Is Carwyn a tough act to follow?

27th July 2007 at 01:00
Unions and education leaders had a mixed response to the shock change of minister

wales's second education minister in seven weeks talked of her "delight" at clinching the top Cabinet post this week.

But she only gave a brief indication of her key priorities, claiming she needed to spend the summer getting on top of her new portfolio and meeting key stakeholders before speaking out.

In a small press release Ms Hutt, 57, said that her most pressing priority was moving further towards community focused schools, which she sees as the "best way forward for improving the life chances of vulnerable and disadvantaged children".

"Our strategy, The Learning Country Vision into Action, sets out plans that are learner-focused and community orientated, based on collaborative principles. The community focused school is the ideal setting to take this forward," she said.

But Philip Dixon, of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said crumbling school buildings and a clear direction in dealing with falling school rolls had to be at the top of the new minister's agenda.

Keeping up the momentum of a distinctive Welsh policy agenda is also a must, he added.

But the lack of mention of the amount of support she was offering teaching staff at the chalkface, especially looking at false pupil allegations, could backfire.

The new minister, who is currently learning Welsh, turned down a request by TES Cymru for a more incisive individual interview. However, her predecessor Carwyn Jones was applauded by teachers for taking the initiative by promising to listen to them and support them in an interview in this paper on June 8.

Professor David Reynolds, from Plymouth university, believes that Ms Hutt's appointment had much to do with her past work with children. But he said that issues such as the closure of small rural schools had to be top of her agenda and that moves to bring pay and conditions the last vestige of educational power held by Westminster under Welsh control had to happen for the sake of schools.

"It seems that everything has been frozen in stone," he said. "It took the former minister some time to get into his role and Jane Hutt must speed things up now."

The National Association of Head Teachers welcomed Ms Hutt's appointment but called on her to take up some of Mr Jones's policy ideas during his brief tenure, including a conference on small schools and a fresh look at how malicious allegations against teachers are handled.

The NUT Cymru said it hoped to establish a constructive relationship with Ms Hutt, after having had a good one with former education minister Jane Davidson.

NUT Cymru Secretary David Evans said: "Ms Hutt has an impressive record in equal opportunities, something that the NUT feels so strongly about that we have a designated education and equal opportunities department."

The new portfolio how it shapes up

From DELLS to DECWL to DECYP, the education portfolio has had no fewer than three titles this year education, lifelong learning and skills under Jane Davidson to education, culture and Welsh language under Carwyn Jones and now education, children and young people under Jane Hutt.

Under the new LabourPlaid Cymru coalition, education and children will become a single area, mirroring the new department for children, schools and families at Westminster.

Sioned Bowen, adviser to the Association of the Directors of Education in Wales, welcomed the new DECYP and said the concept needed to be "accelerated" at local level, as in England.

Following the recommendations of the Victoria Climbie inquiry it is becoming more common for education, health, youth justice, social care, youth work, voluntary and community sector and other children's services to join forces.

England is already seeing an extensive reconfiguration of services. The Children's Act 2004 requires all LAs in England to bring services for children and education together "in one place under one person".

But in Wales it is at the discretion of local authorities whether to merge their education and children's departments. Just a handful have formally created a one-stop Children's Services Directorate. All, however, are required to appoint a lead director and a lead elected member for children's services and most are moving towards more integration.

Dr Philip Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in Wales, says the new portfolio of ECYP is far more serious than the DECWL, and agrees it should now be emulated at local level.

"With a ministry for education, children and young people in Westminster, we would now hope to encourage local authorities in Wales to do the same," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Assembly government said: "Children and Young People's Partnerships have a statutory basis which brings together local authorities and their partners in the NHS, youth justice system, and others in the statutory and voluntary sectors to plan integrated services for children and young people.

"We have given a clear steer on the responsibility of directors to co-operate closely within departments serving children, including education."

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