After the Labour success at the last Welsh election, party leaders are now taking their new power out for a spin by attacking the ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition for letting their public school background dictate policy. Speaking at Aberystwyth yesterday, Labour’s Education Minister Leighton Andrews accused the Westminster Government of “English exceptionalism,” for failing to consult with the devolved government of Wales before introducing changes to Britain’s education system.
What drew the criticism was the plan by the government to overhaul the GCSE and A-Levels in order to make secondary education in England less of a “dreary trudge.” Responding to Andrews’ remarks, the spokesman for the Department of Education said that learning shouldn’t be solely about passing tests, retaining information only long enough to get a passing grade for the year and then forget it immediately afterwords.
Although the Welsh education system is largely devolved from England and controlled chiefly by the Welsh Assembly, NUT Wales Policy Officer Owen Hathaway pointed out that in the areas where the policy of Westminster impacts schools in Wales, the government has been less than forthcoming with implementation details.
“However, even where decisions are taken in a UK context they are not ones that teachers in Wales welcome. Proposals around the regionalisation of pay as well as the hugely regressive and unfair pensions cuts teachers are facing is damaging to the profession no matter what part of the UK you live in.”
In his wide-ranging speech, Mr Andrews said the UK Government was “unable to answer key questions we have as to how they intend to mandate people onto devolved services or withhold training allowances including Welsh Government training allowances, from trainees who have a benefit sanction imposed or pending.”
During his speech, Andrews said that the high-handedness displayed by the coalition government when dealing with Wales was a result of their privileged start in Britain’s public schools which made them believe that they were “born to rule.” He added that instead of acting like a democratically elected government, Westminster was acting more like an overseer of an empire, presumably casting England in the role of the mother country and Wales and Ireland as two protectorates.
The fiery rhetoric was too much for Neil Roskilly, from the Independent Schools Association.
“While there are issues over which the independent education sector would take issue with Westminster, it does seem quite extraordinary that the minister seeks to explains everything in class terms.
“The notion that policy is driven by an outmoded desire among private schools to perpetuate some form of colonial administration is utterly bizarre.
However, Andrews can find the backing for his point of view from the most surprising source. Last week, Education Secretary Michael Gove spoke about British education in quite similar terms, saying that those who are educated in public schools dominate the public sphere to an ever-larger degree, and only a complete education system overhaul will even out the field for comprehensive school graduates in the future.