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David Davies: Education crisis is looming in Wales

Conservatives call on Welsh Education Minister to take responsibility.

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales

"There should be no argument about the content of today's motion, which is why the Conservative group has not sought to amend it.

In fact, we were slightly concerned that, in tabling amendments, the opposition parties may have allowed this motion to lose some of its clarity. Although we will support the Liberal Democrat amendments, I hope that the clarity is not lost.

That this motion has been proposed at all is testament to this administration's monumental failure to properly fund and deliver the world-class education system that Wales needs.

Over the past few years, popular, high-achieving infant and junior schools have been closed down, and we have heard endless complaints from headteachers that money promised to them in a blaze of publicity never seems to reach them.

We watched aghast two weeks ago as a scythe was taken to jobs and courses at Coleg Gwent, and we wonder where the axe will fall next. We are told of the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the higher education sector in Wales in relation to the impact of tuition fees in England, because nobody will say what will happen in Wales until after the next Assembly elections.

We hear stories everyday about gross mismanagement in the education funding bodies and the grotesque micro-management of education providers—the teachers and headteachers, who should be left to get on with doing the job that they know and love so well.

This is not so much a system from cradle to grave, as a failure from nursery to bursary.

Make no mistake, things will not get better; they are about to get a whole lot worse. The need for it to be accepted that the Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning is responsible for the policies delivered by education quangos, such as Education and Learning Wales, is about to become even more acute.

We already know of the problems facing us in implementing the teachers' workload agreement. There is the lack of money set aside, and the fact that the money that has been set aside has come from other budgets, such as that for the grants for education support and training programme.

The biggest teaching union, the National Union of Teachers, does not want anything to do with this agreement and other large unions, such as the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, are now expressing concerns.

However, there are even bigger problems afoot than that. ELWa has come up with a new policy: to achieve parity of funding for schools and further education colleges.

That sounds fine until you realise that it intends to do this by reducing, year on year, the amount of money that goes to school sixth forms.

The inevitable result will be the closure of some school sixth forms, with others left offering a much-reduced curriculum.

At best, pupils will have to travel much further for their courses, and, at worst, we could see replicated the situation now faced in Torfaen, where pupils who were expecting to do A-levels or further education courses in a sixth-form college, have suddenly found that that is no longer feasible.

It is frustrating that the Minister seems to regard this as a matter solely for ELWa, as though it has nothing whatsoever to do with her and she has no more control over of Wales's education policy than Fidel Castro has over America's foreign policy.

There is another time bomb on its way for hard-pressed parents. Those parents whose children have a right to free school transport, because they live outside the defined radius — it varies between local authorities, but it is usually about two and a half miles from the school—are about to see that right taken away as a result of the school transport Act.

Those sorts of rights should be guaranteed, but, under the terms of the Act, local education authorities will decide whether free transport will be provided.

LEAs are dependent on the Assembly for funding, which the Assembly has been cutting back on.

I predict that when the right to free school transport is taken away, the Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning will not take the blame for it; she will pass it on to the LEAs.

We need to make the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, ELWa, and all these other bodies, accountable.

We also need to state that responsibility for education lies with the Minister, because she is always delighted to take credit for any morsel of good news in the education sector, while deliberately blaming everyone and anyone in sight, apart from herself, for the chaos that her policies inflict."

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