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More twists than a rollercoaster

It was a year that saw three education ministers in office and mounting tension over reforms. Gareth Davies reports.

It has been an education year filled with more twists than a Hollywood thriller. There has been a political pantomime, school funding fireworks and motoring madness from shamed headteacher Paul Davies, the "boy racer" sent to jail but allowed to keep his job at Cwmdare Comprehensive.

Enter the lead characters of 2007 - Jane Davidson, Carwyn Jones and Jane Hutt. We said farewell to Ms Davidson after Labour failed to secure a majority in the May elections.

She went down with respect, even by those who dared to challenge her. Mr Jones, her successor, lasted just seven weeks. Labour jumped into bed with Plaid Cymru and Jane Hutt made a spectacular comeback. There was secret shock and dismay over her appointment.

And as the year draws to a close, the new education minister, once vilified for her handling of NHS waiting lists, is already under fire.

Teachers' union the NASUWT Cymru plans to ballot members over industrial action next year. As usual it is all down to money. More cash must be available for the avalanche of education reform in 2008, it says. But the warnings appear to be falling on deaf ears as the highly criticised government budget plans are given the thumbs up in the Senedd. All this as it is claimed Wales is in the "fog" where school funding is concerned.

The love affair with the play-led foundation phase for under-sevens is also over. It may be a great scheme but where's the money and staff coming from?

Then there was Wales's "appalling" results from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Pisa results this month. The global assessment of reading, maths and science standards in 57 developed countries ranked Wales on a par with former Croatia. It also left us trailing the home nations.

The heat was turned up on the traditional Estyn inspection. Gareth Jones, secretary of the Association of School and Leaders Cymru, spoke for many when he said school staff "had been observed to death".

Calls for lighter-touch inspections led to an interlude at ASCL Cymru's annual conference this month, when school inspection teams were likened to Dad's Army. Dr William Maxwell from Scotland will replace chief inspector Susan Lewis when she retires in January.

School reorganisation plans of closures and mergers came as a hammer blow to many Welsh communities. But a new report last month suggested it all could be for the best. Professor David Reynolds, who co-authored the report, admitted he was a nervous man at its launch last month.

But Wales scored a major coup over England with the launch of Vocational Results Day in August. Science teachers in Wales were also found in Pisa to be some of the most pro-active in Britain, and most likely to take pupils out on school trips.

Good teaching practice is up, despite the political turmoil. And the new children's commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler, was appointed this month after the untimely death of Peter Clarke from cancer in January.

And while Rhydian may have been robbed of X Factor glory by a Scot with a half a voice, Cerys Matthews, former lead singer of Catatonia, delighted Welsh speakers everywhere by enrolling her four-year-old daughter into a bilingual school near her Pembrokeshire home. Aah, there's lovely.

More reviews, pages 6-7.

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