New powers to make our lives better

16th February 2007 at 00:00
David Reynolds is professor of education at the University of Plymouth and lives in South Wales

In May 2007, a new administration will be leading the Assembly government.

Also, new powers will become available under the 2006 Government of Wales Act for Wales to acquire responsibility for services and functions it does not already provide. What will this mean for education?

The major change should be the devolution to Wales of teachers' pay and conditions, currently a joint England and Wales responsibility, through primary legislation.

At the moment, these are designed with England in mind. For example, heads'

salaries rise as their schools increase in size, reflecting the existence in England of secondaries with 1,500-plus pupils and of primaries that often have 400 or more pupils. All of this is in complicated settings which require financial incentives.

In Wales, we have a high proportion of very small schools where being a head is stressful, complicated and necessitates enhanced salaries to make it worthwhile doing the top job. Heads also have to teach, sometimes full-time. It is not surprising that these small schools often find it difficult to attract heads, and therefore nationally we need to offer higher salaries.

Why should Wales carry on allowing its legitimate national needs to be distorted, even ignored, in the interests of England?

It would not require primary legislation to deal with the other key issues in education in Wales. One is IT, very much the dog that doesn't bark here, yet a near obsession in most countries.

Responsibility for IT has been shifted around frequently. It is expensive and it has disappointed policy-makers everywhere since, usually being used as a "bolt-on" rather than as an integrated part of the classroom experience.

But IT in Wales is central. It can enhance lifelong learning, tackle the problems associated with small schools, and indeed all the issues related to our population sparsity.

Further reform of the age phases of education in Wales is another essential. The development of the foundation phase and 14-19 learning pathways leaves the 7-14 age group untouched. But this contains the crucial key stage 3 experience where Wales performs so poorly in national assessments compared with England.

An enhanced quality of transition at age 11 is existing policy. Perhaps experimentation with the "middle phase" or with middle schools, popular historically in certain parts of rural England as a bridge between primary and further education, would be appropriate.

Overall, though, the main issue in May is not to generate large numbers of new policies but to apply strategically those that already exist.

The absorption of ACCAC and ELWa into the Assembly training and education division creates a critical mass at the centre, but more far-reaching changes are necessary to cut the number of initiatives and consultations that schools and colleges have to respond to, often with impossibly short timelines.

Providing Wales with some of the education apparatus enjoyed by England, such as the National College for School Leadership, would also help.

Ensuring that there is detailed evaluation and research of policies before, during, and after application is a further necessity.

But, at the most basic level, it is essential that the branding of Wales as a learning country is not some sound-bite but is based upon a solid analysis of what this involves in terms of lived, applied and institutionalised policies on the ground.

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