We will be running guest blogs from the four political parties over the next few days in the run-up to the Assembly Elections. We continue with Paul Davies of the Welsh Conservatives, who writes about the Conservatives’ plans for the education system.
By Paul Davies
As Shadow Education Minister I truly believe that our pupils in Wales and the schools that house them can be world-class. Our pupils have so much potential and spirit, and the Welsh Conservatives will work with pupils, staff and the nation as a whole to realise this.
Education is more than a process that all children must go through. Children and young people make friendships, experience enjoyment, face discipline and tackle tough challenges during their time in education. All in all, the educational experience shapes the future generation and gives them the necessary skills to get on in life.
Furthermore, education is vital to the well-being of our society as a whole. It is key to a skilled and productive economy, it is a fundamental lever to increasing opportunities and it aids awareness and understanding between communities.
Despite the potential of our pupils and the continued efforts ofWales’ education staff, Labour-Plaid has failed our pupils in a system where too much power resides in the hands of Ministers. It has been too reactive and has failed to spot problems that have later been uncovered in multiple reports and international comparisons.
In December, PISA revealed the disappointing statistics that Wales remains the worst performing nation of the UK, in reading, maths and science. Esytn, in January, released the bombshell that nearly a third of school performance is not good enough and forty per cent of pupils’ reading skills are below their age. In addition, Wales routinely performs below England in GCSE and A-Level qualifications.
These damning reports clearly show how far Wales has fallen in basic skills under Labour-Plaid. As aforementioned, a sound grasp of basic skills is critical to furthering a young person’s ambitions and gaining the knowledge necessary to make a significant contribution to the Welsh economy.
I must emphasise however, that these reports and comparisons do not demonstrate that our pupils are not talented, that they are not full of potential waiting to be realised. Nor do they show that our education staff are sub-standard. These reports demonstrate that Labour-Plaid’s policies have consistently failed our children, and they have neglectedWales’ education system for too long.
Education in Wales must be proactive. It must be able to highlight problems and act upon them before the situation is allowed to escalate to the one we see today, for ultimately it is our pupils, our sons and daughters, the next generation of Wales, who are being let down.
Wales now needs a fresh approach to schooling by empowering teachers, parents and school governors. Teachers in Wales make an immeasurable contribution to the lives of our young people and they should be allowed to focus on their jobs rather than being burdened with targets, bureaucracy and criticism from Ministers.
This is why Welsh Conservatives would give more power to schools to make decisions over their future and their priorities. It is the teachers and governors who work in our schools every day, so it makes sense for them to have the greatest input in the functioning of their school. We would directly fund schools to give them control over their budgets and free up teachers to teach.
Introducing this system of funding would also increase Ministerial accountability for our education system and cut out vast amounts of waste. £102 million or four per cent of the schools budget is eaten up by bureaucracy in Local Education Authorities. It goes without saying that this money should be reaching the front line, and would be far better spent on our pupils.
The Welsh Conservatives don’t underestimate the importance of a responsive and appropriate education system. Education really is crucial to the future of Wales.
Our children deserve more than is currently on offer. They can achieve more if we inspire them, encourage them & give much more flexibility to the people that really matter. We want to support hard working pupils and staff in a more efficient way. We want to give our youngsters the best possible start in life, and by directly funding schools the Welsh Conservatives are doing just that.