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Latest schools push is a rescue mission; COMMENT.

THE Welsh Government has today unveiled the latest stage in its mission to rescue Welsh education from further decline.

The scale of the crisis facing our children was laid bare in the latest Pisa figures, which showed that out of 65 countries Wales ranked 43 for maths, 41 for reading and 36 for science.

Our children are our greatest natural resource and if we fail to give them the skills they need to support a livelihood in the decades ahead, we will have done them a cruel disservice.

The Welsh Government is investing PS20m in a scheme which will see up to 40 of our worst-performing secondary schools benefiting from new resources and a "relentless" focus on the quality of learning and teaching.

It will be informed by the widely admired three-year PS50m Greater Manchester Challenge initiative. The principles have also been used to drive up results in London.

According to Professor Mel Ainscow, a leading intellectual force behind the project, five key strategies were pursued in Manchester: realising untapped potential (helping schools help themselves); using evidence as a catalyst (identifying the issues that needed urgent attention); school-to-school collaboration (there was evidence that partnerships were the most powerful means of fostering improvements); system leadership (headteachers often embraced the idea of helping other schools improve); and rethinking the roles of local authorities (staff had a role in identifying priorities and "brokering collaboration"). There is a strong case that such action should not just take place in 40 schools, predominantly in South Wales, but across the country. It makes sense to tackle the most dire situations first, but the Pisa results raised fears that, in the words of Conservative Education Secretary Michael Gove, Wales is "going backwards".

The fact that Wales fell down the rankings - dropping an appalling six places in science - and still lags behind the other UK nations, underscores the lack of progress that has taken place since the previous set of alarming results. The willingness to learn from experts who have succeeded in improving performance in England is highly welcome. This is not a time for ideological posturing and an emergency response is required.

In October, Matthew Taylor - formerly Tony Blair's chief adviser on political strategy - called for the widest possible involvement in the fight to improve standards.

He argued: "We can't just leave it to schools where, after all, children spend just 25% of their time."

The revitalisation of Wales' culture of learning is not something that can be achieved by ministerial decree alone; it requires the enthusiasm of a nation. If devolution does allow the galvanisation of different communities and sectors in pursuit of a common goal, now is the time to prove it.

Let us hope the new schools initiative works brilliantly, but let us all embrace the bigger changes that will allow our children to thrive.
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Title Annotation:Editorial; Opinion, Leading articles
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 10, 2014
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