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Education takes centre stage in referendum

`Yes' and `No' supporters do battle over schools record as National Assembly bids to win extra powers

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`Yes' and `No' supporters do battle over schools record as National Assembly bids to win extra powers

Education is set to become a key battleground in the forthcoming referendum on the future of the National Assembly, with a headteacher playing a leading role in the "Yes for Wales" campaign.

Janet Heyward, head of Barry Island Primary School in the Vale of Glamorgan, is campaigning for increased powers for the Assembly. She spoke at the high-profile launch of the Yes campaign and will appear this week on leaflets and posters urging the public to give their support in the vote on March 3.

The Assembly government's record on education since devolution in 1999 will be used by both sides to justify their arguments for and against full law-making powers.

Ms Hayward, who was named best leader in the public sector in the Leading Wales Awards 2009, said the Assembly government has shown "strong leadership" in forging a distinctive approach to education.

"It was brave to abolish testing for seven and 11-year-olds and recognised the need for the curriculum to become less content driven and more skills focused," she said.

"The introduction of an early-years curriculum which allows children to learn through play has made Wales the envy of professionals from other countries."

All the major political parties back the Yes campaign. But pressure group True Wales, which is expected to conduct the official No campaign, said the pound;527-per-pupil funding gap between Wales and England and the recent Pisa global testing results showed the Assembly government was "failing" the education system.

A spokeswoman said: "How can it be right for British citizens in one part of the UK to be put at such a disadvantage by their own government? After 11 years of `distinctive' policies, we are faced with the humiliation of the Pisa report.

"How can we build a `knowledge economy' when the very basics of reading, mathematics and science are in freefall?"

If the referendum returns a "yes" vote, the Assembly will be able to make laws on all matters in the areas it has power over - including education - without agreement from Westminster.

Recent polls have shown that Welsh voters are marginally in favour of the extra powers, but a significant number are still undecided.

Dr Philip Dixon, director of teaching union ATL Cymru, is urging his members to vote yes.

He said: "Devolution has enabled us to have a different approach to education which is much more suited to Wales. The `failures' highlighted by True Wales are failures of policy, not of devolution."

But NUT Cymru secretary David Evans said he would be concerned if the Government sought extra powers over teachers' pay and conditions.

"That would have a negative outcome because it would inevitably lead to lower pay and worse conditions," he warned.

  • Original headline: Education takes centre stage in referendum campaign

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