Welsh Labour – Together for Wales

19 Apr

 

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After a manifesto journey that has taken me from Plaid Cymru through the Green Party, Welsh Lib Dems, UKIP and Welsh Conservatives I find myself reviewing the final manifesto to be published, Welsh Labour’s Together for Wales.

One of the big problems in crafting a manifesto as the party of government is that you are unable to promise change.  It is perhaps an even bigger issue if you have been in power for 17 years and, where education is concerned, a standout concern in regards to this election as many of the big ideas Labour may have gone into the election with have already been mapped out.  We already know what the direction of travel is on things such as qualifications and the curriculum under Labour.  Pioneer schools are working away to shape the vision based on the collaborative conversations that have already taken place in the sector.  That is not a bad thing policy wise.  Much of these have a lot of goodwill attached to them and have a level of support and unity that any government party would welcome at this stage.  It does however mean that many things on offer in the Labour manifesto consist of promises to continue to do something as opposed to offering something new.  As we know from the past Assembly term however change is not always a good thing in education.

An example of the above is the manifesto commitment on spending around new school buildings.  This is not new money but part of the 21C prorgamme we already know exists.  While the money is very welcome and needed, as is pretty common knowledge, it remains below the level we need for our buildings.

Under the heading ‘Ambitious‘ Labour have taken the time to outline what they perceive as being the successes of government.  These are:

WE HAVE DELIVERED

  • Increased funding for schools in spite of savage Tory cuts to Wales

  • The biggest school building programme ever, worth £2 billion

  • Unrivalled support for students and learners

  • Record exam results

  • Ten million free breakfasts in primary schools over the last five years

  • Record numbers of apprentices and completion rates of over 80 per cent

  • Protection of the Education Maintenance Allowance

  • Action to help break the poverty link through the Pupil Deprivation Grant

  • A record fall in youth unemployment 15,000 jobs for young people through Jobs Growth Wales

It is fair for any party of government to stand on their record.  Just as other parties will undoubtedly scrutinise and criticise a government’s delivery I would expect any incumbent party to promote what they see as their key achievements.  That said, I am not going to run through them as I don’t think it serves the purposes of this blog post in evaluating a manifesto setting out the way a future Welsh Government would run services in Wales.

The second part of the education focus in the manifesto is where Labour have given their commitments for the future.

£2 billion school building programme

Again this is simply a continuation of a previously announced pledge.  Again it is welcome money but short of what has been identified as needed.  At least though it is a policy commitment with a definitive target.

£100m extra to further drive up standards in schools

This can be seen as a bit vague.  Where is the money coming from? Is it going to end up raiding other education budgets?  Is it money for schools or will it be eaten up elsewhere?  How is it to be used?  That is what I imagine many cynics, and indeed teachers, will be thinking.  I am willing to give this the benefit of the doubt with a warm welcome however.  Any new money is always going to be welcomed by the education sector and simply by making the pledge it is an indication that Welsh Labour recognize that we need greater investment.  While it isn’t written here in the manifesto I spoke to Carwyn Jones about this policy at the Labour conference and he gave some good assurances that this will be new and additional money for the education sector.  While there isn’t a clear way of delivering it as yet he sounded committed to ensuring it reaches schools in the most direct way possible.  If so it will be an effective policy.

Coding skills in schools to open up new opportunities in the digital economy

This is something that has come out of the Donaldson Review.  Again I am not sure it is entirely a new proposition but in an age where we have to ensure pupils are at the forefront of new technologies and industries it is something I do support.

Schools open for community use and wrap-around activities for children, including a pilot of “lunch and fun” clubs

This is a theme across all the party manifestos it appears.  Again I’ll take the opportunity to highlight this blog I did on a similar theme supporting this style of approach.

A taskforce to explore ways of improving behaviour, wellbeing and mental health in all education settings

I think this is a good idea.  We can’t have enough focus on the impact of behavior and well-being and I strongly believe that mental health issues should be given more prominence in general society let alone at school level.  It is fair to say there is a vagueness again to this policy but I suppose you can’t preempt what a potential task-force may report.

Business Clubs to bring work experience into schools and re-shape careers support

I’m always open to working with groups and people outside the education sector to enhance the learning experience.  This is a good thing but I would rather we didn’t just cap it to business.

A Music Endowment Fund to help youngsters access music services and instruments

This I am very pleased about.  There has been a continuous focus on literacy and numeracy over recent years which, while right and important, has threatened to narrow the curriculum.  We have taken some steps to address that with the Donaldson review but I want to see more of a broader approach.  This is one policy that supports that by developing the cultural skills development.

The Verdict

What is contained here isn’t anything really to critcise.  It is a list for policies that, for the most part, were well-received or would be well-received, even if some of them remain quite vague.  Where there is specifics, the £100m promise for schools, it will be welcomed by the teaching profession.

In truth however, what is disappointing is not just the lack of detail on some of these policies but the lack of recognition of some key areas.  While it is fair to point out that some areas (qualifications/curriculum reform etc.) are underway and maybe don’t need to be noted explicitly, there is no mention of continuous professional development, no mention of the supply sector, no mention of class sizes, no mention initial teachers training, no mention of consortia, no mention inspections and there is no actual use of the words teacher or teachers, and only one reference to teaching and that in regards to the quality of the buildings.  In regards to some of these oversights Labour would have something positive to say.  They could, for example, build on commitments to ensure workload was a key consideration of the curriculum review, or the supply group created after the children’s committee inquiry report.  These would be previously announced plans but they are developing actions and given the promotion of past achievements elsewhere here they would be worth highlighting.  That some of the biggest issues to the teaching profession have been given no space in this manifesto leaves me quite confused.  Perhaps Labour will be producing a secondary document on these policies.

UPDATE:

It has been brought to my attention that indeed Labour do have a secondary document where they add some more detail to their education focus.  As such I will create a new post reviewing that as well.

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