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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Binge politicking

With a vote due in the House of Commons later that day on 24 hour opening, AMs yesterday were indulging in binge-politicking. This involves raising a series of in-jokes and obscure political points mixed in with local issues until we all drop to the ground from exhaustion. At least Kirsty Williams' intervention was in keeping with the alcohol-related theme of the day, even if she wanted to save the last pub in the village rather than get it to call last orders earlier:

Kirsty Williams: You may or may not be aware of the case of the Old Barn Inn in Three Cocks, which developers wished to knock down in order to build houses on the site. Powys County Council twice objected to and turned down those proposals, believing that the last pub in the village was an important rural facility. Despite that, the applicant went to appeal and the planning inspectorate found in his favour and gave him permission to knock down the pub. Luckily, the applicant has subsequently sold the pub and it will survive. However, do you not believe that a village pub is an important facility in many rural communities, and planning policy should reflect that?

Rhodri Morgan was very supportive, as well he should be. After all it is not often you get to call into a pub on official business:

The First Minister: I will call in there the next time I am in Three Cocks. That is the key to it. I would not put a pub above the village school or the village post office, but if there were a four-legged stool here, it would be made up of a church or chapel, a pub, a post office and a village school. Not every community will be able to sustain all four, but the more new housing that you direct into settlements, clearly, the better off you are.

The one thing that many Assembly Members are getting tired of is being lectured by Ministers on how all their decisions are evidence-based. A lot of us groan outwardly whenever we are told that "I am an evidence-based Minister" to justify why he or she cannot do something or to support a decision, especially when the subsequent action does not appear to substantiate the claim. This exchange was typically of the genre:

Laura Anne Jones: You are on record as saying that bad pupil behaviour and discipline are not a problem in Wales. However, every day, teachers are verbally or physically abused, pupils are bullied and there is destruction across classrooms in Wales. The measures that you have stated are not strong enough. What are you doing to protect teachers, pupils and education in Wales? It is a huge problem—I know it, and unions, parents, teachers and pupils across Wales know it. Why do you not know it?

Jane Davidson: It is because I work on the basis of evidence, Laura. From looking at the work of schools in Wales, and in my regular discussions with the unions, I know that there are issues around pupil behaviour, which is why we issued a consultation on inclusion and pupil support at the beginning of May this year. I recommend that you read that document. The final guidance document will be produced in spring 2006. I have already indicated that I am happy to look at the ‘Learning Behaviour’ report, which I also recommend that you read, and which was published alongside the White Paper in England. We will look at the issues to be incorporated into legislation through the new Education Bill. I have already indicated both in committee and publicly that we will look with interest at legislative proposals in this context.

William Graham: In my respectful submission for evidence, would you consider this? In 2003-04, 16,950 pupils were suspended from Welsh schools, which equates to 87 pupils a day, yet you say that discipline is not a problem in schools. Surely it is your attitude that has contributed to the disasters that we have heard about in recent attacks in schools.

A member of the opposition submitting evidence, it was bound to happen eventually. Still at least William Graham has a good command of plain English. That could not be said about the 14-19 Learning Pathways report that was published yesterday. A number of members, including myself, commented on the fact that this report was stuffed full of jargon. One member however decided that the point needed to be driven home:

Mark Isherwood......The report concluded that the 14-19 agenda is not being addressed by the Welsh Assembly Government, which has instead taken a long and expensive time to regurgitate what people already know and to confirm what was said in its previous report, four years earlier. If Wales is to achieve growth and close the prosperity gap, our education system must stop betraying this lost generation. Even the areas of Wales that boast of low unemployment, such as Flintshire and Wrexham, suffer from high economic inactivity among the young. Eighty per cent of applicants for the Airbus apprenticeship scheme fail their basic literacy and numeracy tests. However, rather than tackle this, we are presented today with a list of recommendations that suggest that Sir Humphrey fathered a brood of Welsh children who are now alive and well and working for the Welsh Assembly Government.

What, for instance, does the section on transparency and strategic continuity of funding actually mean? Is it just another attempt to conceal the fact that, once again, the Welsh Assembly Government is putting policy before planning, procedure and pricing—and clear red water between Labour in London and Rhodri in Cardiff?

To be lectured by Mark Ishwerwood on the art of clear and simple language is a bit rich especially as the lecture itself did not achieve those standards. Even the Education Minister looked shocked.
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