A welcome newcomer at the helm

8th June 2007 at 01:00
Dr Philip Dixon of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru sums up the mood of most when he welcomes the appointment of Carwyn Jones this week with open arms. "I think he might be a man who will listen," he says. "Jane Davidson never seemed to see a problem, but I don't think Mr Jones will always say everything is okay in the Garden of Eden."

Most believe the new minister fits the bill. Some senior members of the teaching profession even welcome his inflated portfolio, in no doubt that he can handle it. Mr Jones is highly approachable, incredibly down to earth and he speaks in a simple and direct way. Farmers even voted Mr Jones their favourite and most trustworthy politician in Wales in a poll last year.

He also has a soft spot for education unions, his former teacher father having been an active member of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

It was from him that he heard of the plight of teachers who had been "dragged through hell" after being wrongly accused of pupil abuse.

Yes, Mr Jones is clearly on the side of teachers. And there is also no doubt his promise of a break from new initiatives will be a popular one.

Before her departure, Ms Davidson said she would not apologise for her march on reforms, despite cries for help from heads to get off the rollercoaster.

Initiative overload seems to be the perennial complaint of schools in Wales today, rating alongside a perceived lack of funding at the chalkface. But Mr Jones's dismissal of a review of the Barnett formula - which calculates public spending in Wales - could raise unwanted hackles for him early on in this all-important post.

There are widespread suspicions that Wales is being cheated out of money under this formula. Mr Jones says the results of a review would be unclear.

But Labour now readily admits it can no longer ignore its political opponents. The opposition is plainly in favour of a review and, with cross-union support, this could be one avenue Labour could be forced to go down - whether Mr Jones likes it or not.

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