Education in Wales needs more than ‘structural change’

A  reorganisation of school services in Wales is “unlikely” before the end of the Assembly term, according to Education Minister Huw Lewis, with regional consortia currently recommended as the best way forward.

Education in Wales however needs more than structural change to address the fact that a Labour-led Welsh Government since 1999 has failed young people in Wales as school standards have fallen year on year.

In an assessment of Welsh schools by the OECD Wales came 36th for science, 41st for reading and 43rd for maths in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) study.

The results were a serious, yet not unexpected blow for the Welsh Government, with another target set by the Welsh Government that is unlikely to be met. Teenagers were revealed to have scored lower in reading, maths and science than their contemporaries in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

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So whilst the structure or organisation of education in Wales is highly important, structure is unlikely to boost Pisa scores, teacher morale, or the attainment gap between Wales and the rest of the UK.

The Welsh Labour Government cannot expect a structural reorganisation to act as a magic silver bullet to solve all our problems. As with the school banding system, one solution was expected to improve standards in schools across Wales, yet year on year a fixed number of schools will appear in each band, a crude and simplistic means to improving standards across Welsh schools, a process that has so far failed to do so.

Welsh Liberal Democrats have echoed Estyn’s calls for a system that track’s an individual pupil’s progress, a far more effective way to raise standards, which would also identify children who were not achieving their potential. Schools would therefore be monitored on the basis of their individual targets, rather than government-set targets, which create a far-removed system from local education.

Whilst the Hill Review discusses improving classroom teaching and learning, improving school leadership, the Welsh Government seems hung on regional consortia and the organisation of services.

Education Minister Huw Lewis said,

“We’ve made a clear commitment to drive up standards and performance across the board in Wales.

“Local authorities have a crucial part to play in this, but I’m becoming increasingly concerned about their commitment to consortia working. We’ve given them plenty of time to get their act together but today I am taking action to put in place a national model of regional working. I am minded to support this via a transfer out of the 2014-15 RSG settlement and we are pursuing this through the usual consultative process.

“By doing this we can ensure the consortia operating in Wales will have access to the funding they need to deliver our ambitious school improvement agenda.”

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Whilst regional consortia will provide schools with the funding required and supportive regional collaboration, more must be done to look at individual student attainment, and equipping pupils with the skills that they need to get on in life.

Even Plaid Cymru are hooked on the idea of accountability and organisation of services,

“This is cherry-picking from the recommendations that the Minister’s friends in Welsh Local Government can live with and a complete volte face on the previous Minister’s attitude.

“The delivery of education services in Wales will continue to be a mess, unless other issues around governance, accountability, data sharing, targets, structures and appointments are sorted out first.”

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Welsh Liberal Democrats are championing the debate on supporting pupils, rather than government or organisations, to achieve their best. Through the Pupil Premium, or Pupil Deprivation Grant, we are beginning to break the link between attainment and poverty, and calling for a review of the school banding system to establish a system which supports individual pupils’ progress and individual schools in meeting their own targets, a progressive and far more supportive system to not only boost standards in Wales but to give children the best possible start in life to achieve their best.

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2013 Budget Commentary

I saw someone on Facebook discuss how the public sector will lose automatic pay rises, and whilst it may result in a blow average increase in wages for some (probably very few), with news in recent months about wild increases in pay rises across the public sector, I do see some sense.

This freeze, is fundamentally to stop, in many cases, unfair pay rises for those at the top of the public sector. You see many chief executives of various boards across the country being given enormous pay rises when workers are facing cuts in their terms and conditions and having their pay frozen.

It’s all about creating a fairer society whereby pay for those across the public sector is managed appropriately. It also hints at departmental administrative savings rather than front line budget cuts.

In addition one of the only ways we are going to be able to build the economy and make it a stronger economy is through investing in the private sector, particularly here in Wales when the majority of people work for the public sector in some way or another.

An estimated 25.7% of people in employment in Wales worked in the public sector in September 2012. This is the second highest proportion in any region of the UK. Total public sector employment in Wales rose by around 4% between March 2008 and December 2009 to just over 350,000.

 

 

This action by the UK Government sparked – by the same person and I’m sure by many others – a note about how they are disillusioned with the Liberal Democrats and how we have turned our back on the electorate. Here’s some interesting facts and figures.

Regardless of the tuition fee pledge, this government without the Lib Dems would be making cuts far beyond what they currently are, and we are delivering for Britain.

  • £3.5bn cuts in health expenditure down from £10b
  • Torn up Tory plans to cut housing benefit for under 25s
  • Single tier, triple lock pension system meaning adequate rises in pensions year on year; by April 2013 state pension was £650 more than under Labour
  • more apprenticeships than there ever have been in Britain; 540,600 in 2012/11 up from 279,700 in 2009/10
  • investing in pupils from the most deprived backgrounds through the Pupil Premium in Wales; £32m for schools across Wales, £20m being new money
  • Regional Growth Fund which is diverting money right across the country to invest in infrastructure and other developments to boost the economy, our commitment to rural areas in supporting SMEs and rural broadband; RGF led to the creation and/or safeguarding of over 550,000 jobs, many in the manufacturing sector, and £14.5bn of private investment.
  • Top 10% will pay more income tax than they did under the last 13 years of Labour government
  • Raised the tax threshold to £10,000 and are looking to raise it again to ensure a living wage for all and to ensure that people have an adequate standard of living; we’ve made taxes fairer by giving families a £700 tax cut.
  • We’re supporting parents in revolutionising shared parental leave.

Of course there are things that we as a party and as members are extremely unhappy about – take health reform and the bedroom tax and tuition fees, as just some examples. However this is commonplace across the majority of Europe where junior coalition partners are forced to compromise in many situations.

A BBC report found that a significant proportion of the Lib Dem manifesto was being implemented in government in comparison to the Tory manifesto. So not only have we achieved a lot of what we set out to achieve, but we’ve stopped the Tories making some significantly deeper cuts.

 

 

As for Plaid (throwing money at things was a Labour thing) and doing the same for internships in Wales ins’t the way to do things, it doesn’t work. Whilst financial investment in apprenticeships is warmly welcomed, we need to invest in apprenticeships in several ways to ensure we build a stronger economy for the future.

 

Stronger economy, fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life.