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Wales’s Education Performance Falls to lowest-ever level

THE ORGANISATION of Economically Developed Countries (OECD) published its latest report on educational attainment (PISA) on Tuesday, December 5.

It shows students in Wales have slipped even further behind the other UK nations in a worst-ever set of results.

In Mathematics, the fall in attainment is the equivalent of a whole year’s education in the subject. Test marks also fell sharply in science and English.

Jeremy Miles, Wales’s Education Minister, said the results showed how the hangover from the pandemic affected students’ education.

His observation had clear merit, as PISA results fell worldwide, with attainment falling in all but ten of eighty-one OECD members.

Wales’s results put its education at the same level as Norway and the USA, and the nation’s results fell the same number of points in England and Scotland.

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WHAT IS PISA?

PISA is a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in member and non-member nations intended to evaluate educational systems by measuring 15-year-old school pupils’ academic performance in mathematics, science, and reading in PISA.

The PISA assessment is regarded, with some misgivings among educational experts, as a guide to the performance of education policies across 79 participating countries.

When the OECD last published the PISA report in 2020, Wales had caught up with the international average in all subjects.

In the new report, all home nations’ attainment fell, but Wales’s fell further than others.

MINISTER BLAMES PANDEMIC

Education Minister Jeremy Miles said: “Before the pandemic, we saw a strong improvement in literacy and numeracy standards in Wales. Sadly, it is clear that the pandemic has derailed some of this improvement.

“We have already started on a path of driving up standards in reading and maths, and we won’t let these results knock us off track.

“At the end of November (see this week’s Education section), we launched literacy and numeracy plans to help support learning and raise standards in these key areas.

“I have also published the first national report on our children’s reading and numeracy performance. I will do this annually to track recovery.

“We supported our schools and learners through the pandemic. We will stand together and support them now.”

Since 2022, schools in Wales have started implementing major long-term reforms, with the new Curriculum for Wales being taught and rolled out sequentially to reach all learners in all schools from 2026/27.

Jeremy Miles continued: “Our long-term education reforms have started after years of planning and, as the OECD says, improvement to education takes time.

“We have taken a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revolutionise the quality of education in Wales and I’m confident we will deliver huge benefits for our young people.”

CONSERVATIVES CRITICISE “WIDENING GAP”

Following the usual hackneyed jibe at the Welsh Government’s plans to increase the number of Senedd members, the Welsh Conservative Shadow Education Minister Laura Anne Jones MS said: “The results are not a shock when we have a Labour Government which has so little regard for our children’s future that they cut the education budget this year. All governments should give pupils and teachers the tools to do their best and thrive.

“After 25 years of Labour running Welsh schools, we have a widening attainment gap. Sadly, again, Wales languishes at the bottom of international league tables.

“The Labour Education Minister needs to get a grip of his department and give our young people the start in life they deserve. He can start by getting 5,000 more teachers back into our classrooms after years of declining numbers and the desperately needed money to support growing ALN numbers in mainstream education.”

PLAID HIGHLIGHTS CHILD POVERTY

Plaid Cymru has criticised the handling of child poverty rates in Wales, which it says has contributed to the results, leading to high absenteeism in Welsh schools.

Plaid Cymru’s education spokesperson, Heledd Fychan MS, said: “The PISA results published should be a wakeup call for the Welsh Government.

“Too many young people in Wales are living in poverty, pupil absences are unacceptably high, and many schools are facing a significant deficit in their budgets. Despite the hard work and dedication of an overstretched workforce, the pupil attainment gap is widening, and we cannot ignore the link between poverty and today’s disappointing results.

“Every child, no matter their background, should have an equal chance of success.

“We need more than platitudes and excuses from the Minister for Education in response to these results.

“Wales had a pre-Covid recruitment crisis in the education sector, the magnitude of which Ministers failed to grasp.

“Continuing and entrenching cuts to education will do nothing to put Wales on a path towards a turnaround in our PISA results.”

EDUCATION UNION UNSURPRISED

Emma Forrest, NEU’s Assistant General Secretary Regions, Wales, and Legal Strategy, said: “NEU Cymru members won’t be shocked by the OECD’s PISA results. They don’t tell us anything the education workforce doesn’t know – that across most OECD countries, schools need support in a post-pandemic situation.

“Comparison is difficult. We are particularly concerned that these results do not represent many countries’ full cohort of learners. Whilst this is understandable, it makes comparisons less meaningful in the context of the pandemic.

“Here in Wales, we have the new Curriculum for Wales, which none of the cohort tested in PISA have been taking.

“Suppose the Welsh Government wants to take anything from these results. In that case, it is an opportunity to ensure that they have a qualifications system which does not focus on tests and time-limited exams but gives young people a real chance to show what they can do.

“We will continue to work with the Welsh Government on the critical aspects of workload and professional development for the workforce, and how we can best support the wellbeing and expertise of staff, to ensure they are able to focus on children and their learning.”

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