Will the fog clear this year?

6th January 2006 at 00:00
Like a headteacher filtering the flood of initiatives for the ones she thinks will help pupils and staff, education and lifelong learning minister Jane Davidson has made it clear not to expect "trust" schools in Wales in 2006.

The independent state schools are a key part of the Westminster government's white paper proposals. But anyone expecting a quiet time in Wales can think again.

The year kicks off with the long-awaited publication of a teacher-training review in Wales. With falling pupil numbers and hundreds of newly-qualified teachers still struggling to find permanent posts, expect further cuts in training numbers, especially in the primary sector.

Whole courses - and possibly entire university education departments - could disappear or merge with neighbouring providers, as provision is rationalised.

But the review team, lead by Professor John Furlong of Oxford university, is concerned to ensure a continued supply of Welsh-medium teachers and secondary specialists in shortage subjects.

The first teachers to take a three-month break from the classroom to brush up on their Welsh skills start training this month. Under a pilot scheme aimed at making all teachers bilingual, the immersion course will focus first on those who want to improve their Welsh.

Inspection body Estyn is expected to publish its full report on anti-bullying schemes in Welsh schools this month. An interim report last year found a third of school schemes did not hit the mark. Children's commissioner Peter Clarke has promised his own investigation.

Reforms of the 14-19 curriculum come to the fore in February, with a second report due on the Assembly government's learning pathways initiative.

Opposition AMs claim an initial paper, from deputy education minister Christine Chapman, published last November, failed to address key funding issues.

Many secondary schools are keen to pilot a new Welsh baccalaureate for 14-year-olds, expected this year. But heads have warned an early announcement is needed if they are to prepare for an autumn launch.

Also expected early in 2006 is a report from the Welsh Local Government Association on the vexed issue of managing surplus places, school closures and building improvements. With high and rising numbers of surplus places affecting every local education authority, school reorganisations and closures have proved controversial. Expect to hear in the summer how much the Assembly government thinks it will cost to make every Welsh school "fit for purpose" by 2010.

Ms Davidson will be launching The Learning Country 2. The policy direction of the Assembly's original paving document for education and lifelong learning will remain unchanged. But the updated version will include action points designed to improve progress towards the extremely ambitious targets set in 2001.

TLC2 will also provide a manifesto for the Assembly's new education and lifelong learning department, which is absorbing the post-16 agency ELWa and ACCAC, the Welsh qualifications, curriculum and assessment authority.

The government says the April 1 merger will improve delivery and accountability, but critics warn the minister could get bogged down in operational issues.

Heads have until the end of March to come up with staffing plans that incorporate the new teaching and learning responsibility points that replaced the old management allowances.

They may find the additional planning time (English heads had to get their staff structures in place by December 31) well spent on liaising with staff, as the National Union of Teachers Cymru is threatening strike action in support of members facing pay cuts.

Gethin Lewis, NUT Cymru's secretary, retires in May. Brian Lewis, his counterpart at the Secondary Heads Association Cymru (now CAYAC), will also be leaving in the spring - more than a year after his imminent departure was announced in these pages.

Come the summer, most 14-year-olds will find themselves sitting "optional"

key stage 3 tests. More than 70 per cent of secondary schools have so far requested external marking of the papers this summer.

There should be more information about how teacher assessment - now the only measure of pupil progress in Wales at ages seven, 11 and 14 - will be beefed up via moderation and accreditation of secondary schools. There should also be announcements on a skills test for Y5 pupils. Education committee members will be reporting on the second phase of a major review of special educational needs, looking at statementing.

By June, a five-strong cross-party group will have to report on its investigations into the funding fog surrounding school budgets.

And in November, a requirement for every school to have a pupil council comes into force.

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