Will it be too much for him?

Nicola Porter

CARWYN JONES's new post could be too much for him to handle - especially with zero experience in the classroom, it was feared this week.

Although the former barrister is seen as a political heavyweight in Rhodri Morgan's new cabinet, it is felt he could have taken on too much with his huge portfolio as education, culture and Welsh-language minister.

TES Cymru asked unions, school leaders and opposition parties how they felt about Mr Jones's appointment and his main challenges ahead. Most said funding and tackling Wales's crumbling school buildings had to be priorities.

But the majority verdict is that his remit is just too big and could have a detrimental effect on landmark initiatives that have been left dangling after Jane Davidson's departure as education, lifelong learning and skills minister.

Only the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru disagreed, saying the extension of the post to include culture and the Welsh language "makes good sense". Mr Jones is a fluent Welsh speaker.

Most sang the praises of Ms Davidson, a former teacher and youth worker, saying she was a tough act to follow. But Mr Jones is a popular choice and is seen as a good listener, and a consensual politician who is easy to work with.

Gruff Hughes, the union's Welsh secretary, warned Mr Jones that he needed to deliver straight away, ensuring there was continuity with Ms Davidson's unfinished business.

David Evans, NUT Cymru secretary, said the extended portfolio was a mammoth challenge for any minister to take on. "It will be interesting to see how Mr Jones sells himself to teachers without any educational background," he added.

The NASUWT Cymru said Mr Jones's appointment was expected. "His biggest challenge will be clearing the funding fog," said Welsh secretary Geraint Davies.

Neil Foden, head of Ysgol Friar's, Bangor, said: "He does have a rather large brief so I hope education will not be relegated to a lower priority among a host of competing others."

The National Association of Head Teachers Cymru welcomed the new minister but said members were conscious of "the workload and funding issues associated with ongoing initiatives".

Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems were in no doubt that Mr Jones's portfolio was too big. "How will he get on top of this and other major issues? He has a lot of homework to do," said Plaid's shadow education spokesperson Janet Ryder.

Alun Cairns AM,J whoJhas taken over from William Graham as Tory education spokesperson, claimed the yawning gap between school funding in England and Wales had to become visible.

"The Labour administation has not made education a spending priority," he said. He calledJfor consideration ofJprivate finance fundingJsolutions similar to those being made over the border.

Fforwm, which represents FE in Wales, said it recognised Mr Jones's ministerial brief was huge. It said: "We take some comfort in the creation of the new post of a deputy minister with specific responsibility for skills. Tackling the skills agenda is crucial work."

John Griffiths, former deputy minister for health and social care, has been made Mr Jones's deputy, replacing Christine Chapman, who has been a main driver in the much-criticised 14-19 learning pathways initiative.

Meanwhile, First Minister Rhodri Morgan set out the new government's legislative programme under the 2006 Government of Wales Act. New measuresJto be passedJinclude moreJreform of the 14-19 curriculum and a green transport system for schools.

Next week: a head's view on education under Mr Jones

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Nicola Porter

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