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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Speaking a different language

As unlikely as it seems, today's Western Mail article about dealings between Welsh teachers' unions and the Department of Education in Westminster actually offers no surprises to those who have regular dealings with UK politicians and civil servants.

The paper says that Elaine Edwards, general secretary of Welsh teaching union UCAC, believes that there is an “ignorance about Wales” emanating from London which does not reflect well on the DfE:

Ms Edwards questioned the department’s understanding of devolution after a recent conversation about a focus group on new professional standards.

She said: “I told the official I could nominate a teacher from a Welsh-medium school – a former president of UCAC – to join the group, as had been requested.

“I had already assured her that whoever was nominated would be prepared to speak with her in English, but she reiterated this in an e-mail and during our telephone conversation she asked: ‘And can he speak English?’

“I was astounded by her question.”

Although the majority of education is devolved in Wales, teachers’ pay and conditions are currently dictated by the Coalition Government.

But Ms Edwards, who is calling for the devolution of pay and conditions, said there remains confusion over what Westminster is and isn’t responsible for.

She said: “Initially, when the official from the DfE telephoned she said proposals were at an early stage and that they would be holding regional focus groups with teachers – but there were none in Wales. I was told it was too late to do anything about it.”

Ms Edwards warned a senior official against “disenfranchising” 38,000 teachers and eventually managed to secure a Welsh focus group.

“There seems to be a lack of clarity and confusion of who is responsible for what,” she said.

“If pay and conditions aren’t going to be devolved to Wales in the foreseeable future government officials have to be made aware of Wales’ place on the radar. There is an ignorance about Wales.

“It may be a one-off, but I’d like to see greater awareness of devolution and the respective responsibilities of both governments, where education is concerned.”

Another union official, Dr Philip Dixon, who is the director of education union ATL Cymru, is also unsurprised:

“The ignorance of Wales at Westminster seems to grow rather than diminish. We have had all sorts of strange questions posed to us, possibly because heads are spinning from almost daily madness emanating from their Education Secretary.

“We should be very grateful for devolution. Westminster must get its act together and realise there’s a world outside London and there are devolved nations which have control over their own internal affairs.”

You would have thought though that after 12 and a half years, Westminster officials would have grasped the issues and be able to deal with them sensitively.

Update: Just to be clear I do not support the devolution of teachers' pay and conditions to Wales. I do not think such a move would be in their best interests.
Truth is, the education standards in Wales have fallen as measured by PISA (Estyn too); and the universities in Wales have issues. Take Swansea University, despite all the money it has received/spent on its ILS and supercomputer kit, Swansea has even fallen within the Welsh league tables. It is essentially a 'no show' in the world wide rankings ... between 300 and 400th I think. Wales doesn't have a single university in the top 100 - unlike, e.g., Scotland, which I think has three. The issued patent rate In re Swansea University is a JOKE and we are told by Swansea University management that Swansea University is a 'serious research university'. cw
The LibDems in Scotland supported the devolution of teachers pay and conditions during their time in coalition with Labour. It was part of their 'Smart Successful Scotland" proposals. It was one of the 'Sewel' powers that was drawn down under the Scotland Bill and was put there by the LibDems. This has had a very important benefits to Scotland in being able to vary school terms and working hours for teachers. It has also allowed Scotland to prioritise 'failing schools' in impoverished areas. It has had the support of both the trade unions and subsequent governments of Scotland, and these powers has not resulted in poorer working conditions, and in some cases made them better. Why do the LibDems support devolution of these powers in Scotland but not in Wales? Do you think Welsh teachers are inferior?
The whole point of devolution is that what is appropriate for one part of the country is not right for another. The Welsh education system is much more integrated with England's in terms of the movement of teachers between the two countries and in any case, here in Wales, all but one teacher union favours this power being retained at a UK level.
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