A reorganisation of school services in Wales is “unlikely” before the end of the Assembly term according to Education Minister Huw Lewis, with regional consortia currently recommended as the best way forward.
Education in Wales, however, needs more than structural change to address the fact that a Labour-led Welsh Government since 1999 has failed young people in Wales, with school standards falling year on year.
In an assessment of Welsh schools by the OECD, Wales came 36th for science, 41st for reading and 43rd for maths in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) study.
The results were a serious, yet not unexpected blow for the Welsh Government, with another target set by the administration that is unlikely to be met. Teenagers were revealed to have scored lower in reading, maths and science than their contemporaries in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
So whilst the structure or organisation of education in Wales is highly important, structure is unlikely to boost Pisa scores, teacher morale, or the attainment gap between Wales and the rest of the UK.
The Welsh Labour Government cannot expect a structural reorganisation to act as a magic silver bullet to solve all our problems. As with the school banding system, one solution was expected to improve standards in schools across Wales, yet year on year a fixed number of schools will appear in each band, a crude and simplistic means to improving standards, a process that has so far failed to do so.
Welsh Liberal Democrats have echoed Estyn's calls for a system that tracks an individual pupil's progress, a far more effective way to raise standards, which would also identify children who were not achieving their potential. Schools would therefore be monitored on the basis of their individual targets, rather than government-set targets, which create a far-removed system from local education.
Whilst the Hill Review discusses improving classroom teaching and learning and improving school leadership, the Welsh Government seems hung on regional consortia and the organisation of services.
Education Minister Huw Lewis said:
“We’ve made a clear commitment to drive up standards and performance across the board in Wales.
“Local authorities have a crucial part to play in this, but I’m becoming increasingly concerned about their commitment to consortia working. We’ve given them plenty of time to get their act together but today I am taking action to put in place a national model of regional working. I am minded to support this via a transfer out of the 2014-15 RSG settlement and we are pursuing this through the usual consultative process.
“By doing this we can ensure the consortia operating in Wales will have access to the funding they need to deliver our ambitious school improvement agenda.”
Whilst regional consortia will provide schools with the funding required and school partnership, more must be done to look at individual student attainment, and equipping pupils with the skills that they need to get on in life.
Even Plaid Cymru are hooked on the idea of accountability and organisation of services,
"This is cherry-picking from the recommendations that the Minister’s friends in Welsh Local Government can live with and a complete volte face on the previous Minister’s attitude.
"The delivery of education services in Wales will continue to be a mess, unless other issues around governance, accountability, data sharing, targets, structures and appointments are sorted out first."
Welsh Liberal Democrats are championing the debate on supporting pupils, rather than government or organisations, to achieve their best. Through the Pupil Premium, or Pupil Deprivation Grant, we are beginning to break the link between attainment and poverty, and calling for a review of the school banding system to establish a system which supports individual pupils' progress and individual schools in meeting their own targets, a progressive and far more supportive system to not only boost standards in Wales but to give children the best possible start in life to achieve their best.
By Rhys Taylor