Ministers showcase different policies

2nd April 2004 at 01:00
When David Miliband got together with his Welsh opposite number for a tour of English and Welsh schools there was no doubt who got the highest approval rating. Adi Bloom reports

Hayley Price is not sure exactly what Jane Davidson does. The 15-year-old knows she is Welsh and interested in schools. But she is not sure why Ms Davidson decided to visit her business studies classroom, at The Lord Silkin comprehensive, Shropshire, 30 miles from the Welsh border in Telford.

"I suppose she takes care of education in Wales," the Year 11 pupil said.

"Except there isn't that much to do. Wales isn't really different to England."

But the ministers responsible for education in England and Wales were keen to show each other how things differ.

And so this week Ms Davidson, the Welsh Assembly minister for education and lifelong learning, and David Miliband, the school standards minister, visited two Shropshire schools and two Welsh schools.

Mr Miliband took Ms Davidson, who has refused to introduce specialist schools, to Ercall Wood technology college, and The Lord Silkin, which is applying for business and enterprise status.

He had chosen his spokespeople well. Gary Hickey, head of performing arts at Ercall Wood, said: "Technology status has brought us financial investment, and allowed us to embrace technology.

"It has revolutionised children's learning. It shows students that their school is valued."

But, if Mr Miliband was hoping for a damascene conversion, he was sorely disappointed. Ms Davidson was firmly, if politely, underwhelmed.

"I saw examples of technology being used in very imaginative ways," she said. "But the first thing I was shown at Ercall Wood was an interactive whiteboard. Two years ago we gave interactive whiteboards to every school in Wales. Schools can do exciting things with ICT, without specialist status."

Ms Davidson, meanwhile, was keen to demonstrate the advantages of the Welsh baccalaureate, one of a number of innovations brought in since devolution.

She took Mr Miliband to Deeside college, in Flintshire, and the Welsh-medium Morgan Llwyd comprehensive, in Wrexham. Both are preparing pupils for the new qualification.

Speaking in Welsh, which was simultaneously translated to Mr Miliband, Huw Foster Evans, Morgan Llwyd head, expressed his hope that the visit would inspire the minister to follow the Welsh example.

Mr Foster Evans said he rarely looked over the border in envy: "The bac has enabled us to develop a curriculum to suit our needs. In a sense, we're all specialist schools, because every school has strengths.

"But we're developing a broad and varied curriculum that both vocational and academic students can follow."

Indeed, any cross-border envy that the visit generated was purely in one direction. Jane Woodall, head of The Lord Silkin, said: "We offer extended work experience, and a wide range of non-traditional subjects. It would be interesting to see how a bac approach could accredit these things."

But it was the visitors' celebrity status rather than the policies they espoused that most influenced any impressions made.

"I preferred David Miliband," said Hayley Price. "He's the one who makes sure schools run efficiently."

"David Miliband is just a little higher up in the chain," agreed Mr Hickey.

"There's quite enough on our plate, without finding out what's going on in Wales."

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