OVER past months, many newspaper column inches have been devoted to questions about the state of education in Wales. Opinions have been divided on the extent and nature of declining standards.
scene Questions have been asked about why Welsh children are lagging behind children in other parts of the UK and much of the rest of the world.
Earlier this year, I published my annual report as Chief Inspector of Estyn, do the education and training inspectorate for Wales. In it I looked at the progress that had been made over the past six years - the length of an inspection cycle - during which time all the schools and other providers of education and training in Wales were inspected.
of My report said that overall, standards of education and training in Wales had stayed the same or, in some areas, they had improved but that the pace of improvement in schools had been too slow, with one in three schools falling short of the standards expected. Too many aspects of education provision in Wales were not good enough and too many children and young people were not achieving excellence.
Apart from inspection, three other external indicators also suggest either a relative decline in standards or standards that are not good enough.
First, the results of the most recent international Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests confirm that, since the last test in 2006, Welsh pupils are now below the average of other countries in reading and mathematics.
Second, the gap between GCSE results in Wales and England is getting wider. Even though both sets of results are improving annually, the results in England are improving at a faster rate.
Third, too many pupils entering secondary schools in Wales have reading ages that are significantly lower than their actual ages.
One of our duties as an inspectorate is to give all schools a standard "core" inspection in order to hold them to public account and report to parents, pupils, teachers, governors and the local authority as well as to the Welsh Government on how they are doing.
Since September 2010, Estyn has inspected 244 schools in Wales. These inspections have been based on the core inspection model that focuses primarily on outcomes for children and young people (adults too when we are inspecting community education or work-based learning).
Whichever sector we are inspecting, we look at outcomes and standards, we look at what sort of provision and support are offered and how good a job the leaders and managers are doing.
After the first core inspection we take another, closer look at those schools we feel could be doing better.
About 45% of the schools we have inspected since September have been identified as needing follow-up inspection and 5% of those are schools causing concern that need heavier monitoring because they are either in "special measures" or "in need of significant improvement". Many of the other schools in that 45% will be doing some or many things well but they will also have some aspect or aspects that are unsatisfactory or only adequate. When we re-visit those schools it will be to focus on what they are not getting right.
The 45% is an increase from the "over 30%" we identified as not being good enough in the last cycle. I believe this represents a more realistic picture of standards in Welsh schools. What it means is that there are several challenges that need to be tackled if standards are to improve.
What needs to change? First, there needs to be a stronger focus on literacy and numeracy in the classroom. Literacy is based on developing oracy, reading and writing. Higher-level literacy and numeracy skills involve skills of evaluation and interpretation, the ability to analyse facts and figures, to think critically and to communicate clearly. These are the "essential skills", which Pisa tests.
Too many young people in Wales have low reading ages and poor writing skills and don't have appropriate levels of numeracy skills at the age of 11. …