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Welsh diverge from the English way

With success in the elections providing a mandate for change, Jane Davidson, Welsh education minister, has spent this year taking forward her plans for a distinctive education system for Wales.

In May, the first Assembly elections were held since devolution in 1999.

Labour, which had previously shared government with the Liberal Democrats, was voted in with a clear majority. Sharing her party's success, Jane Davidson was re-elected to her Pontypridd constituency with a majority of 6,920. She returned to her Assembly education portfolio.

She launched an official review of testing key stages 2 and 3 in June. The review group is expected to report back in early 2004. She also rejected Westminster's plans to introduce on-the-spot fines for truants. Instead, she committed pound;1.5 million to free school breakfasts for every primary pupil by 2006, in the hope that this would encourage school attendance.

This September, the first cohort of pupils in 18 pilot schools began to work towards the Welsh baccalaureate qualification. But many educationists questioned the value of the bac when it was revealed that pupils would be awarded the equivalent of an A grade merely for passing basic elements of the course.

And with the planned introduction of initiatives, such as a play-based foundation stage for three-to-seven-year-olds, and a more varied 14 to 19 curriculum, heads feared there would be insufficient cash to back the changes proposed.

Their fears were bolstered by new research, which revealed that the annual per-pupil budget in Wales is likely to fall below its English equivalent next year, for the first time since 2000. This will leave Welsh schools hundreds of pounds poorer than their English counterparts.

There were also shake-ups in other areas of Welsh education. Both Karl Davies, director of the National Association of Head Teachers, and Edwyn Williams, general secretary of Welsh-speaking teachers' union UCAC, resigned in August. Mr Davies's successor, Anna Brychan, was appointed this month. Ms Brychan, 36, had previously worked as senior information officer at the Welsh Assembly. Mr Williams's post is currently filled by Gruff Hughes, deputy general secretary.

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