Newsnight Cymru: No more cliches

11 Apr

As someone working in the education sector you may think that I am the last person who would need to support a campaign for the establishment of a Newsnight Cymru. Let’s face it; compared to other policy portfolios in Wales, education is far from ignored. There are nightly news items on the delivery of education in Wales. When you add in that the focus very often seems to be solely on negative headlines, do we really want more?!

The truth is that what we do need is an informed discussion. Raising the awareness of Welsh issues in education, in a way that fosters constructive debate, is ultimately the best way to ensure engagement at a local level. The importance of this cannot be underestimated. After all, we know that the schools that perform best are those that have good relationships with parents. Engaging them is vital.

The reality we face in Wales is that the vast majority of people get their news through a UK prism. They read UK newspapers and watch UK TV news. Where Welsh education is given a UK-wide focus it is rarely done in a proper Welsh context.

The two major Welsh education discussions in recent years that have been covered in the UK press have been the decisions to provide tuition fee support for those wishing to go on to higher education, and the decision to provide an exam regrade for pupils who had been unfairly treated during the 2012 English GCSE fiasco. Both of these policies have been generally well received and have benefited greatly the students directly affected. However, both were reported in a negative light solely looking at the perceived unfairness of how English pupils were treated conversely. It was almost directly implied that if something positive was done for Welsh students there had to be an inverse impact on those studying the other side of Offa’s Dyke.

A few weeks back we did see Newsnight’s own approach to Welsh education as they sent John Humphrys to report on the state of the nation’s academic performance. The piece was driven by clichés (yes we know Wales used to be famous for coal thanks very much) and with such a superficial overview of the issues it was very difficult to appreciate what it added, if anything, to the current understanding of education in Wales.

It does nothing for the Welsh public that their interactions with such important issues come via irregular packages from policy tourists, dropping in to cast a gaze over an issue about which they simply haven’t built up a knowledge base worthy enough to comment.

So why do we need a Newsnight Cymru? In Wales there are actually some fantastic journalists with depth of understanding of education issues that enable them to tell an interesting and engaging story about our system. From highlighting the problems to celebrating the successes. Individuals with that focus can truly empower the public to engage in this issue but they don’t always have the platform to do that. What is more, the weakness of the Welsh media has created a democratic deficit that has allowed complacency at all levels of government which in turn hinders progress. Quite frankly, until the scrutiny improves it is depressingly difficult to believe the quality of support on offer to schools will either.

You can see the original blog on the Newsnight Cymru site and more on the campaign here.

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