Two weeks ago a Times leading article
attacked Wales for not following England’s educational reforms. I suspected it was written by Education Secretary Michael Gove, a Times ex-journalist and recent dinner guest
of Times’ owner Rupert Murdoch, because it resembled a Department for Education (DfE) press release.
Two weeks later, the Times top leading article* repeated the claims. And just in case readers didn’t get the message that Wales (red) was the pits compared with England (blue) the Times had a double page spread*.
“Tories exploit Welsh failure to teach Labour voters a lesson”, bawled the headline over two pages in 48 point bold.
So what did the graphs reveal? For most indicators the difference between England and Wales wasn’t particularly large (see Addendum for examples).
It’s shocking that 23.3% of households in Wales are below the poverty rate but it’s also shocking that 22.6% English households are in this position. That figure is nothing to boast about just because the percentage in Wales is 0.7% higher.
But what about education? It’s well-known Wales did poorly in the 2012 PISA tests and GCSE results are not as high as in England. But what is less-well known is that in 2013 Welsh pupils performed better
than their English peers in Maths and Science in teacher assessments (TAs) at the end of Key Stage 2. Of course, TAs might not be reliable but that would to also apply to English TAs. And Welsh 11 year-olds reached the same level in English as 11 year-olds in England.
But the Times ignores the positive performance of Welsh pupils at age 11. Instead the leader repeats two claims I debunked two weeks ago:
1 “Opening up school supply to different providers, such as academy chains, has had an invigorating effect on English schools”. But the OECD (page 54
) found extending school “choice” had little bearing on the performance of education systems. And the downside of the academy system is becoming increasingly obvious:
(a)There’s increasing evidence that academy trustees are benefitting financially from their involvement – the Public Accounts Committee chair said, “It’s just wrong
(b)14 chains, some of which were allowed to grow rapidly by the DfE, have been “paused” (see here
for article and links).
(c) Loudly-publicised imports from Sweden (IES
) have been judged to Require Improvement or worse.
(d)Sponsored academies do not out-perform
(e) The use of equivalent exams in some chains operating for several years has increased
2“Cutting the strings that attached head teachers to local authorities” improves schools. The “strings” are largely imaginary: the OECD
found “Compared with the OECD average, headteachers in Wales play a greater role in most aspects of school management.” And some academy chains are exerting more control over their academies than ever was the case with local authorities (Academies Commission 2013).
However, the Times
may unwittingly have undermined the DfE case that education reforms are desperately needed. It said Labour’s literacy strategy had succeeded. But we keep being told radical overhaul is required urgently because millions of schools leavers can’t read well enough to get a "decent" job
. So either Labour’s literacy programme worked or it didn’t.
The Times applauds Wales for introducing a “challenge” programme linking strong heads with weaker ones. Such partnerships were a feature of the successful London Challenge and City Challenge. Perhaps England should have rolled out the lessons learnt from these interventions instead of overspending £1b on the academies programme.
*22 March 2014 subscription required
. The figures given by the Times
1The unemployment rate in Wales is 0.2% worse that in England (7.8% Wales, 7.6% England).
2Average weekly earnings are £57.70 less in Wales (£455 compared with £512.70 in England).
3The proportion of the working-age population with no qualifications is 1.9% higher in Wales (9.5% England, 11.4% Wales).
4The proportion of children living in workless households in Wales is 0.8% higher (14.4% Wales, 13.6% England).
5The proportion of NEETs** is 0.6% higher in Wales (9.6% England, 10.2% Wales).
6The recorded crime rate in Wales is less than in England (sorry, can’t give the exact figures – Saturday’s Times
is now in the recycling bin).
**people age 16-18 not in employment, education or training.