Debating Education

7 Mar

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Last Thursday night NUT Cymru, ATL Cymru and UCAC came together to host a joint education hustings which, I think it is fair to say, will probably be the biggest education specific debate of the National Assembly elections.  We will have leaders debates to much wider audiences but I’m not sure we will have such an in-depth discussion on education as a portfolio.

In arranging it I was very keen to get a cross-union event as education impacts on such a wide range of individuals working in different areas and sectors with different challenges.  What we managed to do by coming together was represent all sectors from primary and secondary schools through to further and higher education institutions.  We also managed to give a voice to teachers in large city schools, small rural communities, welsh language education and at all different levels along their teaching careers.  Undoubtedly from the nature of the questions the panel were faced with a breadth of knowledge and experience form the audience which made for a pretty well informed and, at times, forensic debate.

I was delighted that the Western Mail’s education correspondent Gareth Evans kindly agreed to chair the evenings proceedings.

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There are few journalists in Wales with a better grasp of any portfolio than Gareth has of education.  His insight is always worth listening to, if he agrees with my own interpretation or not, and he brought a strong sense of independence to the chair and challenged the answers of the panel in a way, and with an authority, that few others could have.  It brought the best out of the debate and forced more direct answers from the panel.

We put together a really prominent panel.  Despite standing down at the next election I’m pleased the Education Minister, Huw Lewis AM, took the time to speak on behalf of Welsh Labour.  He was joined by Simon Thomas AM and Aled Roberts AM who of course are the Plaid Cymru and Welsh Lib Dem education spokespeople respectively.  Angela Burns AM, the education spokesperson for the Welsh Conservatives, sadly had a prior engagement that she did give notice of months in advance in fairness.  Andrew RT Davies AM, the Welsh Conservative group leader, had agreed to step in to replace Angela but sadly he had to pull out due to a last minute party commitment on the morning of the event and was replaced by Richard John who is the 3rd place regional candidate in the South Wales Central region.  That was a disappointment but you have to feel for Richard being thrown in under those circumstances and I was grateful to him for taking part.

The panel were kind enough to take part in this event so i am not going to critique their performance or answers.  As I have blogged previously, I will look at each parties policies in more detail as the manifestos are published.  However, the Western Mail did give a breakdown of the questions and answers here and it is well worth reading.

What I will say is that I am sure the 100 or so teachers that were in attendance will certainly have a firmer grasp on what each party are offering.  With the discussions those in the audience will have with family, friends and colleagues between now and the election I don’t think its too much of a stretch to suggest that hundreds of votes will have been influenced.

All photos by Natasha Hirst


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