Concern at standards of reading and writing among schoolchildren in Wales

Standards of reading and writing among schoolchildren and students in Wales continue to cause concern, according to the inspection body, Estyn.

But interestingly, there seems to be only a repetition of old mantras by one side and a rejection of them by the other. No one within the debate in Wales appears to be talking about making education in schools more efficient (ie getting better results without increasing the input of resources) or about making it sustainable (that is making changes which can be carried on into the future without their being a requirement for endless extra funding).

Instead the report simply concluded that attitudes to preparing teenagers for work varied to an “unacceptable degree” and said some teachers’ expectations were too low.

In secondary schools, there are more schools at the extremes of excellent or unsatisfactory performance.

Ann Keane, the chief inspector, said, “While a majority of teachers and schools have high expectations, in a minority of primary schools and over half of secondary schools, some teachers’ expectations are too low.

“It is in the capacity and quality of leadership that the remedy lies. By this I mean the leadership offered not only by headteachers, principals and local authority chief education officers, but also by teachers, learning support assistants, learning coaches and everyone involved in delivering education and training in Wales.

“A number of aspects continue to cause concern, including standards in reading, writing and numeracy. Schools need to get better at planning ways for pupils to improve their skills in literacy and numeracy across all areas of learning.”

The report highlighted that children were making too many errors in spelling, punctuation and letter formation. It also flags up some concerns about attendance. It says: “Attendance is not good enough in over a third of secondary schools and it varies too much between primary schools in the most and least deprived areas.”

On post-16 providers, the report says: “Attitudes to preparing young people for life and work vary to an unacceptable degree. Competition for learners and for funding sometimes means that the best interests of learners are overlooked. Some providers, including both schools and colleges, misguidedly retain learners in unsuitable provision or try to duplicate provision in schools that is better delivered in further education colleges or work-based learning providers.”

Estyn however praises the Welsh baccalaureate – which is offered by 166 schools and 30 further education institutions to 14- to 19-year-olds – believing it gives a better understanding of a wide range of topics including enterprise, politics and current affairs.

But the annual report warns: “Currently the standards being achieved on the Welsh baccalaureate are too variable. As part of this qualification, students gain qualifications in skills such as communication and application of number, but they do not always study these at a level that is appropriate to them as individuals and methods of assessment are not robust. The Welsh baccalaureate can provide a sound basis for a future qualification system in Wales if there is more rigour in the way it is delivered and assessed.”

The Welsh Liberal Democrat shadow education minister, Aled Roberts, said “Following over 13 years of Labour rule, teachers and schools have been given no clear direction and it is Welsh pupils that are paying the price for this chaotic approach to education.

“It is hugely disappointing to see that the number of schools ranked good or excellent has declined over the last year. Wales is still facing massive problems when it comes to teaching our pupils the basics such as reading, writing and numeracy. Is it any wonder that Wales’s economy is lagging behind the rest of the UK when we are not even equipping our pupils with the basics before they leave school?”

Rex Phillips, Wales organiser for the NASUWT teachers’ union, said: “The chief inspector’s suggestion that in many schools headteachers do not address ‘mediocre’ teacher performance is a licence for management bullying and harassment, which is already rising in schools, to continue.

“As for suggesting that only 46% of schools provide good value for money, the inspectorate needs to look at the funding disparities across schools within and outside of Wales before making such statements.”

Tony Attwood
Hamilton House Mailings Ltd

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