With the results of international league tables for educational performance about to be announced, will Wales achieve its hoped-for results? Presented by Bethan Rhys Roberts.
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Tonight on the Wales Report: Testing times for Welsh education - with the
results of international league tables soon to be announced will
Wales make the grade? What can be done to tackle poverty
in rural communities across Wales? We have a special report.
And what will the vote on independence in Scotland mean for
devolution here in Wales? Stay with us for the Wales Report.
Good evening and welcome to the Wales Report - the programme that
examines the issues that affect lives in Wales and questions the
decision makers. Education in Wales is currently at a critical juncture.
Five of Wales 22 local education authorities are in special measures,
and yesterday AM's clashed over the future of education provision in
Wales. Next week, Wales faces the next test, as the international
league tables for 15-year-olds known as PISA will be published. In the
last round, three years ago, Wales was ranked lowest of the UK
countries in the tests that compare literacy, maths and science. The
poor performance led to wide-ranging changes to education here but last
week Education Minister Huw Lewis warned that parents should not
expect to see a great improvement. Here's our Education Correspondent
Arwyn Jones. We live in and disconnected --
interconnect world. Education is a commodity for governments, a badge
of honour as well as a tool to attract businesses and the Welsh
government is no different. At the heart of it all, P. In Wales we have
always been rather proud of our education system. This idea of a
self educated working class who saw books out of poverty has always been
a large part of our national consciousness but we have come a
long way from those days of chalk and back boards and next week we
find out how Wales has fared in the so-called PISA rankings. When the
last results came out, it was a wake-up call.
These results are disappointing. They show an unacceptable fall in
our overall performance. Everyone involved in the education sector in
Wales should be alarmed. There can be no alibis and no excuses.
As a consequence, we have seen a raft of changes to the education
system. There have been changes to the way the information we get from
our schools is measured. Children as young as seven now sit and examine
every year. Schools are placed into bands and teachers follow a few
framework in the classroom, or following on from those results
three years ago. There might be another answer...
Taking the government 's lead, some schools like this one in Carmarthen
now include PISA style questions in their lessons. Not just to improve
our standing in the league tables but they say to improve education
overall. Having results compared with
students all over the world, it is not the easiest thing to hear when
you are being tested but at the same time, I think that is quite good
because it is not just trying to beat the other countries. It is
trying to work out who's educational system is working better than
others. In the PISA questions, you have so many sources of information,
they have to bring their everyday experiences into answering these
questions. What we feel these people have been doing over the last two
years is progressing as far as using their own strategies.
On one hand it is never again because I feel like I am being
judged but then it is like a beast because I'm really competitive. --
like a boost. Despite these changes and the
expectations of these pupils, education Minister Huw Lewis has
already started preparing us for disappointment when the latest
results emerge next week. The next results will relate to
2012, when hardly any of those programmes for improvements have had
a chance to bite into the system, if you like. I would anticipate that
any realistic person would look to the next set of PISA results with
caution. The Welsh and have put a lock of
emphasis on climbing up the international league table. They
want to be in the top 20 countries by 2015, the next round of tests.
That was always going to be a huge challenge and some are now saying it
is a test to file but when I recently caught up with the head of
PISA in London, he agreed it was not in possible.
It is a significant challenge but at the same time, if you look at the
most rapidly improving education systems, that pace of progress is
rarely possible if you think about Poland or at the bottom of the
league, Brazil. It is one of the lowest performing countries. The
pace of change there is the one that could bring a place like Wales well
into the top 20. There is hope that the standing of
Wales in the international rankings could improve but to throw a further
convocation into this mix, there are now some who say this PISA game is
one we may not want to pay. This is just one set of data and
international comparisons. This is all they are and they were never
meant to define an education system. PISA say that is not what they are
for but the minister chose to use them to say we have a crisis in our
education system. The question that needs to be asked is do we want an
education system that is fit for purpose or fit for PISA?
Arwyn Jones reporting. Joining me now is education expert and advisor
to the Welsh Government, Professor David Reynolds.
Good evening. What do you expect next week? I haven't seen the
figures and identical them to be particularly good.
I wouldn't be surprised if we got the wooden spoon and were bottom of
the four UK home nations, as it were. I think it is possible we may
even do slightly worse. Further decline?
It is possible because a lot of the policies are only beginning to
impact now. So we are talking about a three year
gap but that was in it -- was not enough time?
Three years in a short period of time but you are trying to do in
three years what wasn't done in the preceding ten. If you look about the
world, governments did an awful lot wherever you look and we tended not
to. What we did was with the Twickenham, not teaching.
After devolution, you say that we took our eyes off the ball in
education? We looked at the wrong ball. We
changed the curriculum and things like the Welsh baccalaureate.
Absolutely fine. We did not realise and I think we were stupid, that we
did not actually get the teaching methods improving.
So the Welsh government was stupid in terms of dictation?
I said we, which includes everyone involved in education.
They run it! You can't do the curriculum without
doing the teaching and in most societies did was curriculum reform
but they empowered teachers. They gave teachers capacity to be better
professionals. We are doing that now but we didn't then.
We are talking about a period where Jane Davidson was education
Minister. She scrapped testing and so forth. She brought in the
foundation phase but was she wrong to stop testing?
My own view is yes, that harmed us. There is evidence done by
researchers from Bristol and my own view is that you need demand to
operate in a country, which is parents demanding that schools get
better, as well as supply, and what we didn't do was put performance
data into the public domain so the parents would know what is going on.
The best way of improving the school system is for parents to push to
improve it and for them to choose. We didn't put the data out to help
them do that. For parents in Wales Today who are
clearly worried about Little Johnny heading to school every day, read
there is something seriously wrong with the Welsh education system. We
read the bad news on an almost daily basis. What is the message? I'll be
getting back on track and by 2015 all will be well? Is that little
comfort to today's parents? In my business we expect things to
get better in education when things like attendance start to pick up and
children start going back to school and that is happening in Wales. I
sense there is change but after ten years of May be doing not the right
thing, it is getting an awful lot of things done in the three years which
is the problem. Will be PISA results in 2015 be
better? Will all have these things kicked in?
I think they will be better but I think the 2015 testing which is
under two years from now, that 2015 testing will be in science, where we
start with a big advantage because we actually are on the world average
performance for science. Our best chance ever is to get it right with
science for the testing in 2015 but, with respect, I think for 2015
to be good, there are things we have to do.
If you ask teachers, they say there is an awful lot of change going on
and it is never settled. It is never allowed to bed in. They say they
need politicians to back off. Would that work?
I think it is reasonable for politicians to say, look, we have
announced everything we can do and let back off and see if parents can
improve things. Let's actually see if the system starts moving. I think
in the next year, someone has to make the judgement about whether
things are improving fast enough. At the moment it is the right decision
that we let things bed in but if it hasn't worked a year from now, we
have to do more to get a good result in 2015.
Education in Wales used to be a batch of honour. You can't say that,
really, today, can you? Will those days return?
I think yes. If we are clever and we learn. I think in Wales we speak as
though we are always a failure in education but we saved a minority
language. We save Welsh through the education system so we did something
right. In the 1970s we ran a fine education system here. It is not
that we don't know how to educate children but somewhere something
went wrong. We can be discover that and I would be interested in seeing
the Welsh government find out why we have in successful with the Welsh
language and we are a success in science and maths and reading and we
should tell everybody more about what we need to do.
Thank you. The divide between urban and rural
Wales is wider than ever before with poverty a blight on rural
communities across the country. The Wales Report has seen figures that
show one organisation geared to help rural areas has paid out three times
more money in the first nine months of this year than in the same period
last year. David Williams has been back to his roots in North Wales to
discover what has been done to reverse the fortunes of a
countryside in decline. The melodious tones emanating from
this primary school in North Wales helped to dampen rather more
disturbing notes which now resonate in the beautiful countryside in
which these countries are growing up in. It doesn't take a scientist to
tell you that this school is going to close pretty school. -- pretty
soon. When you get into that downward spiral of that school
closing, there is no teachers and there is less implement so there is
less need for people. Poverty and hardship now threaten to
bite a whole new generation of young people. Back in the day, I used to
sit at this desk and I was expect to be a model pupil because the man
standing at the front, the, was my father. In return for personal
effort, he infused us with hope. Many of my fellow pupils were the
sons and daughters of those who farmed the land around the school.
Generations before them had done the same. They had struggled, certainly,
but there was no doubt that those who wished to continue on the farm
would be allowed to do so. That is no longer a certainty. The school
now has just 20 pupils, only half of them have parents with any
connection with farming and only one lives on a farm. The way of life is
in danger of disappearing. This man, aged 83, has farmed here all
his life. I remember him. He was an enduring site in the field and on
the hills around here. A constant in the landscape. His family have been
tenants here for over a century in what was a Welsh speaking heartland.
He had hoped that one of his two children would take over from him
but the farm's for income now make that unlikely. In Welsh, his anguish
of choice, he explained to me that his children's decision is a cause
of pain and anguish for him and his wife.
He is himself on the point of giving up farming. Many more like him are
on the edge of the financial abyss, forced to look for help. Their
plight is reflected in part of the dramatic rise of the numbers seeking
assistance from the Royal agricultural benevolent institution,
a charity. The scale of the problem becomes clear when you read this,
and internal briefing drawn up by the institution, and the figures
here have not been released publicly until now. What they show is a
worrying trend. In Wales, in the first nine months of this year, the
amount of grants paid out to farmers in need by the institution was three
times as many as in the same period last year. The figures translate
into cash hand-outs being given to almost 100 working farmers. Compared
with 29 last year. Those statistics are impersonal. What are the
consequences in human terms? How do they reflect themselves in the
stories and the problems which lie behind them? People do not like to
ask for money from charities. This man is the benevolent institution's
welfare officer for North Wales. He has seen first hand what one bad
winter and soaring feed and fuel prices can do to reverse a former's
fortunes. If somebody has lost maybe 200 lambs, they would be losing
money in sales. In terms of an ordinary person working in a factory
or an office, ?15,000 off your salary equates to ?300 a week, would
you are I be able to manage? That's how difficult it has been for
farmers. Some people have come to the end of the road and there have
been cases where people have taken their own lives because they have
given up, haven't there? I have come across people who have been suicidal
this year. Poverty in the countryside is not only to be found
on the farms. In this part of the world, it further scarred the
industrial landscape. This town has the unenviable title of being
Wales's low wage title -- low-wage capital. It was once one of the most
important slate producing towns in the world. It is not all doom and
gloom. A considerable amount of public money has helped the people
of this town help themselves. Roughly ?5 million has been spent
here over the last five years, but is it enough to persuade young
people that there is a future for them here in this strikingly
beautiful but sometimes economic league -- economic league RF part of
the countryside? They are coming in their hundreds,
mountain bikers from all over Britain careering down pads once
trodden by miners, a dangerous pastime, and one which is producing
once again vital revenue. The regeneration project has capitalised
on a national resource, in the hope of turning slate into a new source
of revenue for a town that has paid a heavy price for roofing the world.
We are developing schemes here, the community are developing schemes
here, not someone from outside, ought plonking some sort of holiday
park here. The profit is invested back into the community.
Regeneration project have to have a life aeons the first grant if they
are to be truly meaningful. Creating a dependency culture is of little
use in securing the long-term future of our town which believes it is on
the up after decades of decline. The local MP believes that part of the
answer is to re-establish a quango style rural body with direct links
and input into regen arising -- really energising the --
reenergising the economy. A quango, but a very good one, if I am honest.
They did a lot of good work, assisting people to diversify,
assisting small businesses to take on new staff and being able to
borrow within reason. I want something similar to be brought
back. We need to revisit that. While school's out, the jury is as well on
a whole new generation in the countryside. Pupils in schools like
this one deserves to be treated what -- given what we were given when we
were pupils here. Hope, and the tools to realise our dreams.
That special report from David Williams. Yesterday the Scottish
Government launched detailed plans for independence, outlining the
focus of the referendum campaign which will concentrate on Scotland's
future - on jobs, economic growth and security. The vote will take
place next year, on September the 18th, but what will the outcome mean
for devolution here in Wales? I'll be discussing that with my guests in
a moment. But first here's Scotland's First Minister Alex
Salmond setting out his stall. These things follow as night follows day,
Scotland have indicated their willingness in this document that we
will accept the financing of some of the massive obligations,
liabilities, that have been built up by Alistair Darling and no George
Osborne. That is predicated on the share of assets. One of these assets
is the Bank of England. If Scotland vote yes and wants to keep the
pound, Wales's first Minister would want to be consulted. If one part of
the currency union decides to leave, it is a matter for them of
course. But if an independent nation wants to join, that is a matter for
the people of Wales, Northern Ireland and England. I would want to
have a say in that. Good evening to my guests. First of all, we will get
onto the pound shortly, but let's paint a picture, next September.
Scotland says yes, what happens in Wales? If there is a yes vote, you
will have two years of negotiating between the UK government or the
government for the rest of the UK and Scotland. Between now and then,
there will be a lot of heat and not much liked being generated because
both sides will be naturally spinning their side of the argument.
If Scotland goes its own way, I think for Wales, we did not need to
be too nervous about this. After all, Ireland's left the United
Kingdom in 1922, that did not create great issues. One thing for us is a
concern, but Scotland will get much more weight and momentum to the
devolution process in the case of Scotland and Wales, because Wales
attended to trail behind Scotland. There is that concern that of
Scotland goes its own way, that may cease. On the other hand, the people
of Wales will be able to observe how successful or otherwise an
independent Scotland is over the next five to ten years. That may
impact the views of Welsh voters regarding further powers to Wales.
The crucial relationship will be Wales and England. We do not know
what it will be called. Will we be subsumed? It is a difficult position
Wales would be in because it is a matter of getting your voice heard,
including Scotland, the three Celtic parts of the UK have 10 million
people out of a total of 64 million. England has 54 million.
Overwhelmingly dominant already. Take Scotland out, you have the
Celtic part of the United Kingdom. Suddenly England becomes 92% of the
total. It is going to be very difficult. Particularly for Wales,
although Wales is bigger than Northern Ireland, but Northern
Ireland has a special status. Wales doesn't. Getting Wales's voice heard
is quick to be three times harder than it is now and it is already
very hard. The currency is a huge issue. Clearly the pound is the
issue up in Edinburgh at the moment. Should Wales have a saying whether
or not they can keep the pound? In theory, Wales should have a say. But
nobody is going to listen very much to Wales. No disrespect on this
issue, it is going to be very much London, Westminster Whitehall, Bank
of England discussion. Wales will not count in that at all. I do not
agree with that. The critical thing is whether Scotland would be allowed
to join the currency union, the sterling zone, and cut corporation
tax. That would be unprecedented. They would want to see the taxes
that people pay no -- move it to Edinburgh and you will pay lower
corporation tax. It would be quite proper for him to say hang on a
minute. I do not know what the relationship is, but the issue is
this. If our first Minister says we would object to Scotland staying in
the sterling zone and cutting corporation tax, if they agree to
keep corporation tax at the same level, OK, if we are allowed as well
to cut corporation tax in Wales so we have the same advantage, in other
words rewarding Scotland for breaking away from the United
Kingdom and penalising Wales. Scenario B, what happens here to
mark the SNP is finished, isn't it? I don't think so, I have spent a lot
of time in Scotland. Certainly I think it depends on the outcome,
quite how much the defeat would be for the SNP. Let's assume Scotland
loses the referendum, the SNP does, there will be a move for more
devolution to Scotland. Precisely how far is debatable. That is the
irony, a no vote could lead to more powers for Scotland and Wales. I
think it would lead to Alex Salmond's resignation. He will say,
look, he will think that Scots will want to keep him, the neutrals will
want to keep them as well as the SNP. You know him very well, this is
a massive gamble, isn't it? It is and he is a gambler, but he will at
the anti-by saying he will resign and I think he will resign if they
lose the vote. Nicola Sturgeon will take over which is OK. The key thing
is that in that guidebook, the White Paper they published yesterday,
which is intended to paint a picture, let's get our hands on the
revenue, cut corporation tax and increase public expenditure by
getting our hands on the oil revenue, if Scotland votes no, are
you going to say, he has painted a very positive picture, will the no
campaign paint an equally positive picture of Scotland stays in the
union by offering increased devolution? In a word, how will it
go? It will be much closer than the polls indicate. I think now will
win. But if yes wins, it will put Wales on a difficult position and
the constitution of the rump UK into a very unstable situation. I hope it
is a yes vote. I look forward to campaigning for a yes vote up there.
Thank you very much. That's it for this week's programme.
Huw Edwards will be back in two weeks' time with a special programme
with Health Minister Mark Drakeford. And of course you can get in touch
with any questions for the Health Minister, the issues discussed
tonight, or indeed anything else. Email us at: And we are on Twitter.
Thanks for watching. Diolch am wylio. Good night. Nos da.