Thursday, September 04, 2008

Welsh education 'must do better'

As education is one of the portfolios devolved to Cardiff, it isn't an issue with which I deal on a daily basis - meaning that often my major interaction with the Welsh education system is Thursday's Education supplement in the Western Mail (Thursday's not just for the jobs section, you know!).

Today's section was more interesting than usual, coinciding with the start of the new school year. Jane Hutt's regular column focused on the development of the Foundation Phase of school, an excellent idea, but I hope that teaching unions' concerns about funding are unfounded, while, elsewhere, Fforwm, the group that represents Futher Education providers, laid out their funding needs for the coming years, although I must admit to being a little concerned at the £200m capital infrastructure investment apparently needed, of which they are currently asking for £50m.

The most interesting article, though, was a rather damning piece by Exeter University's David Reynolds, focusing on a comparative decline in GCSE passes against England. Reynolds blames this on the need for different priorities in Wales compared to England, which did not need to undertake the administrative re-organisation or consider the needs for Welsh language teaching, noting that education spending since the Assembly's inception rose by less than other major departments. He also suggests that the Welsh education system has been less able to innovate and expresses concern about the ability of Local Education Authorities to adequately supply the education needed.

Bizarrely, though, these very valid concerns and criticisms are then held up as being a possible failure of devolution. Like any institution it is the policy's undertaken that have most impact, not the powers available. Different policies would have produced different results. Rather than suggesting that it is the failure of the institution, Reynolds should be holding to account the people in power during this period - and that was the Labour Party.

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