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The North looks to Wales for lessons on 14-19

Cardiff may be an unorthodox choice as the venue for this year's North of England Education Conference, but for English authorities about to deliver 14-19 reforms the timing could not be better.

From September they will have to work jointly with schools, FE colleges and employers to introduce the first of the new work-related diplomas. But their counterparts in Wales have been doing exactly that since the Welsh Baccalaureate was introduced four years ago. They will be there in numbers in Cardiff next week to share their expertise.

Jane Hutt, the Welsh minister for children, education, lifelong learning and skills, who is speaking at the conference, said: "There is a lot to learn from what we have done with the baccalaureate and its focus on core skills.

"In many ways I think the Welsh experience will fit very well with the new policy directions emerging from the English agenda under the new Department for Children, Schools and Families.

"Much of the Children's Plan is in accord with what we have already been doing here."

It will only be the second time in the conference's 106-year history that it has been held outside its home region: in 2005, it went to Belfast.

Ms Hutt said Wales had applied to host the annual gathering of education's great and good because it wanted to showcase what had been achieved since control over education policy was handed to the Welsh Assembly nine years ago.

Chris Llewelyn, director of life-long learning for the Welsh Local Government Association, joint organisers of the conference, said: "Welsh authorities do feel an affinity with authorities in the north of England because we have similar socio-economic circumstances and are geographically close."

He identified the implementation of the Children Act as another area where the councils from the two countries may be able to learn from their differing approaches. In Wales most authorities have retained distinctive directors of education and social services whereas English councils have to have children's services directors.

At this year's conference, which starts on Wednesday, the National Foundation for Educational Research will unveil its interim findings of a major study into the impact of integrated children's services in 14 English authorities. The TES understands it will present a mixed picture.

Wherever it is held, the conference has traditionally been a scene setter for the educational year and has often been used by ministers to make major policy announcements. Next week, for the second year running it will be Jim Knight, schools minister, rather than the secretary of state doing the honours.

Other speakers include Lord Bill Morris, the Transport and General Workers' Union general secretary. He said: "I think this will be a conference which will define education for a decade or so because what we have now is a recognition that we have not just to prepare people for learning but we have got to make them work ready."

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