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Steps on the way to a Welsh utopia

JANE Davidson, Welsh Assembly minister for education, started the year with the aim of creating an education system that would be internationally envied.

She began with a bang - a unanimous vote in the Assembly in January to abolish key stage 1 tests leaving Welsh seven-year-olds graded by teacher assessment alone. Results were unaffected.

In April, 19 schools were announced as pilots for the new Welsh Baccalaureate from September 2003.

Two months later, enough cash was allocated to give every senior teacher on the upper pay spine a pay rise, compared to eight out of 10 in England.

Welsh students, meanwhile, were the envy of their English counterparts when the Assembly launched learning grants of up to pound;1,500 in September.

But Wales is a long way from education utopia and of fulfilling Ms Davidson's dream of being seen as a learning country - "and not only by people who live here." The drop in standards between key stages 2 and 3 remains: this year, key stage 3 results were significantly below target. Levels of truancy also rose well above targets.

Promises to increase Welsh-language teaching were stymied by a shortage of Welsh-speaking staff, a lack of appropriate textbooks and support materials.

Annual spending per pupil varies between authorities by up to pound;640, with councils spending more achieving noticeably better results. Schools now want a centralised system.

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