Vote Yes to empower the Assembly to deliver the education system our children need and deserve

25th February 2011 at 00:00
Last week we published the case against increasing Welsh powers. Here, we air the argument for a Yes vote on 3 March

Imagine for one moment that, having passed their driving test, people in Wales were not allowed to drive unless there was someone from England sitting in the passenger's seat, monitoring and giving instructions. At the same time, people from Ireland and Scotland were free to drive on their own, while those from England had the additional benefit of not even needing to pass their test in the first place. If this was the case, as well as being clearly unfair, would those of us from Wales ever improve, or even be accountable for our driving? Unrealistic and unreasonable as this may seem, politically it is in this unfair and ineffective way that our National Assembly for Wales has to operate. This is why I will be voting "yes" in the March referendum.

Thankfully we have devolution, following a democratic process, and a democratically elected National Assembly for Wales and Welsh Assembly Government. We need to hold all our Assembly members and the Welsh government to account, but we can only do this if we let them get on with the job without straight-jacketing them. A Yes vote in March will let us do this, and remove the wasteful, ineffective and needlessly slow process of Welsh law-making through Westminster. Those who oppose this change have no objective argument - they are just anti-devolutionists fighting a battle they lost 12 years ago. The referendum on 3 March is not about more powers for the Assembly nor a move to independence - but True Wales wrongly and irresponsibly perpetuates these myths. The referendum is simply about removing the red tape of a bureaucratic process (the LCO - Legislative Competence Order), which was created as part of the flawed Government of Wales Act 2006.

I am lucky enough to have received most of my education in Wales, and to have worked in education here for nearly 25 years. I want everyone to have the opportunities I have, to meet their potential, and to drive our economy and develop our culture. If we are to create a strong and socially-just Wales, full of opportunity for future generations, we must get used to change. For instance, as those involved in education and training in Wales we must face up to the challenges in the Estyn annual report and the Pisa (programme for international student assessment) results. There is no point or logic in blaming devolution for the situation we find ourselves in - if that was the case the Westminster Parliament would have been stripped of most of its powers many decades ago. We need to empower our Assembly to make changes to help us improve and develop a world class education system. This means challenging the way we and our Assembly do things, with a focus on teaching and the key roles of our professional teachers and lecturers in Wales. We should welcome the Assembly's emphasis on the education front line, realising that the necessary changes will only happen if we empower them by voting "Yes". A no vote is simply a vote for a system that isn't working. An even further step back - to a pre-devolution Wales - is, thankfully, just not an option. We have to look forward, positively and confidently, and make things work for Wales. Surely we are confident enough in ourselves to do this? I certainly am. It will require leadership, honesty and a new approach to accountability.

Devolution has not been perfect, but we have achieved much, and quickly, through our young Assembly. It has already allowed Wales to pursue policies and practices better designed for our communities' and children's needs.

We need more progressive policies for our schools, colleges and universities - it's not about being different for the sake of it, but about being distinctive where we need to be, to find the right solutions for the people of Wales. As leaders and educators surely we believe in empowerment as a means for learning, personal growth, development and improvement? This is essential for child development, but equally applies to our own National Assembly for Wales.

I work in a college. Our FE college sector is one of the best examples of the way in which you can empower, but hold a public service to account. Successive Estyn annual reports have applauded colleges for their performance, and although far from perfect, they are the most efficient, high performing, and socio-economically engaged part of our education system. We are scrutinised but not bureaucratised. Isn't this what we want from our Assembly? A good turnout from an educated electorate, and a Yes vote, are essential for the development of education policy across all sectors in Wales. It would bring us more into line with Northern Ireland and Scotland and allow the Assembly to conduct its business more efficiently.

I am very proud of being Welsh, and a Welsh speaker. I am equally proud to be a citizen of the UK. We must continue to give Wales a more confident and stronger voice, building on the successes of the past 12 years, and making sure that laws that only apply in Wales are made in Wales. We need quicker, more cost effective and better decision making that will make a reality of the vision of "Wales a Small Clever Country". We can and must do this, and make our Welsh government more accountable. We need to throw away our LCO plates. This is why we all need to vote on 3 March, vote Yes for Wales - and vote Yes for our futures.

David Jones, principal and chief executive, Deeside College, and vice-chairman of the Yes for Wales campaign.

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