Daring to be ever more different

A continuing focus on developing a distinctive Welsh vision of education will characterise the coming academic year in Wales.

Jane Davidson, Welsh Assembly minister for education and lifelong learning, outlined her ideas in The Learning Country.

As she continues to work towards its goals this year, developments will have crucial political significance as the second set of elections since devolution will be held in May next year.

This academic year sees the implementation of various schemes designed to meet Welsh needs.The launch of integrated centres - housing, education, childcare and health services - is intended to help the large number of isolated, rural Welsh communities.

Ms Davidson will also examine Welsh-medium education, and consider allowing pupils to transfer to Welsh-medium secondaries from English-medium primaries. A scheme to give English-speaking pupils intensive Welsh language teaching in their last year of primary may be piloted later this academic year.

Having selected the 18 schools to pilot the new Welsh baccalaureate exam in September 2003, the Assembly will now focus on providing future candidates with information about the qualification.

In the coming months, the Assembly will also debate the 2002 Education Act, determining which elements to adopt. Ms Davidson has rejected English plans for specialist schools.

"It is an exciting time to learn in Wales," said an Assembly spokesperson. "We are looking forward to furthering The Learning Country recommendations in the light of the Education Act."

But all plans depend on funding. In October, the Assembly finance minister Edwina Hart will announce how she intends to allocate the money granted to her by Gordon Brown's comprehensive spending review in July.

"We will be looking for at least a similar percentage increase to schools in England," said Gethin Lewis, Welsh secretary of the National Union of Teachers.

"Any lack of funding in schools would be felt at the start of the financial year in April 2003. Resulting staff redundancies would clash with the Assembly elections."

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