By Sam Rowlands

MS for North Wales

For anyone interested in the state of Welsh education, a recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) made for sobering reading.

Among several findings, the report found that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds in Wales were almost two years behind their classmates at GCSE level, compared to 18 months in England.

It also found that parts of England with high-poverty rates (such as Gateshead and Barnsley) have far higher GCSE results for disadvantaged pupils than equivalent parts of Wales.

Why is this? In short, it is down to “differences in policy and approach” by the Welsh Government in Cardiff Bay, who run education in Wales.

They have undertaken a number of significant and serious reforms. This includes a brand-new curriculum, and a massive overhaul of GCSEs which is on the horizon.

There will no longer be separate GCSEs for physics, biology and chemistry, but a single science qualification. They are also merging other subjects, such as English language and literature, as well as combining Welsh language and literature. To me, that doesn’t make any sense. If your child excels at chemistry, then they should be allowed to pursue it and specialise in it. This is particularly important if they want to go on to University or work in that particular field.

Cardiff Labour like to say how these changes make us different from England, but unfortunately those changes are damaging the life chances of children in Wrexham, Flintshire and the rest of Wales.

Wales finished dead last out of all the UK nations in the latest PISA educational attaintment rankings, and this report goes some way to explaining why.

The IFS have called for a pause on the proposed changes to GCSEs in Wales, and also for Welsh Government to reconsider changes to the curriculum. Luke Sibieta, the report author, makes the point that educational inequality has got worse in Wales and that the further planned reforms could well make it worse again.

We need to get the basics right in our schools. That includes making sure examinations and lessons are rigorous, with a laser focus on developing knowledge. That is simply not happening in Wales at the moment.

We also need to massively improve teacher recruitment and retention. It is essential to train quality teachers and make sure they stay in the profession long-term – at the moment, many teachers feel they can’t do that.

If you have any queries or issues you’d like to raise with me, then you can get in touch by emailing