Wales: a privatisation-free zone

Jon Slater

Teachers in Wales have been promised an end to tests for seven-year-olds and cuts in class sizes with no increase in private-sector involvement. The Welsh Assembly chose the occasion of the Westminster white paper to set out a uniquely Welsh vision for education.

The Learning Country, in effect Wales's own White Paper, makes clear that the Welsh have rejected privatisation and specialist schools, both favoured by Labour in London.

Although the Bill expected later this year will cover both England and Wales, the Welsh will be able to opt out of key elements including the sections allowing the private-sector to run new schools and successful schools to expand in response to demand.

The document also promises to preserve the "constitutional capacity" of local authorities to set budgets - a clear rejection of English proposals to ring-fence education spending.

Instead, the emphasis is on celebrating the achievements of teachers and introducing policies to reduce the burden on them and improve the early years and 14-19 curricula.

A new foundation stage for children aged three to seven will focus on "learning through play" with pupils' progress measured by teacher assessments rather than formal tests.

Class sizes in junior schools will be reduced to 30 or fewer by Autumn 2003 and no primary class should contain more than 25 pupils by 2007.

ACCAC, the Welsh curriculum authority, will be asked to press ahead with plans to develop a Welsh baccalaureate and to improve the options available to schools who wish to opt out of parts of the key stage 4 curriculum.

There are some similarities between Welsh and English policy. One of the key elements of The Learning Country is an emphasis on improving transition arrangements between different phases of education - notably primary and secondary. Even here however, there are differences. A "common or mandatory approach" to literacy and numeracy for 11-14 year olds in Wales is deemed "inappropriate".

Gethin Lewis, secretary of the National Union of Teachers Cymru, said: "We are overjoyed at the news that tests for seven-year-olds will be scrapped. We welcome the fact that the government in Wales is finally praising teachers and the role they play in society."

Councillor Jeff Jones, Wales's Local Government Association's education spokesperson, said: "I am pleased that the minister has expressed her commitment to comprehensive education. We don't have bog-standard schools in Wales.

"Specialist schools and privatisation are not required but we need to guard against complacency."

WELSH PROPOSALS

* No more tests for seven-year-olds.

* Cuts in junior class sizes to 30 or less by 2003

* No primary class to exceed 25 by 2007

* New foundation stage for three to seven-year-olds to focus on learning through play

* Development of Welsh baccalaureate

* Improve transition between primary and secondary

* No literacy and numeracy strategy for 11 to 14-year-olds

* Private sector will not be allowed to set up new schools

* No specialist schools or city academies

* LEAs to retain powers to set their own budgets - so no ring- fencing of education cash

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Jon Slater

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