How Wales can ensure the successful implementation of its reforms

By Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Wales is committed to providing high-quality and inclusive education for all its citizens. The disappointing 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment results however showed Wales was far removed from realising this commitment, which sparked a national debate on the quality and future of education in Wales. This resulted in a broad consensus on the need for change. In 2011 Wales embarked on a large-scale school improvement reform and introduced a range of policies to improve the quality and equity of its school system.

Creating lasting change however is hard, and reports of unaccomplished educational reform efforts continue to come in from around the world. But there are also many examples of successful reforms from which lessons can be drawn. The OECD is there to support countries in translating these lessons to different contexts and extending global knowledge on how to make reform happen – and ultimately improve the learning outcomes of students.

In 2016 the Welsh Government invited the OECD to take stock of the policies and reforms adopted since the 2014 OECD review, Improving Schools in Wales: An OECD Perspective, which provided a number of policy recommendations for further improvement with a longer term perspective. The recently released report The Welsh Education Reform Journey: A Rapid Policy Assessment analyses the strengths and challenges of policies and reforms, with a particular focus on their implementation processes and provides concrete recommendations for improvement.

This report comes at a key moment in Wales’ education reform journey as the country finds itself in the midst of a number of important changes, including a large-scale curriculum reform, a reform of initial teacher education and the revision of its education strategy. Since 2014, the OECD has witnessed progress in several important policy areas, including the various measures taken to support the professional learning of teachers, the increase in school-to-school collaborations and participation in networks, the rationalisation of school grants and the steps taken in developing a 21st century curriculum.

The latter has allowed for refining Wales’ education vision in that all Welsh learners are to develop as ambitious capable and lifelong learners, enterprising and creative, informed citizens and healthy and confident individuals – this vision resonates with the preliminary findings of OECDs Education 2030 project which is constructing a framework to help shape what young people should learn in the year 2030. Realising this vision of the Welsh learner however calls for further strengthening of and bringing further coherence across key policy areas:

  • the development of a high-quality teaching profession
  • making leadership a key driver of education reform
  • ensuring equity in learning opportunities and student well-being, which among others calls for a review of governance and school funding arrangements 
  • moving towards a new system of assessment, evaluation and accountability. This is important also to determine the effectiveness of reforms and policies. 

A key finding of the report is that the Welsh approach to reform has moved from a piecemeal and short-term policy orientation towards one that is guided by long-term vision and is characterised by a process of co-construction with key stakeholders. The commitment to improving the teaching and learning in Wales’s schools is visible at all levels of the education system. Sustaining this commitment and the general support for the reforms Wales has embarked on in recent years will be central to realising the country’s ambitions for education and society over the long term. However, Wales risks reverting to a piecemeal approach, with different actors going their own way. It is therefore vital that Wales consolidates the process of co-construction of policies, and strengthens their implementation through better communication and use evidence on the Welsh education reform journey.

This rapid policy assessment report will be of value not only to Wales but to policy makers around the world looking to ensure the successful implementation of reforms and policies in their education system.

The Welsh Education Reform Journey: A Rapid Policy Assessment
Improving Schools in Wales: An OECD Perspective
OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
Education 2030 project

photo credit: arrow on asphalt road to the horizon @shutterstock

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