – were asked by Education Secretary Kirsty Williams AM to check that education reforms underway in Wales are on track.
The Welsh Education Reform Journey: A rapid policy assessment is largely positive about the reforms and progress thus far.
Some of this was predictable. But the OECD has made recommendations that will be taken seriously by Welsh Government as it considers the next steps in implementing reforms.
In 2014, OECD said that poor PISA 2009 results in Wales had prompted a slew of reforms that had little coherence. In 2017, OECD says:
“Since 2014, the OECD has witnessed progress in several policy areas and a shift in the Welsh approach to school improvement away from a piecemeal and short-term policy orientation towards one that is guided by a long-term vision and characterised by a process of co-construction with key stakeholders.”
But the report makes it clear that more is needed for success.
“A good education strategy cannot lead to success without effective implementation.”
According to OECD, the challenge now is to maintain focus, align reforms further and use evidence to ensure effective implementation.
OECD calls for further policy attention in four areas. Here they are, with brief comment:
Developing a high quality teaching profession: to continue with the existing reforms; however, the OECD notes specifically that there is a need for “focusing on teachers’ formative assessment and differentiated teaching skills”.
The challenge is significant. These are areas of weakness also identified by inspectorate Estyn. Daisy Christodoulou in “Making Good Progress? The future of Assessment for Learning” presents a devastating critique of widespread poor practice in assessment, and some of the structural causes for it. Assessment featured in a letter of concern about implementing current curriculum reform by Senedd CYPE to the Secretary earlier this year.
Making leadership development a prime driver of the Welsh education strategy: OECD asks for more pace in developing new leadership standards and in alignment with new teacher standards. More high skill school business managers should be developed so school leaders can be unburdened and focus more on being leaders of learning.
It is unlikely that many schools will have the money to employ high calibre, high skill business managers; schools working together to employ such a professional certainly would. This might nudge schools to pool resources and share services.
Supporting the realisation of the national commitment to equity: OECD makes three specific recommendations – to consider a national needs-based school-funding formula that ensures the effective allocation of funds to schools; expand the mandate of regional consortia to include responsibility for supporting students with additional learning needs; invest more in support staff who are involved in teaching and learning.
It might be said that setting off in search of a national funding formula would be a step too far for Welsh Government right now. Welsh Government is about to get devolved teacher pay and conditions having declined it three times and has found it all too difficult to make progress in reforming supply teaching despite the Audit Commission, Estyn and others asking for it. However, stakeholders would benefit from having this focus on education spending – it is an opportunity to ask ‘who is holding what budget, for what purpose, and is the impact proportionate’.
An ALN Bill is working its way through the Senedd. At the same time, the National Model for regional working that underpins the relationship between Welsh Government, regional consortia and local authorities is up for review. It is a good time for reviewing duties, care and expectations for vulnerable learners.
Moving forward with the development of the new assessment and evaluation framework: OECD asks for continued investment in the formative assessment and data-handling skills of teachers and school leaders. Greater synergy between the national school categorisation system and the new Estyn inspection framework is recommended.
Here, OECD repeats itself. It serves to emphasise that good and rounded teacher assessment is necessary to identifying barriers to learning. This is the cornerstone of differentiated learning.
Lucy Crehan in Cleverlands reflects on her experience of teaching in Finland, Japan, Singapore, Shanghai and Canada. Strong performing systems are good at making it standard practice to identify barriers to learning for each pupil, and then putting appropriate support and teaching in place for all pupils – regardless of the barriers they face – to achieve high expectation.
Teaching is differentiated but expectation is not.
Secretary Kirsty Williams AM will deliver a refreshed Education Improvement Plan, Qualified for Life 2.0 this Spring.
Author: Robin Hughes
Robin has been a school governor for over ten years and is bilingual, Welsh and English. Before becoming a consultant and working with a number of private and public sector educational organisations, Robin had stakeholder management roles in an examination board and was Wales Secretary for ASCL, a body that represents over 16,000 senior school leaders.