Wales Education Minister Sets New Targets to Improve International Rankings

Welsh Education Minister Huw Lewis has announced a shift in the Welsh Government’s strategy for meeting its International PISA targets.

A new long-term vision for Welsh schools will be unveiled by Lewis, the “Qualified for Life” improvement plan for three-year-old students to 19-year-old young people.  The plan will extend to 2020 and will endeavor to ensure every Welsh student will benefit from excellent teaching and learning.

Gareth Evans of Wales News writes that the plan will focus on building a strong workforce, creating an engrossing curriculum, and globally competitive qualifications.  The plan is invested in ensuring that education leaders will work together to improve standards.

Lewis’ three priorities include raising standards in literacy and numeracy; breaking the connection between poverty and low achievement; and improving the public’s, employers’ and higher education’s confidence in the system.

The change to the Welsh Government’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) target is likely to attract the most attention within the National Assembly of Wales, the Senedd. PISA uses a representative sample of students from over 65 countries to measure how the performance of education systems stack up against one another. Every three years, it tests the knowledge and core skills of 15-year-old students as they near finishing their compulsory education.

It was a blow to the Welsh Government when Wales’s average score on PISA for 2013 in math, for the second time, was 468 — 30 points below Scotland and 27 behind England. Science scores fell to 491, the lowest recorded level. The government was appeased somewhat by the reading score, which rose from 476 to 480, but the rankings in all three measures were unimproved.

Lewis targeted a place in the world’s top twenty by 2015. He added that, “To limit our ambitions now would be the wrong response to these results.” But, according to the BBC News, Lewis has changed his target. Mr. Lewis set a new goal of a score of 500.

“This is a better target, I think, because it relates to what teachers can aim for in their classrooms, in their schools, as regards the actual progress of young people,” he said.

“If we say to a head teacher ‘we need to be in the top 20′, it’s very difficult to translate that into how their 15-year-olds should do at GCSE.

“But if we say ‘score 500′ they can measure their progress towards it.”

Conservatives said that the new goal amounted to “stagnation,” not “aspiration”.

Following the poor results on the international PISA assessments, the International Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found Wales’ school systems lacking in the long-term vision needed to underpin a number of reforms, writes Tom Bodden of the UK’s Daily Post. Lewis addressed the National Association of Head Teachers and promised to publish an annual “Wales Education Report Card” which would detail successes, lack of achievement, and targets for improvement. Lewis aims to start new General Certificate of Secondary Education and A Level courses and have them set to start next September, to use the Schools Challenge program to fast-track improvements in low-income schools, and to provide more support for teachers and administrators.