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Assembly tuned up for post-16 revolution;FE Focus

Huw Richards on what is being offered for FE by the big four vying for the 60 seats on the Welsh parliament in the May elections

A REVOLUTION in post-16 education and training is one of the key proposals in Labour's manifesto bid to run the Welsh Assembly after the May elections.

Welsh Education Minister. Peter Hain, this week presented the recently published Education and Training Action Group Report as the basis of his party's reforms for further education.

Labour also promised an extra pound;100 million for FE and pound;300m for training from the Welsh allocation in the Comprehensive Spending Review. "This will put Wales in the lead. The rest of Britain will want to follow," he said.

As other election manifestos were unveiled this week, education and training at 16-plus emerged as a campaign issue for two of the other three main political parties battling for seats in the Welsh Assembly.

Labour was portrayed by its rivals as being London-controlled following the controversial leadership election in the wake of Ron Davies's resignation last autum. This resulted in the Welsh Secretary, Alun Michael becoming Labour's candidate to be the First Secretary of the assembly. Mr Michael, however, rejected claims that the manifesto was dictated from Westminster. "Labour's manifesto is the result of six months of discussion and debate within the Welsh Labour party," he said.

Plaid Cymru MP Cynog Dafis, making the Welsh-language introduction at the manifesto launch, referred to "yr dictat Downing Street" while Plaid leader Dafydd Wigley said: "This is the one party manifesto that has not had to be cleared by London to make sure that it has been sanitised."

Liberal Democrat leader Mike German, at his party's press conference this week, described Plaid as a "one-issue pressure group".

The Liberal Democrats' education spokeswoman, Jenny Randerson, said: "Our policies were made in Wales, by Welsh people who wanted the best policies for Wales.

"There was no federal party involvement. The underlying philosophy is the same, but the proposals are distinct."

Ms Randerson, who has lectured at Coleg Glan Hafren for 23 years, said:"There will be a lot of people with a direct knowledge of FE and youth work - Alun Michael used to be a youth worker - who will want to address the problems of the sector."

Mr Dafis was asked at Plaid's launch about the similarities between the three non-Conservative parties on post-compulsory education. He said: "This area is a very good example of where a consensus has been built up in Wales."

While this may make further education less contentious as a campaign issue, it should ensure progress once the assembly is elected. Mr Dafis and Ms Randerson both emphasised that their policies were in place before the report of the education and training group, which forms the basis of Labour's proposals.

They want a national lifelong learning body to cover the work currently performed by the Further Education Funding Council for Wales and the training and enterprise councils.

They are keen to foster co-operation rather than competition andwant a common funding basis for post-16 education. They are also calling for further development of the Welsh baccalaureate.

The Conservative education spokesman, Alun Cairns said he would continue to emphasise competition and choice in FE and that the Conservatives should benefit from offering something distinctive.

"The Education and Training Action Group proposals would destroy competition, create a new quango and reduce the choices available to young people," he said.

The Liberal Democrats, who have promised an extra pound;5m for special lifelong learning measures, are also calling for greater collaboration between further and higher education and for financial incentives for colleges to develop spin-off businesses.

Plaid's other election pledges include funding for an information education sector, working through community groups.

Mr Dafis is a former teacher and has been MP for Ceredigion since 1992. Second on the regional list for Mid and West Wales, he is likely to be in a tight contest with Alun Michael for the final regional seat.

Labour has also promised an increase from 9,000 to 14,000 in the number of modern apprenticeships in Wales and the extension of the New Deal to cover health and caring services.

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