Guest post: Sian Griffiths – my BBC programme on education in Wales

Sian Griffiths is education editor of the Sunday Times and presenter of this week’s BBC Wales documentary ‘It’s an Education’. In this guest post, Sian explains the background to the programme that has already created controversy because of comments made, in particular, by Sir Michael Wilshaw.

Sian Griffiths

Sian Griffiths

It doesn’t matter how grown up you are  – two kids, a 30 year journalistic career and a mortgage in my case – when you go back to your old school it’s easy to feel like a child again.

For ‘It’s an Education’, a half hour documentary which aired on BBC1Wales last night (see iPlayer link below), I returned to Ysgol Dewi Sant, in St Davids, Pembrokeshire, Britain’s smallest city. My aim was to take a look at Wales’s education system. 

They say your school days are the best days of your life and mine at Ysgol Dewi Sant, a small rural comprehensive, certainly were (thank you Mrs Tuck!) I was incredibly happy there – but it was also an academically excellent school, at which I got exam results which got me to a good university and launched me on my career in journalism.

A few years ago, however, things were not so smooth at YDS. It was placed in the red (lowest) category in Wales’s relatively new school categorisation system and even faced closure. Saved after passionate protests by parents and pupils,  in recent years it has again climbed an upward path. When I visited it was the happy ambitious place I remembered from my own school-days, under a dynamic head-teacher. 

YDS’s trajectory of improvement is not unique among schools in Wales. The country lagged behind Scotland, Northern Ireland and England in the international Pisa tests from 2006 to 2012. In that last year Wales’s results were described by one minister as “a wake up call”. A range of measures have since been taken to try and boost standards. Whether these reforms have worked – and have had enough time to work – will be revealed later this year when the 2016 Pisa results are published. 

Making the film it became clear to me that in Wales, where the responsibility for education was devolved to the Welsh government 17 years ago, there are now big differences in the way schools are monitored, measured and funded, compared to what used to happen and what happens now in England. 

For the film I interviewed children, teachers, headteachers, politicians and education experts. I went to Paris to the HQ of the Pisa tests to talk to Andreas Schleicher, to Cardiff to talk to Welsh government education minister Huw Lewis and to London to talk to Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools for England. It is Sir Michael’s views that have so far caused most of the stir around the film.

“What we mustn’t see in the UK is a growing divergence in performance between the constituent parts of the UK,” says the outspoken chief inspector. 

“I am of the view that the English education system is moving ahead quickly… It now really is up the Welsh government to look at its own performance to ensure it matches the performance of England.” 

The response? Do watch to find out.


Sian Griffiths is Education Editor of The Sunday Times and presenter of ‘It’s an Education’, 10.40 pm, Tuesday,  BBC1Wales.

You can follow Sian on Twitter @siangriffiths6


If you missed it first time round, here’s the link to view the programme online (available across the UK): It’s an Education (or click image below)

Sian Griffiths It's an Education iPlayer cover


I’ve just watched the programme on the iPlayer link above and thoroughly enjoyed it – some fascinating questions asked and interesting viewpoints expressed by all involved.

Did you watch it? Thoughts and reactions? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…


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  1. The programme implied the deterioration in Wales’s PISA score was because it abolished league tables.  But correlation isn’t causation.  Andreas Schleicher (OECD) is more nuanced.  He told BBC’s John Humphrys in 2011:
    ‘…you could say maybe England has had in the past too much sort of high stakes testing, too little formative assessment, and in Wales it’s been perhaps the other way round but clearly you need some benchmark for success and whether abandoning those kinds of assessments altogether was the right thing, that’s really up for debate.’

    Wales has now put in place benchmarks for measuring success.  In England, however, the OECD warned in 2011 there was too much emphasis on test results and these risked negative consequences.   Lt’s hope that Wales doesn’t swing as far as England in judging schools solely on results.

  2. The OECD reviewed Welsh education in after the country’s poor showing in PISA 2012.  It concluded education reform was actually moving too fast in Wales and risked ‘reform fatigue’.  The report listed Wales’s strengths (eg comprehensive system) and its weaknesses (eg undeveloped system for formative assessment).
    This report was not mentioned in the programme either by the presenter, Sir Michael or Andreas Schleicher (who still uses Shanghai as an exemplar when 25% of the cohort was missing from PISA 2012 making the city’s results suspect.)
    An omission, surely?

  3. Sir M was described as a ‘firm believer’ in academies.  But his latest report said:
    ‘a school is a school’
    – regardless of how it was created or to whom it is accountable.’  It found no difference between the proportion of good or improved to outstanding LA schools which were inspected and good academies (75% of LA schools inspected were good or better, 74% of academies inspected were the same).
    Sir M also perpetuated the ‘LAs control schools’ myth.  This myth debunked in Local Schools Network’s book ‘The Truth About Our Schools’ (I’m the co-author).  LSN readers can get a 20% discount.  See here

  4. WriggleFree

    SchoolsImprove > you came across as irrationally biased towards academy schools NUTCymru #examfactory – it doesn’t work 2/10

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