Call for Welsh to 'wake up'

Union boss wants leaders in Wales to be more open to ideas from outside, reports Nicola Porter

A flamboyant union leader is expected to attack what she describes as the "cosy consensus of the Welsh education scene" in a major speech.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, will also challenge Welsh movers and shakers of education policy to be more open to criticism from over the border.

The straight-talking union leader comes to Wales next week under a cloud of controversy after her damning critique of a recent English white paper outlining Prime Minister Tony Blair's vision of trust schools.

But while she admires Wales for scrapping league tables, introducing the Welsh baccalaureate and rejecting academies, she is less than impressed with other policy moves.

According to Dr Philip Dixon, director of ATL Cymru, she will challenge the Welsh to get round the table with the rest of Britain and share good practice.

Dr Bousted will deliver her speech to delegates at ATL Cymru's annual conference at the Wales Millennium Centre next Wednesday.

The contents, which have not yet been finalised, will include a "wake up call" for the Welsh, Dr Dixon claimed.

He said the "feisty" leader of the union, which saw its national membership go up by 22 per cent in 2005, would not be coming to Wales to sing all the country's praises in educational policy.

Included in her draft speech, entitled What Wales and England Can Teach Each Other, will be an attack on a lack of social partnerships in Wales to drive the educational reform agenda forward.

She will claim "clubby chumminess", a feature of the education scene in Wales, is not a strong enough base for revolutionary reform without partnership. Dr Dixon said one of her main criticisms would be directed at Welsh funding mechanisms.

By June, a five-strong group of Assembly members will report on its investigations into the so-called funding fog in Welsh education after hearing evidence from Assembly officials, the Welsh Local Government Association, unions and schools. Dr Dixon said Dr Bousted would be watching the findings closely - and hoping the English example would influence its recommendations.

He said: "Dr Bousted believes the English way of money being 100 per cent passported from Westminster to schools is something the Welsh could learn from.

"I personally believe we don't so much have a funding fog in Wales as a funding tunnel - money lost along the way to schools needs to be accounted for."

Elsewhere, Dr Bousted is expected to pour scorn on the workforce agreement by claiming it does not take into account independence of thought and action in other areas.

She will also ask whether Wales is hitting the grade in tackling underachievement in the same way as England. But Dr Dixon said their leader never intended the criticism to be an attack on devolution.

He said: "I think Dr Bousted will want Welsh educationists to open their minds to the good things happening in England, and learn from them.

"She believes Wales should determine its own education policy. But this should not stop partnerships being forged outside of the country."

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