Education Secretary looks to positives from 2018 exam results

(Title Image: Wales Online)

While over the summer Welsh students achieved some of the best A-Level result seen to date, there was another fall in the GCSE pass rate, prompting a debate yesterday.

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Regrets that the A*-C GCSE pass rate for summer 2018 was the worst since 2005.
  • Expresses concern over school standards, given the number of Welsh schools placed in special measures and in receipt of warning notices.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to invest more in education to address the funding gap with England.

Shadow Education Secretary, Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) said this wasn’t about denigrating the work of students or teachers.

“So, if Members who were hoping to contribute to this debate by calling this motion an attack on all those I’ve just congratulated, then you’re barking up the wrong tree. This debate is about holding Welsh Government to account on the delivery of promises we all want to see kept: higher standards, more confident learners, more relevant course content leading to worthwhile academic qualifications in this case, which command the respect of all. And as the motion suggests, Cabinet Secretary, you’re not there yet.”
– Shadow Education Secretary, Suzy Davies AM

Suzy cited a number of factors including the concentration of efforts on C/D border students to push them to get a C to avoid negative statistics, a fall in the number of students taking A-Levels which has resulted in proportionally higher numbers of students getting better grades.

Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) was cautious about comparing results from one year to another and preferred a more long-term look – particularly in light of reforms to qualifications. He believed it was “unrealistic and unfair” for the Welsh Government to expect year-on-year improvement as school budgets are cut, leading to bigger class sizes and an overreliance on teaching assistants.

David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) wanted the Welsh Government to do more for pupils who receive free school meals and looked-after children as both groups often struggle academically.

“Finally, I’d like to say a little about the funding gap, which other Members have touched on, and I welcome that, finally, in a Government amendment, there is a tentative acceptance that there is a funding gap, although you claim that that has narrowed, not because of any action by the Welsh Government, but due to decisions in England.”
-Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth)

Former teacher, Caroline Jones AM (Ind, South Wales West), brought up a recent claim from the head of Estyn that schools might not see improvements until 2022 at the earliest due to a number of reforms. She called for a move away from “performance measures and focus on providing an education system that focuses upon the needs of the child”.

Replying to the debate, Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), talked up the importance of the forthcoming devolution of teachers’ pay and conditions.

“Taking over responsibility for teachers’ pay and conditions is an incredibly important step in our education system. Right from the outset, we want to make sure that we have a system based on the values of equity and of excellence, and a commitment to an inclusive public service education. I believe that this is fundamental to supporting and strengthening our teaching profession.”
– Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams

The Secretary added that the Tory motion ignored the positive results from the summer, including the fact that at A-Level only London and south-east England performed better than Wales. Despite the decline in good GCSE pass rates, she didn’t accept this was a fall in standards.

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