The mission has only just begun

18th May 2001 at 01:00
When neighbours fall on hard times we should be generous - even if they are English. You need a bed for the night? No problem. And a 72,500-seater sports stadium with a retractable roof? Because you don't have a venue for your football cup final? It can be arranged. It was post-devolution Scotland that was said to have adopted the construction crane as its national bird. But as Liverpool and Arsenal fans may have noticed on Saturday, this industrious bird has also been nesting in the Welsh capital.

The Cardiff International Arena, the setting for the event that this special TES pull-out previews - the Wales Education 2000-1 Exhibition and Conference - is another of the relatively recent multi-million-pound projects (it boasts the improbably-named "Shirley Bassey kitchen"). The tourist officers claim that these futuristic edifices are symbols of Wales's new-found confidence. But Wales is not yet a prosperous country and its teachers and education officers are among the groups that feel hard-done-by.

Funding is not the only issue in Welsh education, of course. Many will remember 2001 as the year that south Wales head Marjorie Evans stood blinking in the glare of press photographers' flash bulbs. It was also the year in which Wales got its own as-yet-low-profile general teaching council (who can name its chief executive and chairman?).

But time and again The TES has had to return to funding. We do so unapologetically in this section.

The unusually forthright article by Neil Harries, author of a report on ICT in education for the Welsh Assembly (page 9), asserts that lack of investment, coupled with the tardiness of ducation's "decision-makers", is selling children short. Wales needs a huge investment in ICT to catch up with Ireland's schools, let alone Singapore's, he says.

Anglesey's Richard Parry Jones, the much-respected local authority spokesman, also warns that the performance-management system that is about to be introduced must be properly resourced and points to the extra costs that small schools and a bilingual service entail (page 6).

Welsh education's emphasis on bilingualism is also one of the reasons why there is such a low take-up of modern foreign languages at GCSE (see pages 4 and 5 for both good and bad news on this topic). Adrian Mourby, in his thoughtful article on the nature of Welshness (page 5), suggests that the promotion of the native tongue may have gone too far. But anyone who doubts that Wales is a richer country for having two languages should turn to Colin Baker's enumeration of the benefits of bilingualism (page 4).

However, there is one topic that is arguably even bigger than both funding and language. The Assembly's task - as Gareth Elwyn Jones, of Cardiff University, pointed out in 1998 - is to "ensure that education policy will no longer be a hand-me-down from England ... a major responsibility of politicians and civil servants will be to see that national values of community and equity are reflected in the education system".

As Biddy Passmore reports (right) that mission is now under way. Next week's conference, which is supported by not only the Assembly but every local authority, provides an excellent opportunity to take it one stage further.

David Budge TES deputy editor


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