Is it time for a change?

27th April 2007 at 01:00
As the ballot box beckons, the reign of Jane Davidson could be coming to an end

SHE HOLDS the record as the longest-serving education minister ever in the UK. But how will Jane Davidson, the former teacher, go down in history books?

Undoubtedly, she will be remembered for not being afraid to carve out a distinct education policy from England, making Wales a "learning country"

from the cradle to the grave.

But her passage through the political corridors of power in Cardiff Bay has not been all plain sailing. And, as the ballot box beckons, her rivals are keen to go for the jugular, knocking her for failing to listen and exaggerating her own success in office.

After being left out of Alun Michael's cabinet when the National Assembly was born in 1999, because of her support for Rhodri Morgan, Ms Davidson became the Assemby's deputy presiding officer.

She then joined the cabinet as minister for education and lifelong learning in October 2000, following a partnership agreement with the Liberal Democrats. She retained the portfolio following the 2003 election.

During her seven years at the helm she has been at the forefront of radical Welsh-only policies, which have seen the scrapping of formal testing for seven and 11-year-olds, the roll-out of the Welsh baccalaureate and the piloting of the play-based foundation phase for three to seven-year-olds.

Ms Davidson has also presided over new inspection frameworks based on self-evaluation and the free school breakfast scheme.

She has been praised for her dedication, knowledge and drive. But she has also been criticised for creating unneccessary red tape, and placing extreme pressure on teachers and schools to deliver her ambitious new policies, regardless of added workload.

During this term, she has also had to deal with the beleaguered post-16 training body ELWa, which was eventually brought under Assembly government control. She has also faced criticism from Welsh Labour MPs for her "consensual" approach, based on working alongside professionals and their associations rather than challenging them.

The Welsh Conservatives' education spokesman, William Graham, said Ms Davidson's frequent claims of success in the education sector were "wildly exaggerated".

"She has attempted to make Wales different instead of make Wales best," he said. "As a result, she has failed to significantly increase skill levels while schools receive less funding per pupil than England."

Peter Black, the Lib Dems education spokesman, conceded Ms Davidson had been a "reasonably effective minister" but a "notoriously bad listener" and "polemicist" who has benefited from the ideas of other parties in pursuing a Wales-only education agenda.

"It was the partnership agreement between Labour and the Lib Dems, for example, which prioritised primary school class sizes, school buildings and the Welsh bac, while it was the combined weight of the opposition parties that forced her to keep top-up fees out of Wales for Welsh students," he said.

Next week, if re-elected to her Pontypridd seat for Labour, there is a possibility that she will continue her long service record as education minister. But her name is also being mentioned as the next First Minister or Deputy First Minister.

During an interview with TES Cymru to celebrate her fourth year in office three years ago, she said her biggest achievement had been to get Wales to agree to "a sense of direction in education". But, she said, she will also be judged by that direction. The voters are about to make that judgment.

* Do you think Jane Davidson should remain at the helm of education if re-elected or is time for a change? Email:

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