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Wales shuns hardline tactics

Inspections will be less confrontational than in England and the private sector will take a back seat. Julie Henry reports

EVEN news of a multi-million pound plan to transform schools was not enough to distract Welsh education officers from inspections and teacher assessment last week.

News of the Liberal DemocratLabour pact broke as the annual conference of the Society of Education Officers in Wales got underway at Llandrindod Wells.

The Lib Dems have agreed to work with Labour in return for two seats in the nine-strong cabinet in a bid to usher in a period of stable government in Cardiff.

Among the initiatives resulting from the deal were the recruitment of more teachers and pound;200 million for crumbling schools. But without a pledge of extra cash to implement the education wish-list, officers were sceptical.

Of more pressing concern was inspections. Lately there have been signs of a harder line at Estyn, the Welsh inspectorate, with the "naming and shaming" of Cardiff's Glan Ely high school.

But Mike Haines, head of inspections, hinted that Estyn's approach would differ markedly from the English Office for Standards in Education's.

More self-evaluation and using colleagues from one school to help assess another were being considered. Mr Haines said Estyn might invite a teacher from the school to be inspected to become art of the inspection team.

The Assembly will consult on performance management for teachers from next month. The system, which proposes pay increases tied to targets agreed between heads and staff, will be in place by September 2001.

The 22 Welsh local education authorities have formed five consortia that will supply external advisers to help schools implement the plans. They also aim to help governors set targets for heads; this job has been given to private consultants in England.

Welsh authorities report less opposition to LEAs on their side of the border, with less pressure to outsource services. The chairman of the Welsh education officers' society Richard Parry Jones said: "There's an army of people in the Department for Education and Employment, compared to a handful of civil servants in Cardiff. We have always had closer links with politicians and better relationships with our schools."

This means there has been less talk of privatising education services. There are few such companies in Wales and the requirement for bilingual expertise means outsourcing to English organisations would be difficult.

But an English problem the Welsh are sharing is recruitment. The conference heard that, while Wales had in the past exported teachers because it had so many, schools were now reporting shortages in certain subjects.

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