Education reform in Wales is moving too fast, says OECD. So what does that say about pace of reform in England?

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The “sheer number” of educational reforms in Wales in a relatively short space of time risks “reform fatigue”, says the OECD.

The OECD had been asked to review Welsh education following the country's poor results in the 2012 PISA* tests.

Welsh education had strengths, OECD found. These included a fully-comprehensive system which emphasised equity and inclusion; good teacher-pupil relations, classrooms favourable to learning and strong support among teachers and the public for policy directions.

However, there were challenges including a high proportion of low performers, underdeveloped strategies for formative assessment and differentiated teaching, and a lack of balance between accountability and improvement.

The OECD’s conclusions have implications for England. This is particularly so with the pace of reforms. In Wales, the speed of reforms is glacial compared with what’s happened in England since 2010. Yet the OECD says Wales is moving too fast. This risked superficial implementation of reforms and losing the support of the profession, trade unions and “other key stakeholders” who had hitherto shared the Welsh government’s commitment to improving Welsh education.

Consider then, the meteoric pace of change in England since May 2010:

1The Academies Bill passed with the speed usually reserved for national emergencies and without due consideration for its impact (eg fragmentation, self-interest, money diverted into companies linked to academy trustees, insufficient oversight of academies…).

2The introduction of EBacc, applied retrospectively.

3Overhauling the national curriculum while at the same time saying academies were exempt from the national curriculum.

4Overhauling GCSEs and A levels at a speed which does not allow for sufficient trialling, evaluation or teacher preparation.

5Ofsted changing the goalposts again.

6Introducing new routes into teacher training which downplays the role of experienced university department. This has forced some to close their teacher training departments.

7Allowing academies and free schools to employ staff to teach who do not have qualified teacher status (QTS) and where they are not expected to ever attain QTS.

Added to this reckless speed is the denigration of anyone who argues against Government policy. These are routinely described as the Blob, “enemies of promise”, backward bigots, Marxists and so on. But the OECD found keeping the profession, unions and other stakeholders on side was important in implementing any reform.

When Finland, now at the top of the European PISA league, set out to reform its education system many decades ago, the country realised that progress could only be made slowly, carefully and by building consensus. This is not the approach in vogue in England: the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, boasted that he tells opponents to his pace of change “ever so politely” to get out of his way.

Consensus isn’t built by pushing aside any opposition. And hasty reform can have catastrophic results.

*Programme for International Student Assessment, administered by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) every three years.
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