14 Jan

Estyn’s report into the literacy levels of Welsh schools made for interesting reading yesterday, particularly as it publicly criticised the Welsh Government for the implementation of its Literacy and Numeracy Framework.

The general view of the report was that the pace of change of this initiative was too quick; the lead in time to it was not long enough; the profession were not adequately supported to deliver it and the right level of training needed was not made available.

These criticisms are of course not new. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) were commissioned by the Welsh Government to undertake a thorough review of the education system here. Their findings were in-line with Estyn, and indeed teachers working on the front-line, who have consistently detailed the problems with implementation of new policies and projects.

It takes time for fundamental changes to education services to deliver noticeable results. The best systems in the world embarked on reforms that had continuity and consistency across a ten, fifteen or even a twenty year plus timeframe. Expecting things to change one way or the other in just a few years is neither realistic nor helpful. For too long we have seen decisions about the future of our education system based on political rather than educational timescales. I can fully understand why any politician or Government would do this. The public expect quick results and there are always elections on the horizon and headlines to be written. It would take a lot of courage for any Education Minister to accept that they were in it for the very long haul, and with that take the short-term criticism knowing the likelihood was that it would be their successors that reaped the rewards. That doesn’t change the fact that this is what is ultimately needed.

That said, when changes when are put in place they must be done properly. There is little doubt that we have not seen that in Wales. There was too much churn, too soon and with too little support. Teachers were inundated with new initiatives but those changes were not adequately supported or funded. That has left us still having to play catch up, and arguably from a more difficult position.  It has been particularly noticeable that certain local authorities have abdicated their responsibilities when it comes to continued professional development.  Some have passed that buck to the regional consortia who have shown little appetite to take it on, instead fully focussing simply on monitoring and challenge.

This report, like others before it, should be a warning shot to policy makers, both in terms of how they develop and implements future proposals, as well as in regards to re-examining the delivery of the literacy and numeracy framework already in existence. Getting it right at the start will always save us having to revisit it after a few years.

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