It Is the Teaching and Really Matters. That Is Leading in Our Schools That What Makes the Difference; September Is Welsh Education Month in the Western Mail. We're Asking Leading Members of the Schools, Colleges, Higher Education, Political and Academic Scene to Debate the Following: Education in Wales Must Do Better. Discuss. Here Anna Brychan, Director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, Tackles the Subject

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Rmembers scene do ECENT months have seen considerable upheaval in Welsh education - from a position where education was largely seen as a good news devolution story to alarm about a calamitous descent in the international league tables and an accompanying political clamour which only intensified as the Welsh Assembly elections approached in May of this year. So who is right? Those that claim that the introduction of the Foundation Phase, the Welsh Baccalaureate, the skills curriculum and Learning Pathways heralded the beginning of a revolutionary new way in Wales that demolished the academic/vocational divide; created an early years curriculum that would finally produce learners ready to respond to the unimagined challenges of the 21st century; and a skills curriculum that would make lifelong learning a reality? Or those that argue that Wales' Pisa scores and our pupils' lack of facility in reading and counting describe a fundamentally flawed system that needs immediate root and branch reform to avoid catastrophe? the of Frankly, although both sides have used more dramatic language in defence of their own position than was helpful, they are both right. And wrong.

The positives are many. The Foundation Phase curriculum for three to seven-year-olds is a genuinely innovative development rooted in international research about the way young children learn and how best to imbue in them a love of learning that will remain with them throughout their lives.

They will need the ability to learn and learn again, possibly more than any generation before them. Research suggests that most of the children in the Foundation Phase today will eventually work in jobs that don't yet exist, and change direction several times during their working life, learning new and different skills each time. Children must be equipped for that future. The Foundation Phase is a step in the right direction in achieving that. That's why our most senior politicians frequently claim this innovation as the proudest boast of devolution.

The Welsh Bac too is increasingly successful and popular. It offers a wider and broader curriculum which has found favour with higher education institutions as well as the pupils themselves.

The skills curriculum has been widely welcomed. The Learning Pathways, despite some confusion over the dictionary definition of the word 'choice', genuinely has opened up new avenues of study for young people who were not engaged in what was on offer previously.

The work is not finished on any of these. The Foundation Phase will require us to hold our nerve as the system settles down.

We will need to be sure that reading and numeracy skills are still taught formally in the Foundation Phase. NAHT members are frankly stunned at the suggestion that this should ever have been in doubt.

The Welsh Bac too will continue to be refined. How might it be used for younger pupils will be the subject of debate. Nor are Learning Pathways the journey's end in offering wider choice.

There is still work to be done in informing the choices young people make, in making sure they (and their parents and teachers) make appropriate decisions for their future.

Good work has been done and is being done in our schools post devolution. In fact, though it might have been difficult to appreciate it in the light of recent headlines, great work; world-class work is being done in our schools and classrooms.

At the same time, though, there is no doubt that we must do better.

One of the most striking aspects of minister Leighton Andrew's February 14 speech was the widespread acceptance of much of the analysis, even if some of the solutions remain a concern.

Exam results in Wales have been getting steadily better since devolution. Fewer young people are leaving school without qualifications. Our curriculum is better than it ever has been. But other countries across the world are getting better faster, and in uncertain economic times, when jobs are scarce and skills are valued, that matters a very great deal. …