Partnership for a future in Wales

2nd June 1995 at 01:00
The lamentable education and training failures of 16 years of Tory rule in Wales were clearly shown earlier this year when a Japanese company, Panasonic, expressed concern that new jobs in modern industries would dry up unless schools educated people able to develop their skills at work.

John Redwood, Minister for Wales, came to office just after the Government had been rescued from educational disaster by the Dearing Review, seeking to make his mark and move on to a major English department of state. One of his earliest pronouncements was to attack the idea that higher investment in schools could help raise standards. He moved on to his Pounds 20 million Popular Schools Initiative - for about a dozen over-subscribed and overcrowded schools - and from there to his proposals to strangle small sixth forms in schools.

In between times, he has proposed tough targets for GCSE A-C passes in Wales (80 per cent of young people with five GCSE grade A-C passes or an equivalent by 1997), turned his back on broadening A-levels - despite Confederation of British Industry support for such a move, and his own belief in the need for closer links between education and business - and funded some pre-school education and child care projects.

John Redwood realises the need for urgent action to improve education but is constrained by his distaste for public investment. He has taken on board some of Labour's agenda laid out three years ago - like tough targets for exam passes and pre-school expansion - but seeks to implement his proposals half-heartedly and on the cheap.

However, it is not enough to set targets and wait for them to be achieved. Labour in Wales understands very clearly that high standards require more than a mere declaration of interest. Our Welsh conference last week approved a policy statement aimed at achieving educational excellence for Wales.

Our first priority will be to ensure that all three and four-year-olds will have access to quality nursery education, co-ordinated with child care on a flexible basis. This will require a national strategy - not the funding of a few pilot projects - to put in place the training and support network for early-years workers.

Labour has been advocating for the past three years the sort of tough targets recently set by Mr Redwood. However, Labour believes that it is not sufficient to state targets: we want to enable their achievement.

Thus, we believe it is essential to reverse the trend of larger classes in primary schools in particular, as well as providing more paid and voluntary classroom support. We will also carry out a project in schools of high educational need to test our belief in the value of smaller classes in improving educational performance.

We will also launch national literacy and numeracy projects to support teachers.

In schools, we want the partnership with parents to be strengthened by better reporting of their children's progress and the use of homework to stimulate children and encourage the link with home. This reporting to parents will also include schools' annual reports, with a three-year results series and a wide range of other information.

Labour will also strengthen the partnership with teachers. We will establish a General Teaching Council in Wales and a Professional Development Institute to improve teaching and management in schools. We will insist on mentoring systems for new teaching staff and continuing support for existing staff, and will develop entitlements for teachers to attend professional development courses.

With all the efforts being made to ensure a highly skilled profession it will be essential that those who cannot teach successfully should be removed - as indeed should those failing in management positions.

We will entrust the best teachers to promote the highest standards by giving them the majority of places on the Wales Curriculum and Assessment Authority and will ensure that the majority of Office for Standards in Education inspection teams and LEA advisers will be practising teachers.

Our proposals for evolving educational excellence also include building up communication skills in English, Welsh and at least one other modern language, along with creating opportunities for excellence across all national curriculum subjects by drawing on the help of experts who are not necessarily teachers - musicians, artists, actors, sports and business people.

Labour in Wales is determined to achieve high standards by co-operating with teachers to meet challenging targets and providing the necessary investment.

Win Griffiths MP is shadow education minister for Wales.

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