A new book by Welsh journalist Gareth Evans on the history of education post-devolution, A Class Apart, may not be at the top of the best seller list. But parents, teachers and politicians in Wales could do worse than spend a few hours reading it.
It’s fair to say Mr Evans has published a critical exposé of the education system in Wales since 1999, during which time we have gone from producing above average numbers of pupils with GCSE passes to below average. We are ranked as having the worse education system in the UK by independent assessors and our graduates are less likely to get a first class honours degree.
The greatest criticisms of the system have come not from the press or the Conservative Party but from Labour’s own former Education Minister Leighton Andrews AM. He has suggested that scrapping SATS tests was a mistake and admitted he and his colleagues “took our eye off the ball.” Let’s hope their eyes are now firmly on the ball because the Welsh Government is about to overhaul the curriculum.
All school leavers nowadays are encouraged to consider getting a degree regardless of where their strengths and abilities lie. When I left school in the 1980s, only one in four people went to university and were funded through a student grant. The majority, myself included, entered some form of employment. These days, governments want to send as many students as possible to university with everyone paying a tuition fee. Is this a good thing?
Those who are academic should obviously have the chance to carry on their studies. But I worry that there are many others who would benefit more from going straight into work - where they would earn and learn at the same time. Instead, they are encouraged to take out loans and spend three years studying for a degree that might leave them less qualified to do a job than three years of practical experience. Meanwhile, the shortage of central heating engineers in London means they can easily earn more than an MP.
Local haulage companies tell me they can’t find enough HGV drivers. I still have a valid HGV1 licence gained from Heads of the Valleys Training in Gilwern. Sadly for my colleagues in the haulage industry, I am intending to win the General Election in May and have not accepted their job offers!
*Published in the South Wales Argus on 16 March 2015*