Reasons to be cheerful

16th May 2003 at 01:00
The Assembly's 'road map' offers a promising future, writes Hugh Knight

ey stage 2 test results in English went up again in Cardiff and Wales last year. Both stand at 5 per cent above the level in England. And this is where KS1 testing has been scrapped, primary school results have never been published, and without a centrally determined national literacy strategy.

Instead, there is a Welsh Assembly strategic objective to raise standards of literacy, and an expectation that local authorities will work with their schools to deliver in ways best suited to local circumstances.

One figure, one summer doesn't make a case, but does give us confidence that if you choose to do things differently on sound educational grounds, the world isn't necessarily going to fall apart overnight.

The Welsh education conference is another opportunity to celebrate the distinctive educational policy in Wales. I hope as well that we will take full advantage of the increasingly interesting aspect of the educational scene in the United Kingdom, the ability to consider the relative merits of the way things are being done differently in four settings. A real advantage of devolution is to be able to share and compare experiences.

But we have good reason for encouragement in Wales, not just because of the lack of reliance on central prescriptions, testing and the publication of results and league tables.

Two other things stand out. There is a belief that innovation, excellence and distinctiveness in our secondary schools can be achieved through the existing structures, where the local community-focused comprehensive school remains the norm. Secondly, we see the determination to place the learner at the heart of developments, in the bold proposals for a foundation phase (3-7 years), which places the well-being of the youngster as a central precondition for later and effective learning, the 14-19 "Learning Pathways" document, and in the principle that young people should be consulted on educational matters, including through the establishment of schools councils. All of this in a context of an outward-looking celebration of bilingualism and the Welsh dimension.

The Assembly has set out the "road map". There has been an equally encouraging recognition that these ambitious programmes should be delivered through an effective partnership between central and local government, based on an understanding and acceptance of each other's roles and without compromising the high expectation of what local authorities will achieve with their schools.

The real test of any partnership comes, of course, not at the launch of a project, when aspirations and expectations are high, but in the follow-through of action, when the knotty problems of implementation and resources have to be solved.

We hope that in the Assembly's second term, when we inevitably face such difficulties, another great advantage of Wales - that representatives of the Assembly and all the authorities can sit down together in one room - will really prove its worth.

Hugh Knight is chief schools officer for Cardiff but writes here in a personal capacity

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