Kirsty Williams, the Education Secretary and only Liberal Democrat Assembly Member, recently had an interview with myself and other School Reporters. The interview covered a wide-ranging spectrum of issues including the recent PISA results and Tuition Fees.
The Education Secretary described the PISA results as “disappointing”, saying that she doesn’t believe that “anyone would argue that this is where we want Wales’ education system to be.” She drew attention to the extremely poor results in the Sciences and promised “radical reform”. However, Kirsty Williams warned against “throwing everything up in the air and starting over again”, adding that doing so “won’t help anybody”.
New “rigorous” and “tough” examinations were promised by the Education Secretary, along with other reforms. Yet, the Education Secretary warned that reforms like these may take some time to have the desired effect. She discussed Portugal which “did really well” in the PISA tests, yet their education reforms began 14 years ago and has taken this long to come into effect. Williams believes that “we need to stick to the reforms and keep pushing for teaching excellence.”
The Welsh Baccalaureate is seen as useless by many students. Despite this, the Education Secretary was quick to defend the program by saying that the government have “reformed the Welsh Bacc as well”. She continued by arguing that “the skills learnt while studying for the Welsh Bacc are really, really important skills” and that the Welsh Bacc is a “very important qualification to sit alongside A-Levels.”
Another worry for the state of Welsh Education is the dramatic drop in the number of students studying Modern Foreign Languages, such as French, German and Spanish. Kirsty Williams described them as “important subjects” that she would “like to see more students in Wales taking for GCSE.” Kirsty Williams has a plan to combat the falling numbers, it’s new scheme that works with Universities to “get Undergraduates, who are studying Modern Foreign Languages, into schools to demonstrate to students how important studying a Modern Foreign Language is and how much fun it is.” The Education Secretary visited a school participating in the scheme to talk with students receiving the service. She elaborated on this further, saying that students “do really well” in Modern Foreign Languages due to this service.
This service relies upon Undergraduates, a centrepiece of Kirsty Williams’ new tuition fees plans. Based on the Diamond Review, the plans change the way the National Assembly funds students and Universities. According to Williams, the review shows that “the biggest barrier to Higher Education is not paying back loans for fees, but the upfront cost of going to University. How do I pay for my accommodation? How do I pay for my food, my books?” Due to this information, “The average student will receive a grant, which is non-repayable of £7,000 a year to help them fund their studies. That money will be available no matter where you study, whether you study part-time or full-time and we will also offer that grant to students who are looking to pursue post-graduate qualifications.”
The Education Secretary will have many battles to push her reforms through, so she left quickly after thanking myself and the other BBC School Reporters for the interview.