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Distinctive Welsh path goes down well at polls

WALES will continue to carve out its own distinct education system following Labour's victory in the Welsh Assembly elections.

Education minister Jane Davidson has already scrapped league tables and key stage 1 tests in Wales. Now, the gap between Welsh and English approaches looks set to widen further.

Ms Davidson was re-elected in her Pontypridd constituency with a majority of 6,920, more than four times her previous margin.

Key policies will include extending the Welsh baccalaureate by introducing a version of the qualification at key stage 3. If she is re-appointed she will concentrate on Welsh-language teaching and improving the transfer from primary to secondary. She will also consult on the best method of testing at KS2.

Her re-election has been welcomed by teachers' unions. Gethin Lewis, Welsh secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "We have great confidence in her making sure education continues as a high priority." As The TES went to press she was expected to retain her post.

David Reynolds, professor of education at Exeter University, believes Ms Davidson's popular policies played a large role in Labour's success. He said: "Lots of Labour's education policies resonate with voters. It has kept on board a lot of people who work in education."

Overall, though, the May 1 election failed to generate much enthusiasm.

Voter turn-out fell to 38 per cent, a drop of 8 per cent on 1999. Half the 60 Assembly seats went to Labour, increasing its majority by two seats and enabling the party to form a majority government.

Plaid Cymru was the greatest casualty, losing five seats. Labour special needs teacher Irene James won the south Wales constituency of Islwyn from the Welsh nationalists, with a 7,320 majority. Gareth Jones, Plaid Cymru chair of the Assembly education committee, lost his Conwy constituency to Labour. And Helen Mary Jones, the Plaid Cymru education spokesperson, lost her Llanelli seat by just 21 votes. But she returns to the Assembly as regional member for mid and West Wales.

Of the 60 Assembly seats, 40 are elected by constituency, on a first-past-the-post basis. The other 20 are held by regional members, elected through a transferable-vote system. Labour's 30 seats were won by constituency members. Plaid Cymru won five constituency and seven regional seats. The Conservatives took one constituency and 11 regional seats. The Liberal Democrats gained three of each. Wrexham elected the Assembly's only independent member.

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