Laptops in, exams out?

Union warns against political power games as Plaid Cymru dumps Labour for rainbow coalition

gcses and A-levels could be scrapped in Wales and all 11-year-olds given free laptops after Plaid Cymru turned its back on Labour and took a step forward to creating a Plaid-led Assembly government.

The future of education in Wales continued to hang in the balance as TES Cymru went to press after Plaid's leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones, rejected Labour's offer to work together and turned instead to the Conservatives and Lib Dems to help govern Wales.

Two special conferences will be held tomorrow to ratify any coalition deal, but the NUTCymru has already warned politicians not to "play games" with education to get into power.

"The education of our children should not be part of political haggling.

It's too important for that," said NUT Cymru secretary David Evans.

A "rainbow" coalition now looks like the most likely option. But any deal is still fraught with difficulty as attempts are made to forge a government out of three very different manifestos.

One Plaid MEP has joined the four PLaid AMs who have spoken out against working with the Tories, so a deal could still be scuppered by the dissenting voices.

And it is understood that before talks were suspended, Labour had also sanctioned a pilot of Plaid's policy of one laptop per child.

But the union is warning any alliance not to divert money away from current initiatives that are proving successful into short-term "gimmicks" such as the free laptops.

The party has also pledged to replace GCSEs and A-levels with a beefed up Welsh baccalaureate and make education and training compulsory for all until the age of 18.

"Although we have complained about the funding of education, we don't want to see money meant for the good of all children siphoned off from the mainstream into gimmicks," said Mr Evans.

"These may capture the imagination briefly but, in the long run, they take resources away from where they are most needed."

The NUTCymru also warned that major initiatives, like the foundation phase for three to seven-year-olds, could even be stalled if the doubts of the Conservatives, one of the parties involved in agreeing a rainbow coalition, are allowed to dominate.

Labour's grip on power is loosening by the hour. It looks increasingly likely to be excluded from power altogether, even though it is still the largest party in the Assembly with 26 of the 60 seats.

But Mr Wyn Jones said Wales is facing a new era of consensus politics which is now "the reality of devolution in Wales".

He said he was confident that people would be able to support a programme of government. "It will do enormous things for the health service and for education," he said.

A new First Minister must be chosen by next Wednesday or a fresh election will be triggered.

Young people at risk of dropping out of education and employment are kayaking to a brighter future. See story page 5. Photograph: Ken Dickinson

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