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Devolution a good thing, say parents

Many people think schools are getting better despite problems with behaviour, according to a TES Cymru survey. Karen Thornton and Martin Farrell report.

More than a third of Welsh parents believe schools have improved since devolution, despite worsening pupil behaviour. But only around one in eight knows that Jane Davidson is the minister for education and lifelong learning, according to an exclusive TES Cymru poll (see right).

Four times as many parents (36 per cent) say standards have improved as say they have worsened (9 per cent), while 41 per cent claim they have stayed the same. Mothers (40 per cent) were much more positive than fathers (29 per cent).

There is also support for specific Welsh Assembly government initiatives, such as providing free school breakfasts for primary pupils, an idea that is to be piloted at a cost of pound;1.5 million. Nearly three in five parents back the scheme in theory - although two-thirds would rather see the money being spent in the classroom.

However, fewer than two in five parents currently support plans for a play-based foundation stage, in which formal lessons would not start until children are seven.

And asked what subjects secondary pupils should have to study until they are 16, parents chose English, maths (both 99 per cent), science, physical education (both 83 per cent) and information technology (74 per cent), followed by Welsh (59 per cent) and a modern foreign language (55 per cent).

Information and communication technology and foreign languages are not compulsory at present in Wales after the age of 14, but Welsh is.

Middle-class parents ranked a modern foreign language (61 per cent) as more important than Welsh (53 per cent), but the figures were reversed among working-class parents.

Despite many parents believing standards have risen, almost half feel pupils' behaviour has deteriorated over the past five years. Slightly more (46 per cent) say behaviour has worsened in their own child's school than generally (44 per cent): usually, parents are more positive about their own school.

A Welsh Assembly spokeswoman said: "It is encouraging to see most parents do not feel that behaviour in schools has declined.

"This is a major testimony to the great work that is being undertaken in our schools and local education authorities, especially given the problems we face in society such as rising levels of substance misuse and family break-ups."

Roughly equal numbers of parents say education standards are "better" (12 per cent) or "worse" (13 per cent) in Wales than in England, but most say they are the same (37 per cent) or feel unable to pass judgment (38 per cent).

But school funding differences between English and Welsh schools remain a sore point among many parents. A third said they now believed they were worse off than schools across the border. Parents in predominantly urban south-east Wales were more likely to complain of poor funding than those in the mainly rural west, mid and north Wales.

Brian Rowlands, secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association Cymru, said:

"Standards are improving in Wales. We approve of the direction education policy is going in. The only problem is transparency of funding and money not getting through to schools.

* Last week our first analysis of the poll findings revealed that nearly three-quarters of parents were in favour of jailing the parents of persistent truants.

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