'Painful Reading' for All Who Care about Children's Education; Laura McAllister, Professor of Public Policy and the Governance of Wales at Cardiff University, Reviews Testing Times, an Analysis of Wales' Devolved Education Policy

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), February 9, 2017 | Go to article overview

'Painful Reading' for All Who Care about Children's Education; Laura McAllister, Professor of Public Policy and the Governance of Wales at Cardiff University, Reviews Testing Times, an Analysis of Wales' Devolved Education Policy


Byline: Dr Philip Dixon

IN what Geraint Talfan Davies called "the land of the pulled punch", credit should go to former ATL Director, Philip Dixon. There seems little point in writing a book on Wales' education policy unless one is frank and fearless.

I'm sure Testing Times has already offended some politicians and officials. It's likely to upset even more if its central claims are proved true (the latest Pisa results seem to have validated some of Dixon's arguments, at least).

His lengthy reign as director of ATL Cymru spanned most of the devolution period so he has experience working with ministers and officials. It is worth saying that he is a devolution supporter and his fear of a return to direct rule is apparent towards the end of the book.

For all who have held public office in Wales, Dixon's analysis of the way policy is made and remade without much attention to evidence, and planning for secure implementation, rings true.

He poses the question that should be asked of all policy areas under the Welsh Government's responsibility. Not "has it made a difference" but "has it made it better?".

Dixon claims "it would be a bold person who would answer that with an unequivocal 'Yes'".

That much we can all agree upon.

One thing is clear from reading Testing Times, the Department of Education and Skills has seen too much churn to be able to establish the stability necessary for coherent policy delivery.

Yet, I wasn't clear who Dixon thinks is to blame for this. Too many ministers in too short a time, pursuing radically different agendas to predecessors is one factor, as is too much fluidity at the top with changes in director generals.

Many will recognise the description of the department as "dysfunctional" but is this due to the instability of personnel, or a related development of a defensive and protectionist culture? Dixon's analysis appears, at times, a tad revisionist. In a new policy environment, like 1999, we chastise all innovation and experimentation at our peril. …

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