Ready to get out there

28th September 2007 at 01:00
The new Lib Dem education spokesperson is primed to push ahead with radical change

TEACHERS FACING allegations of child abuse should keep their anonymity until proven guilty, according to the Welsh Lib Dem's new education spokesperson.

Kirsty Williams, AM for Brecon and Radnorshire, is just a couple of months into the new post but it is an issue that she is ready to take on with a campaigning zeal. Her early meetings with teacher representatives convinced her she must push for change soon.

"We must deal with false allegations against teachers better, striking a balance between the protection of children and teaching staff. At the moment the teacher's name is made public whether they have a case to answer or not. The pressure must be huge."

But Ms Williams, who took over in the post from Peter Black during a shuffle this July, says she is not content to do her job from her office. She vows to visit schools and not just the "shiny" ones that politicians normally get to see.

On her travels she plans to keep an open mind on one Assembly government policy she has openly criticised in the past in her mantle of economic development the free breakfast initiative in primary schools.

"I have major concerns about the effectiveness of the free school breakfast programme.

"But I hope to go and visit some school breakfast clubs with people who are enthusiastic about them and look forward to having my views challenged," she told TES Cymru during her first interview with the paper.

Ms Williams's outspoken views on the scheme, designed to ensure that children from disadvantaged background have a healthy breakfast before school starts, have all revolved around money. Put simply, she believes the funding could be better spent elsewhere.

The poor performance of boys is also a concern, especially evidence to suggest boys are turning away from higher education.

In response to findings in August by the think tank The Sutton Trust that 10 per cent more of girls than boys aged 11-16 in England and Wales aspire to go to university, she said: "The difficult question is whether it is the result of a poor view of their capabilities that boys are underachieving in their exams."

She fully supports the Assembly government's recently announced review of the gap in academic achievements between the two sexes, something she claims the Lib Dems have called for over the past two years.

Ms Williams, 36, had an unintended early introduction to education. She recalls being "smuggled" into Blaenymaes Primary School, Swansea, as a toddler by her gran who was a cook there after her mother fell ill. "You couldn't imagine that happening these days, could you?" she says.

Ms Williams, a mother-of-three, was born in Taunton, Somerset, to Welsh parents before the family settled in Bynea, Llanelli, when she was three. She attended primary school officially this time at Bynea and then St Michael's School in Llanelli before taking American studies at Manchester University.

After graduating she went on to become a sales and marketing executive before becoming the Lib Dem's Assembly government candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire, described then as a huge achievement for someone without a traditional farming background.

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