Education in Wales continues to make headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Under devolution arrangements in Britain, the Welsh Assembly has the power to determine policy for Welsh schools, including the curriculum children are taught. Unfortunately, international PISA test results regularly rank Wales at the bottom of the UK for educational standards and, as a result, Welsh schools are under pressure to improve results.
The latest quick fix being tried out is removing English literature from the measure of a school’s performance in GCSE qualifications. As a result, many Welsh schools are now only entering their highest-achieving pupils for English literature, denying most youngsters the opportunity to study the subject. Some schools have culled it completely.
This is a crude numbers game, generated by hapless data-driven thinking. It’s assumed that entering pupils for less-challenging GCSEs might increase the pass rate, especially among children in receipt of free school meals. The logic goes that, with better results, more youngsters can go on to higher education, and schools in Wales, which are increasingly battered by the media, can be reported to be improving. It may, some claim, even help close the deprivation-attainment gap, which is a key priority for the Welsh government.
But this is misguided. Not only would this plan be a case of moving the goalposts, it would take the intellectually and emotionally enriching aspects of education out of the picture. The deprivation gap in Wales can’t be reduced by GCSE results alone, and at some point that quick-win grade at the cost of real learning and understanding will catch up with pupils. You can’t raise standards or boost wealth by putting books further out of the reach of young people.