Schooled to fail?
19 February 2013
A leading University academic argued this week that social differences outside the Welsh education system could explain many of the apparent disparities in the educational achievement of children in Wales, and even challenge the presumption that children are 'being schooled to fail' in Wales.
Professor Chris Taylor, a Research Director at the Wales Institute of Social & Economic Research, Data & Methods (WISERD), has used a briefing to Assembly Members to present findings of latest research using the Millennium Cohort Study. He argued that the dominant 'crisis account' that children in Wales, when compared with children in other countries of the UK, are being 'schooled to fail' is inaccurate, certainly in the first few years of their education.
"Just as the original 'schooled to fail' argument was criticised for not making fair and equivalent comparisons between the achievements of pupils in Wales and England so too can similar criticisms be made of the current crisis account," he will say.
During the 1990s a leading education researcher suggested that, compared to England, children in Wales were being 'schooled to fail'. Following devolution the comparisons between the educational achievements of children in Wales and England have continued.
The apparent 'gap' in GCSE achievement between Wales and England, recent PISA international comparisons and political differences between the governments of Wales and England have fuelled what can be described as a crisis account, particularly within the media and amongst policy-makers, about the state of the education system in Wales.
In challenging this dominant crisis account, Professor Taylor examined the educational development of children in the first seven years of their lives. He provided evidence of the differences of growing up in different countries in the UK and being schooled in different education systems after controlling for a range of background factors such as the conditions children are born in to.
He also argued that by looking at social inequalities as the children grow up it is possible to determine whether some systems appear to exacerbate or reduce educational inequalities in the first few years of life.
Professor Taylor will add: "Although there is evidence to suggest that there is a need to raise overall levels of literacy and reduce inequalities in vocabulary development between the poorest and wealthiest young children in Wales, children in Wales actually out-perform children from other parts of the UK in other areas of their educational development. This could suggest that Welsh pupils aren't 'schooled to fail' as many are led to believe.
"However, what we have been able to show is that is it important to consider that any differences that may seem to occur between Wales and other parts of the UK may not be due to differences in national education policies and may be more to do with differences in society outside the education system and policies and practices at a more local level."
"There is no clear picture, and more awareness of the limitations of such comparisons is needed in policy-making."
The Millennium Cohort Study is a UK-wide birth cohort study, funded by all the governments of the UK, following over 19,000 children who were born between 2000 and 2001. It can be used to compare the educational development of children from across different parts of the UK.
Now aged between 11 and 12 years of age, the children were carefully selected from different countries of the UK and from disadvantaged and advantaged communities, so the final sample is representative of all children in these areas.
WISERD is a collaborative venture between the Universities of Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, Glamorgan and Swansea. The strategic aim of WISERD is to establish itself as a sustainable research institute built on the active engagement of social science staff from across the Welsh HE sector and the involvement of a complex set of audiences/users in the public and private sectors.