Deja vu - with a few additions

19th May 2006 at 01:00
TES Cymru editor Karen Thornton looks at progress so far

This time last year, the headlines were about turkey twizzlers and teaching and learning responsibility allowances, surplus places and small schools, school budgets, Sats, and burning quangos. This time round the issues remain the same, although the details have changed. As French teachers would say, plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

The quangos have gone, for better (some might say in the case of ELWa, the post-16 education funding agency) or for worse. But most of the people behind them remain in business as part of the Assembly government's new and expanded department for education, lifelong learningand skills.

The last compulsory Sats were taken in 2005 - yet most of Wales's current crop of 14-year-olds have been or will be sitting tests in English or Welsh, maths and science this month.

Measures to improve the healthiness of food served in schools, contained in the education and inspections Bill currently before Parliament, look set to be adopted in Wales. The healthy eating message was reinforced in south Wales schools after the Ecoli outbreak which affected 160 people, mainly children, and tragically claimed the life of five-year-old Mason Jones last October.

School reorganisation and closure proposals won't go away - despite the protests of parents and teachers from Cardiff to Carmarthenshire - so long as falling birth rates mean fewer pupils for our shrinking schools.

The replacement of teachers' management allowances with new TLRs has - bar the odd school strike - proceeded relatively smoothly, in spite of last year's doom and gloom predictions.

And Assembly members are due to report next month on the vexed issue of the so-called "funding fog" surrounding school budgets. Even the Assembly's finest had to call on expert statisticians to help them make sense of the figures.

But while teachers grapple with the perennial issues - pupil behaviour, teaching and learning, funding and workload - other changes are afoot.

The enthusiasm of early years and primary professionals for the new play-based foundation phase (see page 6) for three to seven-year-olds shone through the first evaluation of the pilots. But there was disappointment when it was announced that the full national roll-out would be postponed until 2008 to ensure that enough trained staff, curriculum materials and other resources are in place.

Proposed reforms of the 14-19 curriculum have so far passed many secondary teachers by, but a new action plan and additional funding could change all that.

The learning pathways reforms (see page 4) envisage schools, colleges and training providers working together to offer teenagers more vocational and work-based training options in a bid to reduce drop-out rates and improve skills and qualification levels.

Meanwhile, supporters of the broad-based Welsh bac, put on the back foot by high drop-out rates among last summer's students, will be hoping for better things in the coming exam season.

So will the Assembly government. Its downwardly revised goals for 2010, published last month in the Learning Country 2, could still prove hard to hit. Delivery will be all in the coming year.

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