New minister welcomed and warned on day one

18th December 2009 at 00:00
Jane Hutt's successor will face intense scrutiny

Leighton Andrews was given a warm welcome by the teaching profession this week, but was warned that he faces some serious challenges.

The Assembly member for Rhondda took over as education minister from Jane Hutt, who spent almost two-and-a-half years in the post.

As well as heading a department that is developing a number of major groundbreaking policies, the new minister will find himself under intense scrutiny in the wake of the commitment from new First Minister Carwyn Jones to increase education spending and close the funding gap with England.

After last week's Cabinet reshuffle, DCELLS (the Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills) has become DCELL, with responsibility for skills moving to the economy and transport portfolio.

Lesley Griffiths was made deputy minister for skills, innovation and science, but it is not yet known whether her remit will include further education.

Leadership contender Huw Lewis was given the newly created post of deputy minister for children with specific responsibility for tackling child poverty.

It was rumoured that Mr Andrews, formerly deputy regeneration minister, was offered his pick of cabinet jobs as a reward for masterminding Mr Jones' leadership campaign, but he had made no secret of the fact that he wanted the education portfolio.

As a former journalism lecturer and head of public affairs for the BBC, the new minister is likely to make greater use of press and television to get his department's message across. He is also a prolific blogger and tweeter.

However, critics fear that Mr Andrews' media savviness and presentational skills could lead to a culture of spin at DCELL. Ms Hutt, by contrast, was widely seen to have tried to foster an open and honest relationship with journalists.

Although her tenure as health minister was not well regarded, Ms Hutt's time at education has been viewed more positively, in particular her willingness to engage in constructive dialogue with the teaching profession.

Educationists felt they had a minister who listened to, and acted on, their concerns. Her predecessor Jane Davidson, while knowledgeable and capable, was regarded by many as stubborn and aloof.

Teaching unions said they looked forward to working with Mr Andrews, but warned that he must "hit the ground running" if he is to succeed in his new role.

Dr Philip Dixon, director of ATL Cymru, welcomed Mr Andrews' appointment and said he hoped the new minister would listen to the concerns of the profession.

He said: "It's heartening to see the commitment to closing the gap on funding. The Assembly government's position has moved quite considerably from the stage where Jane Davidson kept denying there was a gap to Jane Hutt recognising the gap but saying nothing could be done about it, to the current situation."

Anna Brychan, director of NAHT Cymru, was also positive about the outlook:"We particularly look foward to working with Leighton Andrews on implementing the priorities identified by the (new) First Minister," she added.

Gareth Jones, director of ASCL Cymru, said: "We welcome the new minister's positive funding comments and look forward to continuing the dialogue that we have had with DCELLS."

Margaret Phelan, Wales Official for the Universities and Colleges Union, combined her welcome for the appointment with a word of warning: "There are big challenges ahead, not least in closing the gap in attainment and participation across Wales and ensuring that post-16 education is fully and fairly funded."

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