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I'll look at evidence, not speculation says minister

by Nick Powell

Education Minister Huw Lewis has defended his "rapid review" of the GCSE English results in January, when some schools' pupils perform significantly worse than expected. He said it will focus specifically on learners and will be based on evidence not reckless speculation. The review will focus on:

  • The teaching of the revised specification for GCSE English Language - the performance of the pupils and how well prepared they were.
  • The support and guidance given to teachers and schools about the changes to the specification.
  • The WJEC’s role in setting the exam, marking it and awarding it.

There is no denying that there are issues which need to be addressed, but the impact is not severe across all schools. It certainly would be premature and reckless to suggest that this is an all Wales problem. The WJEC have compared data from 102 schools that had 20 or more entries for equivalent units in both January 2013 and 2014. There is of course more data to be analysed. However, based on that data we know there is an identifiable issue on some of the units entered by students in 36 of those schools.

16.4% of entries for units at these centres saw an average drop in outcomes of at least one grade. Set against this we have identified 29 schools where on some of the units entered by students there has been an increase of at least half a grade in unit outcomes. 12% of entries for units at these centres saw an average increase in outcomes of at least half a grade. It is important to remember that almost half (48%) of all centre entries were within what would be regarded as the normal variation – on average up or down half a grade.

It is also important to note that these are unit level results not final qualification results – we’ll know those in the summer. I won’t jump to any conclusions. The rapid fact-finding exercise I have ordered will get to the bottom of just how this has happened and what we and the WJEC can do to support learners and centres both for this summer and beyond. What must not happen is reckless speculation and point scoring when the future of young people is at stake.

– Education Minister Huw Lewis AM

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HE Review to report back before the next election

Education Minister Huw Lewis has signalled a major review into how higher education in Wales is funded will report back in 2015. Previously, he said the panel, led by Sir Ian Diamond, needed until 2016 to consider all the issues.

The Minister said the cross-party review will focus on access and long term financial sustainability. Currently Welsh students pay £3500 in fees, with the Welsh Government paying the rest, wherever in the UK they study. But, opponents say only those who stay in Wales should receive support.

Headteacher: PISA skills 'must be aligned to curriculum'

Schools in Wales are being urged to consider extra testing for GCSE pupils to improve our standing in the international league tables.

It comes after Wales performed relatively poorly in recent PISA tests, which compare results across different countries.

Now the Welsh Government Education Minister wants 15-year-olds here to be tested every year - but teachers say the idea is a "distraction".

Huw Lewis: PISA success 'key to Welsh economy'

Education Minister Huw Lewis said youngsters should be equipped with skills that translate to the workplace and life Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Education Minister Huw Lewis has insisted success in PISA tests is key to the future of Wales' economy.

In plenary today, Mr Lewis said: "Andreas Schleicher of the OECD is absolutely correct when he said - 'Your education today is your economy tomorrow'.

"The cost of a low skills base is potentially huge to the Welsh economy. I can't emphasise enough how important it is that we equip our young people with skills that translate to the workplace and life.

"We want to be a highly skilled nation delivering on our jobs and growth agenda. Welsh workers should have the skills employer's value and want; skills for long term employment - a better grasp and understanding of literacy, numeracy, problem solving and reasoning. The skills that PISA assesses.

"I want that message to be heard loud and clear. Schools, parents and teachers need to understand the wider ramifications of PISA.

"It's not testing for testing sake, it's a way of us seeing exactly where we are in the world and whether we are giving our young people the skills to support the economy and skills to find work in the future."

What are PISA tests and why are they taken?

  • PISA tests are put on by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) and look at the key skills of half a million 15-year-old pupils from 68 countries.
  • They are meant to test whether pupils are being adequately equipped with workplace and life skills, with the questions focusing on real-life scenarios. They are hugely influential, though critics say they form just a small part of a much bigger picture in terms of education.
  • Figures published in December revealed Wales has fallen further behind the rest of the UK in the three areas of maths, reading and science.

Read: Are you better at maths than a 15-year-old?

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PISA-based tests available to all secondary schools

Education Minister Huw Lewis said youngsters should be equipped with skills that translate to the workplace and life Credit: Barry Batchelor/PA Wire

Wales' Education Minister has encouraged all secondary schools in Wales to take up voluntary PISA-based tests in a bid to equip youngsters with workplace and life skills.

In a statement to plenary this afternoon, Huw Lewis said the cost of a low skills base to the Welsh economy is "potentially huge".

He insists PISA will assess the skills that need improving, including literacy, numeracy, problem solving and reasoning.

Last year's PISA scores showed that Wales was behind the rest of the UK and large parts of the rest of the world, ranking 43rd out of 68 on maths and 41st out of 68 on reading.

Students concerned over Higher Education review

by Tom Sheldrick

The Welsh Government is under fire for leaving thousands of young people in limbo over the future of student grants.

The government has announced a major review of how it funds higher education, amid concerns that the current system is unsustainable.

But Ministers admit that they won't have the results until after the next Welsh elections in 2016, as Tom Sheldrick reports.

Plaid: universities review should end earlier

Plaid Cymru's Education spokesman says his party wants to engage with the review of higher education funding and student finance announced by the Education Minister. But Simon Thomas says the review should report before the Welsh Election in 2016 and not after it as currently planned.

And he rejected the suggestion that by engaging with it, Plaid is allowing Labour to put off making its own policy clear until after the election.

Education minister denies 'cynical' review timing

by Adrian Masters

Opposition parties have criticised the timing of the Higher Education Review announced by Huw Lewis. It's due to report back in late 2016, after the next Welsh election. Opponents say that means Labour could go into that election without a clear policy on tuition fees.

I asked the Education Minister if the timing was a deliberate attempt to put off making difficult decisions until after the election in May 2016.

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