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13 Nov

I’ve been thinking a lot about the issue of sexual harassment of late.  In truth I’ve thought about it for a number of years but the Harvey Weinstein story was what really focused my mind.  My thoughts were centred on my own time in politics having worked for Plaid Cymru in various guises between 2005-2011.  It was somewhat timely then that this subject inevitably started becoming an issue that engulfed that world, both at Westminster and in Cardiff Bay.  The notion that it is confined to those national institutions by the way is extremely naïve and I am sure women across all tiers of all industries in Wales will have experiences they have for too long considered simply part and parcel of their working lives.

I never saw directly any incidents of sexual harassment while working in politics. I’d like to believe I’d have stepped in immediately if so. Also, no incidents were reported to me while in a position of responsibility to act, towards the end of my career at the Assembly. However, I carry a lot of guilt hearing the flood of accusations and experiences that have been voiced in the past few weeks and months. I regret that I was not more proactive in recognising the culture that existed.  I regret that when in more junior positions and hearing of the rumours and experiences of others that I wasn’t confident enough take a more authoritative approach to responding to the things I was told or heard.  I regret that I wasn’t emotionally mature enough to have been more supportive.  I also regret that when in a senior position I should have done more to make myself accessible to complainants.  I question if there were women feeling intimidated, violated and harassed that did not consider me a viable confidant to vocalise their situations?

There are degrees of responsibilities and I can try and justify how or why I didn’t do more in many ways. I was junior to those who have been victims let alone the perpetrators; I was young in age and professional experience; I suffered similar concerns as to how it would impact on my own career etc. All that being said, it is clear to me today that I and others didn’t support colleagues enough, both in individual instances and in changing the wider culture. My ignorance to the realities facing my female colleagues and friends serves as no excuse. I wasn’t aware of the truth perhaps because I wasn’t willing or able to see beyond my own personal environment. It was this lack of awareness that helped allow sexual harassment to thrive within the political sphere in Wales.

Recently, I’ve spoken to a number of women I worked with over the years to voice these regrets and to apologize.  The magnanimous attitude they have adopted in response serves only to emphasis how much I didn’t play my part and how important it is that I, along with other men who have and do work in Welsh politics, have a duty to ensure victims, past; present and future, deserve action.

The whole Carl Sargeant story is tragic. I’ve no inside track as to the legitimacy of allegations against him. I don’t know any of the details. I feel horrendous for what his friends and family must be going through in the aftermath of his death.  I also feel huge sympathy for those individuals who felt compelled to register allegations against him. The victim blaming they have endured on social media is an utter disgrace.

However, what I do know is that the genie is out of the bottle on this issue. Carl Sargeant may or may not have had a case to answer.  I stress again I have no knowledge of those allegations.  Regardless, there will be many women in Welsh politics, Welsh public life and across different industries and professions in Wales who will have encountered sexual harassment. We can’t change the fact this is now in the public consciousness, nor should we ever want to. The time is right to set the agenda and change the way politics is conducted to safeguard those at all levels within it.  I don’t want any regrets about trying to help that cause now.


PISA Targets

26 Jun

Yesterday I contributed to the Sunday Politics show discussion on the political fall out from the Cabinet Secretary for Education distancing herself from her predecessors PISA targets.  While it remains online you can view it here, starting around 40:04 in.

In terms of the political discussion what I said was that I don’t believe the ramifications extend to the classroom.  I don’t know of a single teacher who base their work on ensuring PISA results are improved.  Teachers are focused on simply doing their best for pupils, ensuring that socially and academically they reach their full potential, and that they attain the best qualifications possible.  Naturally if PISA measures the things it claims to in the way it claims to, and that remains a big and ever increasing if, then the work done in our classrooms should be captured.

However, where it does have an impact is on policy development.  We saw in 2010 how PISA results led to a huge upheaval in strategic direction.  Leighton Andrews put in place a raft of policy changes that often totally contradicted the previous approach in Wales, which were implemented in direct response to PISA.  Across the world Governments have changed their education policies to reflect aims and targets in PISA.  The big question that comes out of the apparent clash in PISA targets being set within the Welsh cabinet is, what are the implications for our policy approach in future?  Whose targets are we aiming for? What happens if we reach one but not the other? Why are we continuing to set targets for PISA and are they meaningless for a number of reasons? Or are we still expecting to see the possibility of our system turned upside down based on PISA?

For what it is worth I supported the position taken by Kirsty Williams.  When the original story broke I agreed that PISA targets had failed to focus policy and resources on the right elements to support our pupils and teachers.  Getting away from that is, ironically enough, the best way to ensure a better education system.

One other thing I wanted to touch on comes from the line that David Reynolds said in the piece, which is that PISA results are the driver of economic success.  His evidence for this is that Shanghai saw great inward investment following their rise to the top of the rankings.  I don’t dismiss any assumptions out of hand but I have continually been left cold by this argument.  For me it is a case of correlation without causation.  Just as you can find evidence to show one influencing the other, you can find the evidence that undermines that view.  For example Finland ranked top of PISA in 2000.  The year on year growth of the Finish economy for the next thirteen years following that was at a lower rate than in 2000.  There are a host of nations whose economic success exceed their PISA scores and vice versa.  Indeed in 2015 the Welsh Government announced historic record inward investment figures.  That alone contradicts the argument.

As I say, I don’t dismiss any thinking out of hand but it seems a reach to claim that PISA is make or break for inward investment when that isn’t necessarily born out by the facts.

The Importance of Well-Being

18 Nov

Readers of this blog (there are some I’m informed by Google analytics) will know that I’ve written in the past about the eroding impact of the word ‘priority’ in Welsh education.  We seem forever to be making, or calling for things to be made, national priorities.  I’ve always maintained that each and every one of these areas of interest have merit in their importance, but continually pushing priorities results in no single thing being able to be at the forefront of a schools thinking.

So, you may assume that I would have rolled my eyes when, at yesterday’s National Education Conference in the SWALEC Stadium, Kirsty Williams announced a fifth (and pointedly final) national priority, was being unveiled.  However, you would be wrong.

Why then am I enthused by the idea of well-being joining the list of national priorities within the Qualified for Life approach.  Well there are a few reasons.

Firstly, well-being is, subject to an open consultation, set to be one of the five areas of focus in Estyn’s common inspection framework.  Making a connection between national priorities and accountability creates a clear narrative between what we are saying is important at a Welsh Government level, and what we are evaluating as important at a hyper local level.  My one concern is that when there are tangible and easy ways to judge progress and investment in literacy, numeracy and qualifications how can you help encourage schools to give as much attention to well-being when there is a far less clear way to demonstrate achievement.  Hopefully that well-being is now also a key Estyn inspection indicator that will not be as big a concern.

More importantly for me I think it is a step change in Welsh Government language.  One of the big criticisms I often heard from practitioners regarding Leighton Andrews’s time as Education Minister is that he worked on policies focused on impersonal evidence.  They dehumanised the teaching profession and pupils and neglected to take into account the day to day realities of teaching in a classroom.  Huw Lewis placed closing the attainment gap and tackling the educational impacts of poverty as a high priority in his approach to the role of Education Minister.  That was important, but again it sought to determine success or failure against the cold data that schools produce.  Putting well-being as a national priority recognises that what schools do goes beyond the spreadsheet.  It begins to acknowledge what all teachers already know, namely that they do more than simply facilitate the transfer of knowledge.  They develop the personal and shape tomorrow’s society.

Now this is not to say that well-being should be some abstract concept.  It is important to see that well-being and academic achievement are directly interlinked.  The success of one is absolutely dependent on the other.  Happy and healthy children are better placed to learn and succeed in school.  Kirsty Williams is right to put the person at the forefront in well-being, making safeguarding and personal support a recognised success of the teaching profession, but in doing so she is also promoting standards of academic achievement.  Of course how such a subjective issue is evaluated is yet to be seen but the fact that it is being given more prominence when it is often the issue that takes up so much of a teachers time, efforts and emotional energy is a welcome change.

One final thing I will say is that I hope that this focus on well-being is extended also to staff.  We know we have unsustainable stress related illnesses among the teaching profession at present.  Supporting their emotional and physical well-being is also critical to the way in which we wish to see our education system thrive and should not be overlooked as part of this process.


The Williams Deal

27 May

I found this Western Mail article really noteworthy this week.  Ignoring the politics of the alleged Labour fallout, albeit that is of course interesting, what struck me is the concessions negotiated by Kirsty Williams.  For someone who does not bring Labour a majority these 9 key announcements are pretty impressive.  Accepting of course that some will be policies that Labour are happy to deliver, and indeed may have done so regardless of the Lib Dem role in cabinet, there still remains some big areas for Kirsty Williams to claim as victories.

The infant class size reduction is a major win.  This was arguably the key election pledge of the Lib Dems in their election manifesto.  What is more it is a policy that has been criticised and opposed by both the previous Labour Education Ministers who disputed the impact smaller class sizes would have on standards.  It begs the question perhaps if such a deal would have been feasible had either, or both, returned to Cardiff Bay for this term.

The policy is a highly popular one among the teaching profession and so perhaps is an easy sell in coalition/agreement discussions.  I am delighted it is set to be introduced.  That said, it is not a cheap option.  Money will have to be found for this, and additional money at that.  To reach a 25 pupil cap the Welsh Government will have to ensure that schools have an adequate compliment of staff.  This at a time that when class sizes are increasing, partly as a result of schools having to make teachers redundant due to ever constrictive finances.

One of the big pledges from Labour at the election was for an additional £100m investment to improve school standards.  It may be natural to earmark park of that £100m spend for this policy thus seemingly killing two birds with one stone.  Or delivering two pledges with one budget if you will.  I wouldn’t find that a fair proposition.  Given this money was never intended for this purpose it would be slightly disingenuous to mesh these two policies together.  I think it is a reasonable expectation to expect both policies to be delivered in their entirety and separate to one another.

It will also be important to monitor how this policy impacts on other funding streams.  This includes money already set aside for the curriculum review and implementation, the New Deal continued professional development programme and schools challenge cymru, to name but a few.

The other area of interest with the 9 agreed that relates to schools is a review of the school surplus places policy.  This is somewhat ironic given that it is a policy that led to the end of Leighton Andrews tenure as Education Minister.  It will be interesting to see what comes of this, particularly with the emphasis on rural schools in light of much of the unrest in Powys given Kirsty Williams own constituency allegiances.


Why are we not having the education debate?

29 Apr

Someone recently asked me why education hasn’t had more airtime during the election.  That is not to say that broadcasters haven’t given it focus but simply a question why it hasn’t been center stage of the election in the way maybe it would have been expected to be.

At the start of the year I blogged my 4 main hopes for education in Wales.  One of those hopes was that we wouldn’t see education used as a bat to hit the Welsh Government.  It is perfectly right that opposition parties scrutinise the record of delivery, and criticise where appropriate, but I wanted it to be an election of ideas.  Having reviewed the manifestos I think it is fair to say that all parties have brought ideas to the table, but sadly, for a few different reasons we haven’t quite had that debate.  So what are the reasons education has, thus far, been sidelined.


Unquestionably the steel crisis has dominated news agendas in Wales over recent weeks.  The future of the Port Talbot Tata plant in particular, as well as the impact on other direct and indirect jobs across Wales, has been the primary focus of the political narrative.  This was evidenced by the fact the whole economy section of the ITV leaders debate  was basically a Q&A on the future of steel.  For the early part of this short-election campaign steel has been the only game in town and as such education has taken a back seat.

Policy consensus

On some of the real meaty areas of education delivery we are in a little bit of limbo.  On curriculum reform, on qualifications and to an extent on continued professional development, the direct of travel has been set and there is a lot of consensus around where we should be going.  Added to which pioneer schools are in the process of shaping that outlook, parties have been understandably reluctant to preempt the decision making process.  There isn’t a whole lot of debate to be had around these issues that hasn’t already taken place prior to the election period.

Given that policy consensus there was never going to be any major changes on the big picture areas and so creating differences in approach would need to be more subtle.  There are some signature policies that have been put forward by the parties but not on radical change.

Building Bridges

I think if Leighton Andrews had still been in post we would have seen a far more fiery education debate going into this election.  I dare say that even if all was quiet on the political front the wider teaching profession would have been far more vocal and combative in its review of the role of the Welsh Government.  I also think it is a little hard to believe we would have reached quite a mutually supportive position on those policy issues outlined above.  The hostile relationships and aggravation that existed during the early years of the 4th Assembly would have provided a more direct platform for opposition parties to launch their education attacks.

Huw Lewis deserves a lot of credit for rebuilding relationships after he took over the post.  There is still a lot of disagreement on policy.  National testing is a prime example of where teachers remain critical of the Welsh Government.  However, the tone of those discussions are far more conciliatory.  There is an environment now where the workforce can be constructively critical of the Welsh Government while the Welsh Government are more constructive and respectful when implementing policy.  This bridge building work has taken a lot of the potential heat out of the debate and allowed a space to breath for the Welsh Government in entering the election period.

The Figureheads

Perhaps one of the big issues is that we haven’t had the big names clashing.  Neither UKIP or the Green party education spokesperson has any real recognition value.  With Huw Lewis standing down as an Assembly Member there’s a sense that he isn’t really central to this election.  That leaves Simon Thomas and Angela Burns who are themselves somewhat sidelined by the fact that they are engaged in a head to head fight for the Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire constituency, and Aled Roberts who is fighting for every last vote in the North Wales Regional List.  These are spokespeople without the luxury and freedom of safe seats.  That will have demands on their ability to take time off from individual campaigns top give wider focus to a policy area.  While it has happened it has not happened quite as prominently as would have been the case if their own elections were not so tight.

That is not to criticise the individuals, and in fairness they have all come together for education debates at hustings for NUT Cymru and for the BBC, but it has taken the edge of the debate as it could have been.

Do the parties want that focus?

I think it is fair to say that Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Lib Dems do want an education focus.  Plaid have done a lot of work on their manifesto and their Teachers Premium policy is potentially an attractive vote winner with the profession.  Equally the Welsh Lib Dems have gone into the election with cutting class sizes as a key pledge and championing their pupil premium negotiations as a way of showing their effectiveness at the last Assembly.  That said I’m not sure the enthusiasm extends to the other parties.

Welsh Labour will argue that they have a positive message on education.  They do of course have a spending pledge central to their major policies going into this campaign.  Looking back on their record I think there are some real successes they can point to.  That said after such a long period of being in government there is also a lot of areas that opposition parties can exploit.  For any party of government riding out the election without a significant policy debate is a far more comfortable prospect than daily scrutiny.  I’m not accusing Labour of actively avoiding those engagements.  Indeed Huw Lewis kindly took part in national NUT hustings and we have had Labour candidates participate in several others across Wales.  However, it is no doubt electorally advantageous for them not to seek them out.

For some time the Welsh Conservatives have had a major focus on health which somewhat marginalises their focus on education.  As well as this the acadamies policy in England has left them vulnerable.  Just as the junior doctor strike has put them a little on the back foot in discussing the NHS, the fallout emanating from a series of Tory MPs questioning the effectiveness and rationale behind the acadamies roll-out leaves them open to criticisms here.  While the party in Wales have ruled out acadamies, some of their policies around how schools would be funded and how they are democratically accountable have been jumped on by rivals as an acadamies by another name approach.  You get the sense that these factors have partly lead to fewer engagements on education from the party.

UKIP, as I have said, proposed some interesting ideas on education.  However, the one that stood out has been a disaster for them.  Pretty much the only education debate that has cut through has been UKIPs commitment to grammar schools.  It is an unpopular and ill-thought through standpoint and you sense that being constantly on the defensive has not been a comfortable position for the party.  It is no wonder this is therefore an area that they have perhaps chosen to only discuss when prompted.

The real shame about the fact we have so far not had this discussion is that there is a real debate to be had.  There’s a lot of consensus but also a lot of differences between the parties.  There is a real choice for the electorate in terms of what they want the future of education in Wales to look like.  Where there have been clashes on education in the leaders debate it has been punchy and challenging.  What’s more the likes of Huw Lewis, Simon Thomas, Aled Roberts and Angela Burns are all up there some of the best in their parties and really bring out the best in Welsh political discussion.


Reflections of Election Day

28 Apr

Next week Wales goes to the polls to vote for the make-up of the next Welsh Assembly, and as a by-product its next Welsh Government.  On that day I will be in work as normal.  I will go to the gym as usual before getting in.  I will work until 5pm; drive home; put my kids to bed; walk up the polling station to vote; have some food; watch some TV or read and probably go to bed and to sleep by 10pm.

On Election Day five years ago things were very different.  I had some fantastic results nights during my previous life working and consumed by party politics.  I worked for Plaid Cymru the year they went into government and on a constituency scale having worked for Rhodri Glyn Thomas, Adam Price and Jonathan Edwards I knew only winning.  In the case of RGT, if I recall correctly, we won the highest majority in Wales outside of Dafydd El in 2007.  However, to repeat a sentence already used in this blog post…..five years ago things were very different.

There’s a sense of optimism on any election day.  I think over the course of the campaign there has to be so much positive reinforcement and outward looking promotion that you almost inevitably become a little indoctrinated.  By consistently having to talk up your chances, regardless of the actual state of play, for the sake of the media and your own party campaigners, it is easy to start believing it.  There’s something of a self-inflicted Stockholm syndrome taking place.  Party activities, members, staffers and candidates all brainwashing themselves into thinking that this is their year.  This is their election.

Five years ago I was realistic going into election night.  I don’t think anyone in Plaid Cymru was under any illusions that the election would be anything other than tough.  In fact, it was the commonly held view that there would be a trade-off in electoral success for the positive referendum result.  That was a view accepted before even the One Wales agreement had been signed.  During the campaign I flagged up quite early that I thought Llanelli was in trouble.  That said, you live in hope more than expectation at times.

The saying ignorance is bliss is certainly true on election day and there’s a sense of euphoria in knowing that you’ve always got a chance to win while the polls remain open and, after such an exhausting period of work, whatever happens it is at least coming to an end.  Having spoken to a few people working in different parties during this election it is clear the race to the end is still an existing phenomenon and not confined by political colours.  The pressure and hours that staff, and of course candidates, put in over not just the election period but the months leading up to it shouldn’t be underestimated.  Even ignoring the stupidly long days, the lack of time away from work and the constant over analysing ridiculously minor issues, just think about the toll a month or more of stodgy on the go food has on your mental and physical outlook!

Come 10pm on May 5th 2011 I was exhausted.  As well as the weeks and months of work that had preceded it I’d been up since about 4am delivering ‘Get the Vote Out’ messages.  If I recall I think I slept for about 45 minutes, if that, under a desk at Ty Gwynfor (Plaid HQ) after the polls closed before waking ready for feedback to start coming in from election counts.

History will tell you that it wasn’t a good night for Plaid and no doubt you can imagine the atmosphere.  The only comparison I could make would be the loneliness of the changing room of a losing boxer.  You put so much work and effort in and ultimately there is no consolation for coming second.  There were a few positive rounds.  Seeing the Plaid Cymru Ministers from the One Wales Government returned, quite comfortably, despite strong constituency challenges showed that there was an appreciation of what had been accomplished previously.  Still, there was no doubting it was a unanimous points defeat.  The Llanelli result perhaps tipping the analogy over into a late TKO.  That seats like Llanelli and some regional swings came down to such fine margins was a bitter pill to swallow.  A couple of hundred votes spread in different ways and the narrative drastically changes.

I was particularly upset with the Llanelli result as there wasn’t a challenge.  There had been a bundle recount but when there was only 80 votes in there I couldn’t believe no one called for a full recount.  I’m not suggesting the result would be different.  The recount could have returned the exact same result, it could also have returned an even bigger win for Keith Davies.  However, not asking for it just became a little symbol of a defeatist attitude to me over the course of that night.  Then again, sitting in a room in Cardiff it was perhaps easy for me to take a more objective view than those more fuelled by the emotions of the night on a local level.

Politics at its worst is a tribal game.  I speak from the perspective of someone no longer involved, directly at least, with politics in Wales, and certainly not in any party political capacity, but it’s the very reason I decided to want out.  I’ve no doubt my younger self was just as petty and tribal as some of the politics we see today, but I am so glad to be out of that environment and have had the opportunity to work with and challenge politicians from all parties since that election.  Just seeing some of the individual and even official twitter accounts involved in Welsh politics is enough to make me despair.  I really hope that come 10pm on election night we see some grown up interactions.  Remember that someone who has put their life on hold to campaign will be feeling the loss more than anyone.  It is a personal rejection of sorts.  For some it will also mean the end of their livelihoods, perhaps even careers, and that includes support staff.

I doubt very much I would ever be involved in politics in the same way again but if I ever was then I could only hope it was with a view of cross-party working.  That the Assembly has lost in Jocelyn Davies on of its greatest political collaborators, someone so skilled at finding resolutions across the political divide, is a particular sadness for me in looking forward to the 5th Assembly.  The likely make up of the institution post May 5th mean politicians of her caliber and approach are needed more than ever.  They exist in every party and hopefully they set the tone for the next five years.

One of the things I really remember from that night in 2011 was a text from Adrian Masters.  It may have been a throwaway line and I am sure, knowing how nice a person Adrian is and his political fairness, that he would have text around contacts in all the parties.  However his message just simply saying (don’t quote me verbatim but something like) “hope you’re ok” meant a lot at the time and still does. He may not remember it even. I do.

I haven’t gone through the various discussions, fallouts and feelings from that night.  Partly because I’m not sure what good it would do; partly because it may not actually be that interesting and partly because those conversations where not mine alone to disclose.

I’m sure there are many a story from the different political party HQs that both mirror and contrast with my own experience.  Indeed, I have many others of my own that do.  All I will say is that to everyone who is sitting down with such an investment in this election good luck, and don’t forget to take a step back and appreciate the wider landscape when the dust settles.  Life inside the campaign always feels that bit narrower, that bit more pressurised and that bit more immediate than it should.


One final piece of advice that has helped me.  Whatever you do, hold on to the friendships and relationships you make in politics, but make sure you have some outside that world to get some real perspective on what is happening around you.  No one else is constantly discussing anywhere near the things you are, and only talking to the same people about the same things will eventually drive you mad.


What next for Welsh education? – Western Mail Article

28 Apr

I’ve written pretty in-depth reviews of the manifestos for the Welsh election.  The whole lot are collated in this blog post here.  However, the Western Mail kindly gave me the chance to pen a more condensed version of each.  The below article was the best I could edit down to.

Plaid Cymru

The first out of the blocks to publish their manifesto, Plaid Cymru has made education a key plank of its electoral pitch.

There are some exciting and innovative policies that will be very well-received by teachers, parents and pupils alike.

There is a strong focus, as has been the trend over the past few years in Wales, to ensure that the teaching profession are at the heart of the decision-making process.

Plaid has put forward a series of policies that aim to challenge the status-quo and the dreaded buzzword “Pisa” does not escape these pages.

However, the polices around childcare, school improvement, self-regulation and teacher training all offer a clear path to how the party believes it can work with the teaching profession to achieve success.

Perhaps the most eye-catching, head-turning policy in the Plaid manifesto, and arguably of the election for teachers, is the offer of a 10% annual bonus to all teachers who reach certain CPD (continuing professional development) standards.

The party’s aim is two-fold. Firstly, to reinforce the status of teaching as a profession on the same formal standing as doctors, lawyers and engineers and the like.

Secondly, to build professional capacity to ultimately have a master’s level workforce.

As with any policy implementation, of course, will be critical to its success. How can you guarantee all teachers the ability to secure a 10% CPD bonus if we currently have a system where you can’t guarantee all teachers access, or at least equal access in relation to time and quality, of CPD?

Any future Plaid Cymru government would need to win that debate. Certainly, however, the promise of a pay bonus and training will be a combination that plays well on the doorstep with teachers who have seen their pay cut and access to CPD eroded over many years.

Welsh Liberal Democrats

The Welsh Lib Dems have traditionally had a strong focus on education and you can see that influence in their manifesto.

Their lead policy is a commitment to establish a “class sizes reduction fund” of £42m over the next Assembly term to ensure that infant classes normally contain no more than 25 pupils, to give teachers the time to focus on a child’s individual needs, which we believe is central to raising standards.

Class sizes are an issue that are always top of the agenda for the profession, particularly in light of increasingly tight school budgets actually resulting in class sizes going up more often than not.

Aside from this the other big Lib Dem proposal for schools is the expansion of the Pupil Premium.

The pledge is to continue to expand the Pupil Premium and increase the early years’ Pupil Premium every year to reach £1,000 per eligible child by the end of the next Assembly.

The pupil premium was one of the big wins for the Lib Dems during the past Assembly term.

Their negotiations with the Welsh Government secured a major boost for schools and the money was a huge relief for school leaders.

Underfunding of Welsh schools is not a new problem sadly – and it is one that is seemingly getting continually worse.

Any additional funding is always going to be critical and having a continuation of the pupil premium, let alone the proposed increase, is certainly a policy that will register with those on the frontline.

Green Party

The general policies in the Green Party manifesto 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 how 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.

There is a strong support for the Foundation Phase, including a pledge to raise the starting age of formal education, as well as plans to reduce the bureaucratic burden on teachers.

However, perhaps their signature education policy is for class sizes to be capped at 20 in Wales.

This undercuts the Lib Dems’ pledge slightly, going for an even smaller class size number.

Notably, these are the only two parties who have given such prominence to this high-profile concern.


It would have been easy to expect Ukip to produce a manifesto ignoring devolved issues and simply publish an EU referendum campaign document under another name.

However, it has to be said within their manifesto there is a series of thought-provoking, if at times detail-light, education policies.

The Ukip manifesto has some very attractive policies around supply teaching, where the party advocate ensuring that supply teachers are paid in accordance with their position on the salary spine and receive pension rights, cutting out the 30%-50% cost of agencies and saving taxpayer money.

There is also a commitment on tackling the workload crisis including a pledge to decrease the amount of paperwork teachers’ deal with, such as unduly elaborate individual lesson plans, excessive data collection, overly prescriptive internal assessments and dialogue-based marking schemes. Teachers will also welcome the focus on better funding.

However, the headline policy of this manifesto is Ukip’s calls for a return to a discredited and backwards-looking grammar school system, which sadly jettisons the legitimacy of anything else they are putting before the electorate.

Determining the life chances of children based on their perceived ability, as if this is fixed at such a young age, ignores the fact that some pupils develop later than others.

While Ukip cling to that narrow-focused policy, it is pretty hard to give them credibility on other areas.

This manifesto has some interesting themes with polices that should push the other parties into thinking about their offerings.

Ukip have put in work on some areas of interest that should lead to a further debate when they elect AMs.

It is just a shame that there are also some policies that have been shoehorned in here and which would be disastrous for Welsh education, that have undermined the total package on offer.

Welsh Conservatives

What we have had from the Welsh Conservatives is a series of policies that are constructive, are largely positive and offer a collaborative way forward.

They are, for the most part, in line with what the profession has been doing and focus on some of the gaps that are already identified and would be welcomed by the profession.

At the same time, they are detail-light and perhaps in some instances do not move the debate on.

The objectives and ambitions put forward by the Conservatives will be welcomed, but may leave readers questioning how exactly they will be achieved and to what end.

Calls to ensure a greater proportion of funding reaches the classroom will be well-received, albeit there will need to be more discussion on what that means for the link with local authorities.

The promise of a veto on school closures for parents and governors will also be attractive in some parts of Wales, particularly in rural communities.

Equally, calling for regional consortia to be scrapped, a plan that has consensus across a number of the manifestos, will certainly register with some teachers who have been left unimpressed by those services.

One big concern is the commitment to “deliver a sustainable and effective school building programme, by embracing elements of a public–private partnership model”.

There is some confusion about how similar this would be to a PFI (private finance initiative) approach, which would naturally send alarm bells ringing.

The timing with the Edinburgh PFI school scandal is not ideal either, putting people once again on edge about the safety and sustainability of such schemes.

Welsh Labour

Labour were the last of the parties to publish their manifesto and in some senses had the most difficult job.

As the party of government running education in Wales for the past 17 years, it is hard to package a manifesto as offering fresh, new ideas.

In many cases, what we see is a commitment to continue some of the programmes already in place and build on what the party deem to be their key achievements.

The main Labour manifesto was very light on policy but what they have done is produce a separate, education-specific manifesto, to provide a more in-depth breakdown of what they are proposing for the sector if returned to government.

It is a little disappointing there’s no reference to class sizes or workload. There is also a little bit of a vagueness running through the document.

For example, there is a welcomed commitment to a new supply model but no detail as to what Labour believe that should look like.

That said there are some real positives contained within these pages and I think it offers a far more constructive vision than we saw from the previous minister’s “Education Makes a Difference” plan.

This manifesto has a good amount of encouraging policies around supply, curriculum reform and teacher training that creates a platform for greater collaboration with the teaching profession in future.

It appears to build on much of the work that has already been taking place and suggests a continuity of policy.

Some of the key new policies consist of an additional £100m for school standards; pilot “lunch and fun” clubs in the summer school holidays to improve the nutrition of disadvantaged young people; and a “Music Endowment Fund” to help youngsters access music services and instruments.

You can find the original version online here.


Manifesto Roundup – The Election of Ideas

20 Apr

I thought I’d bring all my manifesto reviews together into one neat blogpost to save time and effort for everyone.  I’m considerate like that.  You are welcome

I have to say whatever your views on the individual policies each of these manifestos, to a lesser or greater degree, is establishing a platform to have a genuine education debate for this election.  I stated at the start of the year that one of my big hopes for Welsh education in 2016 was for education to be the election of ideas.  To a point I think we have that.

There is a lot of consensus points across the manifestos but equally they are also offering a different approach to delivering education and each has some standout policies that distinguish one party from the next.  There is a genuine choice in regards to education at this election.  I hope that some of these reviews will help you make a decision from a more informed basis.

So in order of how they were published:

Plaid Cymru

The Green Party

Welsh Lib Dems



Welsh Labour

Welsh Labour Supplementary Education Document

Of course the manifesto that I would suggest you should most get behind is that of the NUT.  You can find that here.  Many of the issues in there have been taken up by the political parties which is great to see.



Welsh Labour – Ambitious and Learning

20 Apr


So yesterday I published what I thought was the last of my manifesto reviews.  It tipped me over into the 13,000 word territory.  More effort than I think is perhaps necessary for the amount of people who will read this!

As it turns out that was not the final chapter as I was soon informed that Labour have produced a secondary stand alone education supplement, ‘Ambitious and Learning,’ to their manifesto with more detail.  Given the lack of detail and total absence of some key issues was a primary criticism of mine on the original document I was relieved to see this.

As with their main manifesto it opens with a list of their key achievements:

Over the last term of government we have:

  • Delivered over £100m of additional frontline funding to Welsh schools in spite of savage Tory cuts to Wales

  • Ensured the best ever GCSE results, nearly 8% higher than 2011

  • Developed a national system of School Categorisation for primary and secondary schools

  • Supported 15,000 individuals into good quality jobs through Jobs Growth Wales

  • Ensured total income to Welsh Higher Education has risen by over £200m

  • Kept tuition fees low for Welsh students meaning they leave university with an average of £22,000 less debt than English students

  • Introduced national Reading and Numeracy tests

  • Kept the Education Maintenance Allowance scrapped by the Tories in England

  • Funded a new Pupil Deprivation Grant and Early Years Pupil Deprivation Grant

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

As I said on my original post I am not going to go through these as I am more focused on future commitments.  I will say that I don’t see introducing standardised testing or school categorization as an achievement but that comes down to a difference in educational ideology I guess.  It is of course correct that any party of Government does take the opportunity to promote its work.

Working through the rest of the document I am very pleased that a lot of my concerns from reviewing the main manifesto have been addressed.  Some of those flagship missing areas of policy are mentioned here showing that they haven’t been completely ignored after all.

Some of what is in the main manifesto is repeated here, and given that I have already written the review of those, I am going to only look at policies that were not previously covered.

Early Years

Continue our innovative Flying Start intervention programme

Maintain our commitment to the Foundation Phase

I’m a huge supporter of the Foundation Phase and I continue to believe it is arguably the brightest achievement of the Labour party since devolution occurred.  It was a bold and brave departure from the status quo of how things used to be done and I am delighted to see the commitment to it set out here in the manifesto.  My concern comes from the fact that it cannot be something you solely pay lip service to.  the truth is that policies such as establishing age-related expectations within the Foundation Phase, and the national literacy and numeracy tests, are eroding the ethos of the Foundation Phase.  It may not be the intention of Welsh Labour to have that happen but that is what is taking place.  This commitment is very welcome but it has to be matched by reviewing the way other policies, even those championed by the party, are hindering the influence of the Foundation Phase.

Seek cross party support for legislation to end the defence of “Reasonable Punishment”

This issue seemingly split not only the Assembly over the past term but also the Labour party within the institution.  As someone who supported the “smacking ban” I’m glad to see that it is back on the agenda.  I’m not sure that full cross-party support can be achieved but hopefully it is something all parties will be willing to have a constructive debate on.

Maintain our Free Breakfasts in Primary Schools programme for the whole of the next Assembly term

Great to see.  I’m a big believer in this policy and it is good to see it given backing yet again.

In line with our Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, we will work to ensure that by 2025 all children leaving primary school are reading well

This is pretty much the same policy as the Lib Dems proposed in eradicating illiteracy by 2025.  As I stated in response to that pledge I have no problem in targeting literacy levels.  These are the basic things that all schools and parents need to concern themselves with.  They are of course not simply an education issue.  We have to look at the wider aspects of access to libraries, resources in the home etc.  However, it is absolutely crucial we continue the focus on literacy levels we have seen over the past few years.

My concern is that this, like the PISA test targets and child poverty targets before, will end up being another example of a top level target set in a manifesto that is not achievable.  That is not me saying it cannot be achieved but recognizing there are few nations in the world who have 100% literacy levels and questioning how realistic it is to get there by 2025 against funding concerns.


“We will not replicate the Tory model of Free Schools and Academies here in Wales.” This opening to the schools section will be a thoroughly welcome pledge.  It has been the long-term policy of Labour but it can’t be reiterated enough.

Further to some of the commitments outlined here that were covered in the initial Labour manifesto review we also have a few other commitments.

Develop a new Curriculum for Wales

This is something that we know is ongoing through the work of the pioneer schools and so there isn’t much else to say other than the fact it is a commitment from the party.

Develop a new system of accredited Initial Teacher Education and Training

Again, as above this is the announcement of work Labour have already started in government.

Work towards establishing teaching as an all-Masters profession

It is positive to see this pledge as it is something that I have supported for a long time.  It is good to see Labour commit to it in their manifesto but there doesn’t appear to be further detail as to how it will be achieved.  The existing MEP programme is unlikely to fully create a Masters profession in its current form so there will have to be some rethinking about the best way to achieve this ambition.

Develop a new model for the employment and development of supply teachers in Wales

While the Labour manifesto doesn’t give the same clear vision seen in some of the other manifestos about what a new supply system will look like it is still very positive to see the need for change is recognised.  For too long politicians in Wales have been in denial about the challenges we face in creating a positive supply sector.  The tide very much feels like it is turning on that.  I only hope that the development of a new model under a future Labour government would include negotiation and collaboration with the teaching profession.

Encourage more Support Staff in Wales to develop their skills and become Higher Level Teaching Assistants

This is a good idea.  There has been a huge increase in the numbers of support staff while the numbers of teachers has decrease.  If we are saying the biggest impact on children’s education is the level of education they have in the classroom (and I have some other views on that assumption) then we must ensure they are always with the highest qualified staff.  While we aim to see teaching become a Masters level profession we shouldn’t leave teaching assistants behind and they too should be given access to professional development.

Pilot ‘lunch and fun’ clubs in the summer school holidays to improve the nutrition of disadvantaged young people

It was only in the past few days that I was doing interviews on this subject, noting the concern of teachers that those children from deprived communities face periods of poor nutrition over school holidays.  They often note when children return they are less engaged, less physically active and emotionally disadvantaged.  This could be a very important policy not simply for educational purposes but also for social cohesion.

Extend the Pupil Offer developed in our Challenge Schools

The jury is still out on the impact of challenge schools but I do believe that it deserves time to show if it is working or not.  I would hope that the extension of the pupil offer is also matched with the extension of the schools challenge cymru initiative.

Set new conditions of funding for sports and cultural organisations that receive public monies to support young people from deprived backgrounds

It is important to encourage greater participation across different backgrounds.  Naturally I would need to see the conditions to make a judgement on the policy but I think it is absolutely correct to expect bodies who receive public funding to engage with all elements of our society, culturally and across genders.

The Verdict

I understand the reasoning behind splitting the depth of detail that exists in this education document from the main manifesto.  It provides a more in-depth approach while having a better snappy soundbite focused mini document that is more easily consumed by the public.  Given the lack of engagement with manifestos that is a smart approach.  I’m not sure why this approach wasn’t made more explicit upon publication however as it did create a perception issue for Labour, if nothing else, and a problem that really they neither needed nor, as it turned out, warranted.

In terms of the verdict on this document I am happy to report it leaves me feeling far more encouraged than I was about the Labour approach 24 hours ago.  Whatever your views on individual policies all the political parties, to a lesser or greater degree, put forward pledges that gave a good platform to debate.  It would have been nothing short of scandalous had the party of government been the sole manifesto that did not.  This supplementary education manifesto does indeed make a good contribution to the election of education ideas.

I am disappointing to say that there is no reference to class sizes and in particular that workload has been overlooked.  Given the level of discussions there have been with the Welsh Government on the impact of workload on individual teachers and standards I would have hoped that would be acknowledged.  There is also a little bit of a vagueness running through the document.  For example there is a welcomed commitment to a new supply model but no detail as to what Labour believe that should look like.  That said, there are some real positives contained within these pages and I think it offers a far more constructive vision than we saw from the previous Minister’s ‘Education Makes a Difference’ plan.  It has a good amount of encouraging policies around supply, curriculum reform and teachers training that creates both a platform for greater collaboration with the teaching profession and, interestingly, for negotiation with other political parties.


Welsh Labour – Together for Wales

19 Apr



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:


  • 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.


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.