Targets and slap-downs

When is a target not a target?

And was it fair to describe Carwyn Jones' re-affirmation of the Welsh Government's 2021 PISA target in the Senedd chamber as a 'slap-down' for the Education Secretary Kirsty Williams?

All issues considered during a lively session of First Minister's questions.

The background here is the PISA tests on 15 year olds in more than 70 countries.

They have had their critics but these tests have become a major way of measuring the performance of education systems, and have generated huge attention in Wales because of the relatively poor performance here.

Target

Kirsty Williams told AMs on the Children, Young People and Education committee last week that the target of hitting 500 points in each subject was not hers, and that it was too complicated to measure with one target anyway.

That prompted the Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies to question the status of the current 2021 target.

It, in turn, prompted a very literal defence from the First Minister that it did not belong to Kirsty Williams because she had not been the minister at the time the target was created.

Maybe on a purely factual basis, but if the current education secretary says a target covering a central benchmark is not hers, it begs the question as to who is going to take ownership of it?

We now know that it will remain on the books of the Welsh Government. The question is whether it will lead to any tensions between Carwyn Jones and his education secretary in future?

PISA

There is a degree of sensitivity for ministers on the issue of targets.

There has already been one PISA target to make sure Wales gets in the top 20 best-performing countries by 2015.

That one was dropped; it does not want to be seen to drop another one.

Andrew RT Davies described it as a "slap-down" for the Liberal Democrat education secretary.

That may be over the top but it was not a million miles away either.

I am told Kirsty Williams has not given a huge amount of priority to the 2021 target because her attention is currently directed at improving the next set of PISA tests next year.

It is also clear that she does not believe in judging the performance on one set of figures.

Improving next year's results is a big subject, but I am told she believes the way to achieve it is to get better results from higher achieving 15 year olds.

The view is that while significant improvements have been made in reducing the educational gap between children in low-income families and their better-off peers, more needs to be done to push pupils to get the top grades.