Thursday 13 December 2012

The costs of Labour governing Wales

Wales abandoned school league tables in 2001. In England the government continued to collect data about school performance and kept publishing school league tables. Whilst league tables are controversial, there is however clear evidence of the effect school league tables have on school performance.

In a study conducted by Bristol University, researchers found incontrovertible evidence that the abolition of league tables in Wales cost pupils dearly. Welsh school performance deteriorated sharply after 2001, the year the Welsh Labour government decided to cease publishing data on school performance.

Expressed in GCSE results, the abolition of school league tables in Wales cost pupils 2 grades over the last 10 years. As Prof Simon Burgess explains:

'The effect was sizeable and statistically significant. It amounted to around two GCSE grades per pupil per year - that is, achieving a grade D rather than a B in one subject. Pupils in England and Wales were performing very similarly up to 2001, but thereafter the fraction gaining five good GCSE passes strongly diverged.'

Leighton Andrews, current Labour Education Minister tries to eradicate the toxic legacy of his Labour predecessor

The current Welsh Education Minister Leighton Andrews has recently decided to re-introduce a rudimentary form of school league tables after a hiatus of more than 10 years. Schools will now be grouped into performance 'bands', indicating how well they do in teaching their pupils.

It would be easy to see this as a lesson in another failed Welsh Labour policy pleasing the teaching unions, but this would miss the point. What Welsh Labour was uncomfortable with in school league table was to provide more transparency in public services, and, in effect, more choice to parents. Labour in Wales still stubbornly resists the 'choice agenda', although, ironically, it was Tony Blair who formulated the basic principles of choice in public services during 'New Labour'.

The lesson is therefore not one about whether or not to listen to vested interests, such as the teaching unions. The real lesson is one about the futility to govern a modern society without giving people who use public services choices about those services, be they in the health, social care or education sector.

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