Speech in the National Assembly on March 6th 2018
I’m proud to see the annual Estyn report highlight good practice in my constituency. The Bryngwyn \ Glanymor Comprehensive federation in Llanelli and Burry Port, the Cabinet Secretary’s old school, Ysgol Bynea, and Heol Goffa special school in Llanelli are all singled out for good practice.
We have some excellent leadership and practice in Llanelli, and across Wales. But we mustn't soft soap this. Overall there are significant areas for concern in the report - and I’d like to focus in particular on digital learning.
In just under two-thirds of primary schools, there are "important shortcomings in standards of ICT".
This is what Estyn says:
In these schools, and in ‘many secondary schools’ teachers lack knowledge and confidence. There's a lack of a clear vision about ICT from senior leaders. And pupils are not being given the chance to apply skills in relevant contexts.
It goes on:
Across Welsh schools as a whole pupils’ progress in ICT has not kept up the advancements in technology. Pupils do not apply their ICT skills well across the curriculum; ICT skills are often limited to a narrow range of applications.
Schools are not auditing the digital competence of their staff to allow them to train and upskill teachers. And nor do initial teacher training centres equip trainee teachers with the skills they need.
We should let this sink in. In just under two-thirds of primary schools, there are "important shortcomings in standards of ICT". And in many secondary schools teachers lack knowledge and confidence.
Ordinarily, this would be headline grabbing news.
I am genuinely alarmed at this. This is a stop-the-clocks moment.
There is much in this annual report to cause concern, but given that we know about how vital digital skills already are, and are becoming more so by the month, this is a deeply worrying account of the way our schools are teaching our young people.
We talk of a self-improving system. But there’s little sign of improvement when it comes to digital skills. There is criticism due to WG here, and I’ll come to that in a moment, but most of all there’s culpability on the whole school system for its failure to rise to this challenge. The education consortia, Governors, Heads and individual professionals. This is not good enough.
I have raised with the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary the need to equip pupils with coding skills on a number of occasions.
Last June the WG launched Cracking the Code with £1.3 million - spread over this whole Assembly term - to help develop these skills before the new curriculum is brought in. And a further £930k with Technocamps. Together just over £2m for the whole of Wales over the next three years.
They are also piloting Minecraft for Education to inspire first-time coders with Minecraft Code Builder - and given the enthusiasm my own kids have for mine craft I think this is an excellent initiative, just the sort of things we should be doing.
But this is being run in just 10 schools. There are more than 1,600 schools in Wales and we are running this coding project in just 10 of them.
Again, This is not good enough.
Just as oil fuelled the industrial age, data and digital are fuelling advances of the AI age. There is a reason why China is teaching Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning in their Middle Schools.
We are hugely disadvantaging young people by not giving them the skills and confidence to thrive in this world.
And we are missing a trick by not harnessing advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning in the way we teach. So called EdTech innovations offer the promise of relieving teachers from the tyranny of marking, data tracking, developing differentiated teaching strategies for individual learners.
Teachers can be freed from this to do what they came into the profession to do: to teach.
We should be all over this like a rash. But as Estyn’s, quite frankly, terrifying findings yet again this year show, we are not.