Wales prepares to go its own way;Elections

14th May 1999 at 01:00
The new Cardiff administration will be able to give education a distinctive Welsh flavour, report Frances Rafferty and Steve Hook

THE WAY schools are funded and teachers employed could become completely different on either side of the English-Welsh border as the new Assembly develops an education policy with a national flavour.

First Secretary Alun Michael has formed a Labour minority administration, rather than seek a coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats. Although the Assembly will not be able to make primary legislation or raise taxes, it will still be able to create a very distinctive education system.

It could, for example, take a radically different line on its consultation on the Green Paper, which will reform teachers' pay and conditions. Although Wales has its own Green Paper, it is essentially the same as the English one. However, the new Welsh education minister could take the proposals in a different direction.

The Assembly may also take its own view of recommendations by the School Teachers' Review Body. It could decide to pay Welsh teachers more (or less), but would have to find any extra money from its annual budget, agreed by Westminster. It will inherit a pound;7 to 8 billion grant from the Welsh Office.

The Assembly could also change the local management arrangements, and resist Westminster's attempts to increase delegation from local authorities to schools.

Alun Jones, an official with the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "Changes to secondary legislation will lead to the two systems diverging. They will slowly begin to run on parallel tracks and there may be some major differences in the way the funding and national curriculum is delivered."

Rosemary Butler, member for Newport West, has been appointed children and young person's minister and Tom Middlehurst, Alwyn and Deeside, will be minister for post-16 education and training.

In Scotland, which already has a distinctive education system, the Parliament will be able to pass primary legislation and will be able to increase income tax by up to three pence in the pound. Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar, who will become the Parliament's First Minister, said that the tax-raising powers would not be considered until the end of its first term, in 2003.

As The TES was going to press it seemed increasingly likely Labour would not agree a coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats, who in Scotland had called for a scrapping of university tuition fees. But it is believed a fudge - either a free vote or lowering the threshold for maintenance grant exemption - will result.

Without an overall majority, the Liberal Democrats believe Labour will have to come to an accommodation on a number of issues.

Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said: "Historically the Scots have had a huge commitment to their education system and the public sector. They will be seeking to preserve a distinction north of the border. For example, while we think there is value in the literacy and numeracy hours, whether we want to follow such prescription from London is another matter.

"League tables is another area. There is great resistance to the publication of test results which are making national tests a mid-term 11-plus and dominate the education system."

In the longer run, finance is set to be the dominant issue. Scottish education, with its many rural schools, is funded at a higher rate than in England. There may be battles ahead between the UK Treasury and the Holyrood Parliament.


Welsh Assembly (60 seats)

Labour 28

Plaid Cymru 17

Conservatives 9

Liberal Democrats 6

Scottish Parliament (129 seats)

Labour 56

SNP 35

Conservatives 18

Liberal Democrats 17

Green Party 1

Others 2

Westminster Parliament (659 seats)

Labour 416

Conservatives 162

Liberal Democrats 46

Others 35

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