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Schools are safe ground in Wales

THE manifestos of the four main parties contesting the Welsh election suggest education will not be a seriously partisan issue.

Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru - expected between them to win 90 per cent of the seats - have much common ground. Only the Conservatives stand out against the consensus.

Labour has promised an extra pound;844 million for education in Wales among its five key campaign pledges, with party leader Alun Michael saying:

"Only a vote for Labour can ensure this extra money goes to education."

Of this money, around pound;100m has been earmarked for further education, pound;200m for higher education, pound;240m for schools and pound;300m for training.

The Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru, while attacking each other vigorously, are both proposing to amalgamate the Welsh Joint Education Committee and the Wales Curriculum, Qualification and Assessment Authority.

Both also want to strengthen local education authorities and support the creation of a Welsh Baccalaureate.

All three non-Conservative parties aim to offer nursery places to all three-year-olds. Plaid Cymru, however, is placing particular emphasis on the issue. It is planning an early-years task force to develop a national strategy and an integrated system of education and care.

The Conservatives, by contrast, oppose the abolition of A-levels and want to extend the role of business, saying: "We believe the private sector should be encouraged to take over schools where it can offer improvements and provide free education."

They also want to offer pupils an opt-out from compulsory Welsh at key stage 4, citing the recent Welsh skills survey. This showed that information and communications technology skills was at the top of employers in Wales's needs, and Welsh language was at the bottom.

Conservative spokesman, Alun Cairns, said: "We are looking for the balance of allowing a small minority of parents the right to opt out, while ensuring that Welsh is offered at key stage 4 in every school."

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