Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Cutting corners to raise school standards

Published in Llanelli Herald on 2nd June 2017

About 40% of my working week is taken up sitting on two committees - the Public Accounts Committee (which examines the value for money offered by public bodies in Wales) and the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee (that focuses on Wales’ arts, media and historical institutions, as well the Welsh language). They’re a crucial part of the functioning of the Assembly - holding our national government to account, scrutinising expenditure and examining legislation -  but it’s work that largely goes unnoticed. Partly this is because the work can be highly technical (sometimes my weekly briefings are more than 200 pages long); and partly because we just don’t do a very good job of publicising it.

Recently, however, a series of questions I asked the Welsh Government Director of Education caught the attention of the BBC. And with good reason.

Right now, students (and their parents) across Wales are facing a nail-biting time as exams are underway. But in a recent meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, Steve Davies (the lead official for education in Wales) admitted he held concerns that some schools are entering children prematurely in a bid to boost their ranking. In other words, some education authorities in Wales are pushing Headteachers to game the system, to ensure they reach the required number of C-level passes.

This is a concern not just because it’s creating a lot of unnecessary stress in the classroom, but it also isn’t pushing children to their best ability. Instead of being encouraged to hold off and reach for a higher grade, children are being left ‘bagged at C’. Mr Davies admitted that the volume of early entries was indicative of this premature pressure being piled onto students; Headteachers fearful of upcoming Estyn inspections, are entering pupils based on the school’s needs rather than those of the child.

It’s a shameful picture, and an unintended consequence of trying to raise school standards. I’m relieved that the issue is now getting the attention it deserves - and there’s a commitment to publish the findings of the review in the early autumn, before next years’ pupils are entered into their exams.
GCSEs are stressful enough, without having to question the motives of your school for entering you.

Hopefully action will be swift, and we can prevent further pupils falling foul of the system meant to serve them.

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