More cash, and fame for some

22nd December 2006 at 00:00
But perhaps more people need to know about the existence of the Wesh bac ...

IT WAS out with the old as new faces emerged and new policies were given the green light, making 2006 a year of fast-paced and radical change in Welsh education.

TES Cymru also relaunched with a fresh new look in the dawn of a new education era. But the year ended with a political crisis looming large.

A bitter row over a perceived lack of cash for schools and universities in the Assembly government's draft pound;14 billion budget for 2007-8 almost ended in tears for the minority Labour government.

The administration was saved from an uncertain future after being handed an olive branch by old rival Plaid Cymru. But it left other parties foaming at the mouth and crying most foul, as they claimed Plaid had made a "shoddy backroom deal" for its own ends.

However, unions and heads were delighted that they would see some much-needed extra cash hitting the chalkface directly.

This year also saw the arrival of Aussie Steve Marshall on Welsh soil to head the newly-formed Department of Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills (DELLS). It rose from the ashes of First Minister Rhodri Morgan's "bonfire of the quangos" which saw the qualifications, curriculum and assessment authority for Wales merging into one big department. In April, John Valentine Williams, ACCAC's former chief executive, later announced his retirement, quelling rumours of a big bust-up under the new regime.

Mr Marshall, who has been rumoured to be feeling the cold since leaving Australia, later endeared himself to heads with plans to shake-up the DELLS department with bureaucracy-busting plans.

Brian Rowlands, secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, was replaced by former head Gareth Jones in the summer. The year also saw Gethin Lewis leave the National Union of Teachers Cymru. David Evans, a former lawyer, took over the hot seat.

But new faces were upstaged perhaps by new policies this year. Enter the vocationally-based Welsh baccalaureate, which is to be gradually rolled out from September 2007. Evaluators from England approved the diploma and Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, breathed a sigh of relief.

But just weeks later the Assembly government's vocational skills champion, Peter McGowan, said he was finding it hard to sell the good-news bac to businesses. And a TES Cymru survey revealed some home-grown businesses ignorance of the new bac, with some saying they had not even heard of it.

An action plan for the gradual roll-out of the "learning through play"

foundation phase was also launched this month, along with a second evaluation report into the pilot's progress. But there was confusion as teachers were told that the quality of teaching in literacy had dropped and there should be more adult-guided play.

School arson came under scrutiny as Swansea's Penyrheol comprehensive was reduced to ashes last March. Jonathan Giles, aged 18, from Loughor, near Swansea, was later given a six-month prison sentence for arson and burglary after being convicted of the offences. But firefighters also admitted they had lacked resources to keep a check on the high-risk school that lost a whole library of books in the blaze, and left pupils revising for exams in makeshift classrooms.

The education "funding fog" was also big this year, with the work of the Assembly's cross-party school funding committee reaching a conclusion and the production of 27 recommendations. Some heads, and most unions, said they were disappointed the committee had not gone further towards ensuring that vital funding reached the frontline directly.

Others said the recommendations were a start - especially with confirmation of three-year budgets for school funding.

One of the biggest workload issues for an ageing population of heads in Wales this year was the new teacher and learning responsibilities. Staff in a few schools have taken strike action over the new payments, but TLRs have not become the hot potato some feared. It was also finally admitted by officials that the government's 2010 deadline for bringing the fabric of school buildings up to scratch would not be met.

The Royal College of Nursing claimed the nit nurse was a "dying breed" in Wales as schools fail to replace those who retire. And 41 recommendations for improving school dinners and ridding schools of teeth-rotting fizzy drinks and sweets went to consultation.

Ms Davidson also announced a whole host of new pedagogy champions would be employed, including one for health and the new global citizenship curriculum.

Flamboyant music teacher Nina Jackson gave teacher workshops, testing her theory that listening to Bizet can boost children's learning of classics, and that belting out a track from 70s rock group Pink Floyd can aid revision.

The former opera singer made headlines when she asked a group of teachers to dance and sing in a bid to motivate them at 9am.

Dave Clarke, an English teacher from Neath's Cwrt Sart comprehensive, crashed out on ITV's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in June, losing pound;15,000. He admitted he only saw "pound signs" when he risked all on the pound;32,000 question. But Nick Lang, an NQT, from Llantarnam school, Cwmbran, was laughing all the way to his wife's bank after she became the first millionaire on ITV's PokerFace.

But it was left to one wannabee to really put Wales and the Welsh-language on the map. Glyn Wise's performance as runner-up on Channel 4's Big Brother even got grannies in his home town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, north Wales, tuning in with their support.

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