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Minister's first year gets mixed report

Teaching unions in Wales have expressed mixed views on the Assembly government's education policies and achievements in end-of-term-style reports.

TES Cymru asked unions to give their verdicts on education minister Jane Hutt's first year in office after a highly critical report from the NASUWT voiced "deep concerns" about education policy in Wales.

The report said teachers were being let down by a failure to make progress on the revision of performance management regulations, that the foundation phase (FP) could fail because of a lack of funding, and state education could be "dismantled by default" unless the post-14 strategy is reviewed.

Wales organiser Rex Phillips warned that unless the Assembly government's performance improved, education in Wales was heading for a "Domesday scenario".

But that view did not sit well with other unions, who were more constructive about the Assembly government and Ms Hutt.

NUT Cymru secretary David Evans said there had been positives and negatives in the past year but that there was much work to be done, particularly on issues such as class size, school reorganisation, school buildings and funding.

Iwan Guy, acting director of NAHT Cymru said it was a "generally satisfactory year" for the Assembly government but that progress was hampered by the inability to calculate the cost of initiatives before announcing them.

Nicholas Griffin, director of Voice Cymru, congratulated Ms Hutt on developing skills-based courses across Wales, but criticised inconsistency in performance management.

Gruff Hughes, general secretary of Welsh-medium union UCAC said there had been too many changes in too short a time and that funding was still "shrouded in mist".

Gareth Jones, secretary of ASCL Cymru, said too many changes had been made in too short a time and called for a "period of calm" and an embargo on new initiatives and regulations in recognition of the busy years ahead.

Dr Philip Dixon, director of ATL Cymru, said underfunding was having a "very serious" effect, but the direction of travel of education policy was "better, healthier and more child-centric" than in England.

All the unions were positive about the FP, which they said was almost universally welcomed by teachers and would revolutionise early learning, despite the "unfortunate" funding shortfall.

Several unions were united against the registration fee increase by the General Teaching Council for Wales, from amp;#163;33 to amp;#163;45. ATL Cymru called it a "tax on teachers", Voice Cymru said it was "regrettable" teachers were not consulted and NUT Cymru said it remained committed to "righting this wrong".

There was praise for Jane Hutt's attitude and approachability. Gruff Hughes and Phillip Dixon both said Wales was "fortunate" to have an education minister willing to work in partnership with teacher representatives.

Iwan Guy said Ms Hutt had settled well into her new role and was "polite", "friendly" and "always willing to listen".

Gareth Jones welcomed Ms Hutt's willingness to "listen and to seek to work collaboratively".

But the Assembly government said the NASUWT report was "misleading" and "out of touch".

A spokeswoman said the Assembly government's aim was to give children the best start in life through a first-class education, and that over the past year "significant progress" had been made towards that goal.

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