Support our Nation today - please donate here
Opinion

We need to talk about education in Wales

14 May 2024 6 minute read
Schoolwork

Heledd Fychan MSPlaid Cymru’s spokesperson for education

We have a new Cabinet Secretary in post with responsibility for education, and today, Lynne Neagle will set out her priorities in a statement to the Senedd.

She will have a lot to cover: a widening attainment gap between Wales’s richest and poorest children; poor attendance rates; a teaching workforce crisis; an increase in verbal and physical violence in schools; problems with the rollout of reforms to Additional Learning Needs provision and the curriculum; and the dire financial situation of our schools as well as our further and higher education institutions.

Something needs to change, and fast. After all, our children and young people deserve an education that provides them with the tools they need for their future. And our workforce and institutions that provide that education need to be supported to deliver.

In recent months, we’ve seen headline after headline criticising the state of education in Wales.

The recent Institute for Fiscal Studies’ report identified major challenges facing the education system, including the fact that Wales suffered the worst Pisa results since first taking part in 2006, and the worst in the UK.

The Welsh Government have been, in my view, rather blasé about the results in stark contrast to former Labour Education Minister, Leighton Andrews’ response to poor Pisa results in 2009. He recognised Labour’s complacency when it came to education and set out a 20-point plan to bring about improvements.

Changes

In 2014, then First Minister Carwyn Jones admitted that his government had taken its eye off the ball on education. A decade later, one has to ask, what’s changed? And more importantly, what needs to change to deliver the changes needed?

More than anything, the Welsh Government must now acknowledge the crisis facing the education sector as a whole and work with the sector to find solutions. And key to all of this will be the workforce itself.

We have fantastic staff working in our schools, and further and higher education institutions, day in day out. They go above and beyond, supporting learners and their wider families. But simply put, there’s not enough of them.

Workload

In 2021-22, 2,292 teaching jobs were advertised whilst 1,175 teachers left the profession – a combination of leaving for another profession and retirement. 325 of them had less than 5 years of experience in teaching.

A recent survey by NASUWT Cymru revealed that 75% of teachers are considering leaving the profession, citing underfunding; pay not competitive enough; an increasing workload and the behaviour of pupils.

The Welsh Government’s own targets for the training and retention of teachers are missed year after year, with the situation particularly concerning for Welsh-medium education. At the same time, Aberystwyth University will no longer be offering its postgraduate PGCE course in both English and Welsh.

When I asked the new Cabinet Secretary last week about how she plans on to tackle this workforce gap, I wasn’t assured by the answers. And though previous Labour Welsh

Government ministers have committed time and time again to tackling this issue, teacher numbers are still dropping and vacancies are increasing.

Funding is another contributing factor. We’ve had school and local authorities warn that budgets are at breaking point for a number of years, yet being asked to deliver more.

In recent days, there have been reports that up to 200 jobs could be at risk as Aberystwyth University tries to save £15m, whilst Cardiff University has also told staff its financial position is “not good” and warned it faced a £35m deficit this year if action was not taken.

If this isn’t a crisis, then what is it?

Reforms

During her first scrutiny session as Cabinet Secretary last week, which focused in particular on the ALN and curriculum reforms, and during a subsequent questioning session in the Senedd, she stated time and time again that she was listening. And whilst I appreciate that she has only been in the role for a short few weeks, that listening must also lead to action being taken to support this vitally important sector. Otherwise we risk sitting idly by and risk a generation being failed.

We also risk failing Wales, as our education system creates the workforce of the future. The research undertaken in our further and higher education institutions offer solutions for many different sectors as well as to the challenges we face in a whole myriad of different areas such as health, poverty and climate change.

As the Cabinet Secretary sets out her education priorities in the Senedd today, Plaid Cymru will demand decisive action from this Government to finally get to grips with the crisis that faces the education sector at all levels.

For us in Plaid Cymru, many of these issues are symptomatic of unfair funding. Yes, we know there is no magic money tree – particularly in the absence of a UK Government willing to give Wales its fair share of funding. But there is no more urgent priority than our children’s education and future.

Increased funding for our schools would see more staff share the workload and will ultimately improve working conditions, making teaching the attractive profession it was once was and attract more to study their PGCE. The result would undoubtedly be a better education for our children.

Similarly, we need a sustainable funding model for our universities, and for the UK Government to ensure that universities are also able to fully benefit from post-EU funding.

Recent reports from a number of Welsh universities about their fragile financial positions did not come out of thin air – it is a failure to act despite warnings over several years.

Serious

Universities contribute so much to the local economy, and also train the next generation of teachers. If the Government is serious about improving the state of education in Wales, then they must urgently review funding for universities and put pressure on the UK Government to expand the criteria for post-EU funding.

One thing is clear – we need urgent action from the Labour Welsh Government. The time is up for just listening.


Support our Nation today

For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
3 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jonathan
Jonathan
1 day ago

There is a ‘magic money tree’. It’s called Indy. We grow our economy and earn more. I thought Plaid would know this.

Annibendod
Annibendod
1 day ago

I’ve been calling for years to hold back on the new curriculum. Now we’re careering forwards into a new set of GCSE’s. The teaching profession is on its knees. The most effective immediate changes that need to be made are to cut contact hours, improve training and restore wages in real terms. Then we can talk about sorting out the mess of a new curriculum and putting the new GCSE’s on hold till that’s been sorted. Then we need a grown up conversation about vocational training. Be great too if the people involved in education reform could start treating it… Read more »

Nick
Nick
1 hour ago

I’m shocked, shocked, that Plaid have worked out that the solution to the issue is to spend more money. The problem is, they’ve already spent the fictional headroom they’ve made up ten times over, with plenty of promises to farmers, the economy, the NHS, and pretty much everywhere else that involves public money. The second that the UKG tells them to take a hike, then they no longer have anything of substance to offer. They will be forced to make the exact same decisons they are currently decrying. When everything is a priority, nothing is. Unless they are willing to… Read more »

Our Supporters

All information provided to Nation.Cymru will be handled sensitively and within the boundaries of the Data Protection Act 2018.