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How did we do 2

Betsan Powys | 10:56 UK time, Tuesday, 7 December 2010

So - how did we do?

The answer is badly. Very, very badly and no-one is saying any different.

Schoolchildren in Wales are performing below international and UK averages for reading, maths and science.

We are, as in 2006, ranked lowest of the UK countries but by this latest set of figures, we are cast adrift from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland who are leaving us trailing.

These are the bare statistics that point to that growing gap:

READING: 2006 - 481 2009 - 476 CHANGE -5

MATHS: 2006 - 484 2009 - 472 CHANGE -12

SCIENCE 2006 - 505 2009 - 496 CHANGE -9

The Education Minister didn't pull his punches; neither did he accept the argument from the Liberal Democrats this morning that the gap in funding between schoolchildren in Wales and in England - £500 per pupil - was at the heart of these "disastrous" figures:

"There can be no alibis and no excuses. Countries with less money spent on education than Wales have done better than Wales.

"Schools, local authorities, and ourselves as government need to look honestly at these results and accept responsibility for them. If we are to secure a successful educational future for Wales we cannot tolerate complacency in the classroom".

The classroom - that's where his finger was pointed.

"The young people of Wales have the same potential as young people across the world. We need to refocus on higher standards, set our ambitions and expectations high and look for improvement in every aspect of our system.

"Let me be clear - we need to address this as a matter of absolute urgency. It requires honesty, leadership and a new approach to accountability."

Teaching unions are united in warning him against "a knee-jerk response" and have been assured, they say, that the minister isn't about to start playing "a blame game".

Parents and their children, you suspect, won't care for metaphors today. They will look at these figures and insist that something tangible happens and starts happening now.


It's a busy day in the Bay, so forgive an update on another story - the Language Measure.

A hint from one source this morning that this afternoon's session, with its 71 amendments, might not take quite so long "if the government plays ball".

An even plainer hint from the Liberal Democrats that the "rebel" Plaid AM Bethan Jenkins' amendment on official status may not be tabled, after all. The Lib Dem group would support it "if it is tabled at all". They suspect it's "a publicity stunt."

A senior Plaid figure confirms that "the talking is still going on."

UPDATE 12.25

A new compromise government amendment on the Language Measure has arrived.

I give you the words they plan to insert: "Without prejudice to the general principle of subsection (1) ..."

To some readers of the blog that will mean an awful lot. To others it will mean absolutely nothing.

So what is it all about? I give you the suggestion that this is "a little fig leaf" as one source put it. In other words, this is an attempt to persuade those who are still voicing real concerns that the measure fails to deliver official status for the Welsh language, that it truly does the job.

Will it please everybody? No. Will it please some that there's been an attempt to bolster the wording? The government certainly hopes so.

Was it done to please Bethan Jenkins? Absolutely not, comes the response - with feeling. This was being planned in response to concerns raised with the minister and long before the Plaid AM came up with her amendment. "In fact she made it all the more difficult to achieve this because now it looks as though we've giving in to her" is the line from one of her pretty angry colleagues.

If you spot Bethan Jenkins sitting on the Plaid naughty step, you'll know why.

The "status campaigners" - a group who opted for detailed legal argument rather than chants to persuade the government to bolster the wording of the measure - are more than happy.

"This is a historical step which will lay a solid foundation for the future. People want to be able to live their lives through the medium of Welsh, rather than be forever protesting. Future generations will acknowledge what has been achieved today".

UPDATE 12.45

What are the odds that the Plaid press officer who pressed the publish button on this story a bit too early will be joining Bethan Jenkins on that naughty step?

(I gather the story - that Elfyn Llwyd will have a broad smile on his face come tonight's Wales Yearbook Welsh Political Awards - has been taken down. Please do try and look surprised when you hear that he's won.)

UPDATE 13.50

I said it might be a busy day.

The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has confirmed that John Walter Jones "has written to confirm his decision to retire as Chair of the S4C Authority". He's standing down with immediate effect after 6 years in the job - with immediate effect and some relief perhaps.

Here is some of what the Captain had to say in his final missive:

"The situation pertaining at S4C cannot be allowed to continue.

"Clearly there are those that are reluctant to allow the organised change that you and I agreed upon in November to take place.

"The S4C Authority must be unquestionably united and single minded in its quest for an answer to the challenges that face the channel. Anything other than unanimity of approach can but be destabilising and result in an intolerable situation of instability for the dedicated staff at S4C and for the programme suppliers."

He adds, "the current obsessions by some with issue neither related to content nor output is saddening, but it must be realise that whilst a myriad different agendas exist, S4C is broadcasting programmes of which it can be rightfully proud.

"The vast majority of staff are dedicated to delivering success for S4C.

"Action now needs to be taken to ensure that misperception does not become reality. Part of this action must be my immediate retirement so that those charged in statute with ensuring the public accountability of S4C deal with the real and pressing challenges and concentrate their efforts on the resolution of the key issue."

In his response, the Culture Secretary seems to indicate that he would have rather that Mr Jones had stayed on in his post. " I am sorry that you felt this was the only option to make progress at S4C. I would like to thank you for your 6 years of dedicated service to the channel and the way you have approached your roles as both a member of the Authority and subsequently as Chair."

This take from Alun Cairns MP: "I'm very sorry that the S4C Authority have forced the chairman out, and now look to the remainder of the authority to do the honourable thing and follow suit. It's clear to me that the established members of the authority who have been there for some time are the root cause of the problem."

The same message from Labour AM Alun Davies, rather more bluntly put: "So John Walter Jones has resigned. Again. It was inevitable. He had lost all credibility. Now what about the rest of the S4C Authority?

UPDATE 17.15

John Walter Jones has just been talking to my colleague Gareth Glyn on Radio Cymru. He's confirmed that he's no longer chair of the Authority but has also confirmed that the process of appointing a new Chief Executive has been put on hold. No surprises there. The temporary Chief Executive, Arwel Elis Owen, has been asked to stay on for another 6 months.


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