While Welsh schools are, for the most part, successful in helping their students develop their literacy, numeracy, information technology and foreign language skills, they are failing to match that success in other subjects. According to a report by the school oversight organization, Estyn, the schools are placing most of their resources on teaching skills covered by the National Curriculum, which isn’t unexpected but still disheartening.
Another alarming finding in the same report is the fact that nearly 40% of Welsh students aren’t reading at grade level by the time they reach middle school. Furthermore, since the schools aren’t equipped to deal effectively with such “stragglers,” too many never end up catching up at all.
Although the Skills Framework, a guideline for the schools on how to help their students develop their “thinking, questioning and communicating” skills, has been in place since 2008, since it isn’t mandatory that schools adopt it, many have chosen to ignore it instead. According to the Estyn’s chief inspector Ann Keane, many schools have a staffer dedicated to ensuring a wide range of subjects are covered, almost none have a comprehensive plan in place to accomplish this.
Anna Brychan, the head of the biggest Welsh headteachers union the National Association of Headteachers Cymru, said she wasn’t surprised by Estyn’s findings at all. When the government lays out a list of subjects it expects the schools to take most seriously, it’s hardly an unexpected development that the schools pay the most attention to those subjects when planning their curriculum and allocating their resources.
“Schools, perfectly reasonably, plan and deliver the curriculum that policy-makers say they must deliver.
“In that context the non-statutory Skills Framework has not been very highly valued or closely measured. There is also a lack of precision in the framework itself.
“Schools can’t make everything a priority so increasing the profile the framework, for example, would inevitably start a conversation about reducing the pressure elsewhere.
Brychan believes that further guidance from the government on which skills they would most like to see school graduates possess might go some way towards solving the problem, but it’s hard to see how a directive outlining merely a larger set of “skills of interest,” would prevent those not on the list from getting short shrift.
Still, there are schools in Wales that are making an effort to graduate well-rounded students. Phil McTague, who is a head teacher at Eirias High School said that his school completely redesigned its curriculum to be more in line with the Skills Framework:
“For example, we have a project called ‘celebrations’ and that integrates English, religious studies, art, music and our delivery of Chinese Mandarin,” he said.
“The aim there is for the children to use their skills in a multi-disciplined way as you would in the world of work, and ultimately that’s what they’re going to inherit.”