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Skills tsar in offing

The Welsh Assembly is to appoint a "skills tsar" to encourage more people to take vocational qualifications. Jane Davidson, minister for education and lifelong learning, told delegates at Labour's annual conference in Swansea that new vocational qualifications would also be introduced.

She also defended the Assembly government's policy of free breakfasts for every primary pupil and promised to make it happen by 2007. Ms Davidson said: "One crucial area is the need to increase the importance and take-up of vocational learning throughout people's lives.

"We will work alongside the Westminster government to create new vocational qualifications to achieve parity of esteem for these qualifications that has for so long seemed an unreachable holy grail. I will be looking for a vocational champion to drive this agenda in Wales."

The appointed tsar will work closely with post-16 body Elwa, local education authorities, businesses and schools to let pupils know of their options with work-related schemes.

Ms Davidson's pledge came the day after Tony Blair made the move towards vocational education a major third-term priority.

The Prime Minister told delegates at the Swansea conference: "For education, to raise standards further and make vocational education every bit as great a priority for the third term as academic education has been for the first and second."

Peter Hain, secretary of state for Wales, earlier told delegates that "a guaranteed place for every young person in college, sixth form or an apprenticeship" was the way forward for education in Wales. Latest figures show 6 per cent of Year 11 pupils were not in education, employment or training in 2003.

Ms Davidson also sang the praises of Labour's record on education since devolution, saying school exam results were the best ever, class sizes were down and teacher numbers were up in her pre-election speech.

She said Labour had scrapped tests for seven, 11 and 14-year-olds, and re-introduced grants for students and sixth-formers. Ms Davidson said she would reveal more details to the Assembly before the summer.

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