Wales' Pisa score 'hinders economy'
Wales' poor placing in an international education rankings system could hinder the country's economy in the future, a UK government cabinet minister has said.
According to the latest Programme for International Student Assessment Tests (Pisa) tests, Wales has fallen behind the rest of the UK significantly in reading, maths and science for the third time.
The Welsh Government has described the results as disappointing and said everyone in the education sector needed to "take a long hard look in the mirror".
Rival parties have warned Labour ministers in Cardiff Bay about what they call "serious educational deficiencies" and the dire consequences if the situation does not improve.
Secretary of State for Wales David Jones said that Wales risked being left behind in the employment market if young people did not have access to an education system that provided them with the qualifications and skills they need to compete for the jobs of the future.
He said: " We are living in an increasingly competitive world and if Wales is to succeed in the global race, we will need more scientists, engineers, and young people who are equipped with the skills to put them at the front of the queue.
"Most importantly, we need to inspire them to pursue their ambitions. Today's worrying figures do very little to help us achieve that aim.
"It is vitally important the Welsh Government now seeks to address these serious educational deficiencies and give the young aspirational people of Wales the skills they need to succeed."
Educational standards in Wales has long been a hot topic - with criticisms that Welsh school children are lagging behind their English, Northern Irish and Scottish counterparts.
And that debate has intensified with the latest findings by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
It tested 500,000 pupils aged 15 across 65 countries in maths, English and science.
For maths, 15-year-olds in Wales scored 468 points on average, compared with 498 in Scotland, 495 in England and 487 in Northern Ireland.
In reading, Wales scored 480, but Scotland scored 506 points on average, England scored 500 and Northern Ireland 498.
And in science, Wales scored 491, compared with England's average score of 516, Scotland's 513, and 507 in Northern Ireland.
Since 2007, Wales has slipped down the Pisa rankings - although since then more countries have joined the scheme.
In the latest set of results, Wales dropped from 20th in science to joint 36th, fell 12 places in maths and slumped from 27th in reading to 41st.
The Welsh Government's Education Minister Huw Lewis said the Pisa results showed there was still a long way to go before Wales closed the gap with the OECD's best performing countries.
He said: " There are signs of some progress in reading, but significant improvement was never likely at this stage.
"Everybody working in and around the Welsh Education sector needs to take a long hard look in the mirror this week. The Pisa results are stark and the message is very clear, we must improve educational attainment and standards right across the board.
"I am confident the measures we've put in place since the last set of Pisa results are the right way forward for Wales and we won't be distracted from delivering them.
"Today's news simply reinforces our case for the ambitious reforms we have already developed and everyone across the education sector in Wales now needs to play their part."
Merthyr Tydfil AM Mr Lewis insisted the Welsh Labour administration in the Assembly was working hard on redressing the situation.
" Through the new reading and numeracy tests, secondary school banding, extra funding for new schools and more rigorous qualifications system we are changing the way education is done in Wales," he added.
"But it will take time to have a significant impact.
"There are no quick fixes. I expect to see the impact of our reforms reflected in the next set of results.
"They're ambitious and I believe they will have a lasting, sustainable and positive effect on education in Wales.
"I hope this set of results strengthens the education sector in Wales' resolve to improve our Pisa performance in 2015. We owe young people in Wales nothing less than the best."
Business lobby group CBI Wales described the results as a wake-up call.
Emma Watkins, CBI Wales director, said: "It's not acceptable for Wales to have slipped so far behind, and this should be a wake-up call to those who care about the future of the Welsh education system."
However, the largest teachers' union in Wales, NASUWT, said the figures should not be seen as the final word on education in Wales.
General secretary Chris Keates said: " The OECD's Pisa programme is an important and rich source of data that can help an education system reflect on its strengths and on areas for further development.
"However, the OECD is one voice among many.
" Pisa simply provides a snapshot of some aspects of learning, not a cast iron conclusion about the effectiveness of schools. Pisa is not the be all and end all."
Ms Keates also said a "Pisa panic" which followed Wales' poor results in 2009 must be avoided.
" It led to some poorly thought-through lurches in policy that had the potential to damage rather than enhance the quality of educational provision in Wales," she added.
"This time there must be no over simplistic interpretations of Pisa, which some politicians and commentators are prone to favour."