The Welsh Government has been urged to get to grips with a recruitment and retention crisis in teaching after Wales recorded its lowest-ever PISA results.
Laura Anne Jones led a Conservative debate on the latest international PISA rankings.
The shadow education minister said Wales’ performance has fallen to a record low in the maths, reading and science tests taken by 15-year-olds.
Ms Jones told MSs that education in Wales has been on a one-way, downward trajectory.
She called for 5,000 more teachers to be recruited, saying thousands of educators have left the profession in droves over past decades.
Ms Jones said: “We are lacking teachers in core subjects across the board, but particularly to teach in the medium of Welsh – almost to crisis point.
“We don't have enough teaching staff to help teachers cope with the sharp rise in additional learning needs (ALN) and the increasing complexities.”
The Conservative MS for South Wales East said the draft 2024-25 budget sees the ALN resource budget slashed by 86%.
She told the chamber: “ALN is the issue of our time in Welsh education, yet we hear radio silence from this government, and instead the sector has to deal with more crushing cuts.”
Ms Jones urged ministers to scrap the regional consortia – the middle tier in the Welsh education system – and invest the money back into school budgets.
Ms Jones said if education minister Jeremy Miles had a school report card, it would read: “PISA results, fail – needs to try harder; education budget, fail – demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of what is needed; his brief, fail – needs to go back to basics and get those right first.”
Sioned Williams, the Plaid Cymru MS for South Wales West, called for greater priority to be given to a crisis of recruitment and retention in the education workforce.
She said: “With 16% of teachers planning to leave the profession in the next three years, and around 40% of teaching assistants planning to leave in their first five years, the Welsh Government must act now and tackle this crisis seriously.”
Ms Willams called for more of an emphasis on support for Welsh-speaking pupils with ALN.
She also urged ministers to prioritise inequalities in education, with statistics showing pupils eligible for free school meals are less likely to get the highest grades.
Sam Rowlands said the latest set of PISA results tell a tale of two education systems.
The Conservative MS for North Wales pointed out that maths, reading and science scores in England are all significantly above the OECD average unlike in Wales.
He said: “My children are in the education system here in Wales, and from my perspective it seems to me that they're going to have worse life chances than my nephews and nieces who are receiving an education in England, and that's just not on.”
Labour backbencher Carolyn Thomas told the chamber her daughter is a teacher in England and it’s not all rosy across the border.
The North Wales MS urged the Conservatives to explain how they would pay for an extra 5,000 teachers, which she estimated would cost an additional £225m a year.
Peter Fox, the Conservative MS for Monmouth, warned that the draft 2024-25 spending plans are incongruent with promises made after the PISA results.
The former leader of Monmouthshire council said: “The local government settlement – a huge real-terms cut of 3.1% – will not help things.
“The minister stated that he wanted to tackle the attainment gap in education, but then we see £100m cut from the tackling-barriers-to-attainment fund.”
Mr Fox told MSs that funding for the new curriculum has been cut by more than 50%.
Jeremy Miles stressed that every nation of the UK has seen a decline in performance but he acknowledged that Wales’ results are not where he would like them to be.
The education minister pointed out that Wales improved in the 2018 results and argued there can be no doubt Covid impacted on that trajectory.
Mr Miles argued Wales’ new curriculum will make a real difference, saying literacy and numeracy standards will be a national priority.
He claimed the draft budget protects and continues to prioritise investment in ALN reform.
The would-be first minister said: “Our education workforce does incredible work in supporting our pupils, but the reality is over a decade of austerity continues to make their job harder.”
MSs rejected the Tory motion with 14 for and 34 against following the debate on Wednesday, 10 January.
The motion, as amended by the Welsh Government, was agreed 25-24.