The Green Party: For People. For Planet. For Wales

12 Apr

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The first of my manifesto reviews featured Plaid Cymru’s offering last week.  I’m a bit baffled by the slow progress of the other parties.  As of this morning we were 23 days from election day and yet only one party had made their policies public.  I’m not naive enough to think the public at large are sitting down and going through these documents word for word.  However, it does seem a little lacking in transparency and commitment to the democratic process to be getting so close to an election and to still have no idea exactly what the potential programme of government will be for the vast majority of candidates standing.

Thankfully the Green Party have filled some of the vacuum by today publishing their proposals.  Their ‘For People. For Planet. For Wales’ document lists 10 priority areas running from housing through to democracy.  Under their education pitch the party says they will:

“create a free universal early education and childcare service from birth to the beginning of formal schooling – which would be started at a higher age. We will end the programme of school closures especially in rural areas We will scrap tuition fees for Welsh students studying in Wales and reinvest in Further Education colleges.  We will fund lifelong learning for all and further invest in adult learning opportunities.”

As with my review of Plaid Cymru’s policies I am going to ignore the FE and HE stuff as there will be people with better insights than I able to offer contributions on those themes.

The main pledge here then for schools is to stop school closures, especially in rural areas.  I know from speaking to many teachers in those rural areas that will go down well.  Closures in some areas are leading to significant job losses, loss of community engagement for schools and pupils and teachers having to travel some ridiculous distances to access their nearest provision.  In some areas along the boarder with England it is even resulting in parents opting to send their children to learn in the English system rather than remaining here in Wales.

The downside of that of course is that in some cases these school closures are supported by teachers and parents as they accept they will lead to a better provision.  It really is a case by case basis and, while I appreciate it is hard to quantify that in a manifesto, that does need to be recognized.  There is also a need to justify how this will be done against funding constraints and I don’t see any major commitment outlined on additional funding for education.

There is some greater detail on the free universal early education and childcare service pledge later in the manifesto, where the Green Party outline how it will be a system run by local authorities and would also rely on parents and other volunteers.  This echoes somewhat the mix of provisions that was evident in Plaid Cymru’s childcare policy.  It does sound a little ‘big society’ and there is no real depth of analysis of how it will work.  However, the pledge itself is welcome and again shows how political parties are starting to join the dots that early intervention must be at the heart of providing a positive platform for pupils entering school.

Further down in the manifesto there are some more specific pledges.

  • Raise the starting age of formal education putting more emphasis in the foundation stage on social cohesion play relatedness and character building as well as knowledge and skills making it a unique education stage in its own right.

I like this as a policy.  We have somewhat moved away from the ethos of what the foundation phase was originally designed to deliver.  I’ve blogged in the past on how establishing age-related expectations in the foundation phase, and the mission creep that comes with setting formalized and standardized testing immediately after children leave the phase, has undermined its approach.  this commitment from the Green’s does aim to get the Foundation Phase back to its routs.  It echoes the style of approach that is evident in Scandinavia and I think Foundation Phase practitioners would be supportive of it.  That said I’m not sure why you would state you wish to raise the starting age of formal education without actually outlining to what age you believe that should be.  It creates a little uncertainty.

  • Insist early years educators have qualified teacher status with specialist knowledge of early years education; and ensure all other staff are qualified to level 3.

I’m a little confused by this.  As far as I am aware any teacher in the Foundation Phase should already have qualified teacher status.  No individual leading a classroom in Wales should be doing so without QTS as it is.  What is worth noting is that we have an adult:pupil ration in the Foundation Phase.  For that stage of education to truly be effective we should move to a teacher:pupil ratio.  Our teaching assistants do invaluable work in schools, and I would support ensuring they have greater access to CPD.  However only teachers are qualified to teach and strengthening the Foundation Phase will only benefit those pupils going through it.

  • Take action to reduce teacher workload, assess pay levels and provide effective professional training for all teachers and teaching assistants.

It is hard to argue against this.  A welcome commitment and an important one to be recognized.  It will be interesting to see if every manifesto makes specific reference to the huge issue of teacher workload that is continuing to lead to 50,000+ teaching days lost to stress related illnesses each year.

  • Aim towards class sizes of 20

One of the few criticisms I made of Plaid Cymru’s manifesto was that they had not covered the issue of class sizes.  It is an issue that consistently is raised by teachers.  Class sizes of 20 would be a utopia to teachers in Wales who regularly deal with 30+ pupils every day.  It would undoubtedly make a major difference to standards in Wales.

  • Continue the policy of no Academies For Free Schools in Wales.

This is good to see and continues the political consensus to oppose the misguided and highly flawed Acadamies system that sadly is being imposed on mass in England.

  • Ensure all pupils have access to mental health support services.

Early intervention on mental health issues are crucial and supporting schools in identifying how and where best to offer these services would be beneficial.  It is just a shame there is no detail to what this policy will look like in practice.

  • Ensure the right for every child with disability to access mainstream education.

Again it would be good to have an outline of exactly where changes can be made to support this objective, or even examples of how it is currently an ambition being neglected.  That said of course the outcome is one that would be universally supported.

  • Protect the right of children and families to choose home education and flexi schooling.

I am a strong believer that the best education a child can have will be in the school setting and so I am not enthused by the proposal on an educational level.  However, parental choice remains in place and so it isn’t something that leaves me anything other than indifferent.  i’m a little confused why it is in there as I am not aware of any particular move to scrap the right of parents to home-school?

The Verdict

This is a far less in depth manifesto than was published by Plaid Cymru, but then I think Plaid’s was a pretty comprehensive piece of work.  The general policies here are to be welcomed.  They offer a positive overview of Welsh education with support for parents and teachers.  The main concern is that while they are a list of ambitions there doesn’t appear to be that much detail about how they will be achieved.  For example there is a statement to ensure that all pupils have access to mental health support but no explanation of who this will happen, in what capacity or through what funding.  That said, I think the aims of what is being put forward are more than laudable and would make any Green AM an attractive collaborator to other political parties on education policies at least.

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