Wales politics

Carwyn Jones fails to defend education minister

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Media captionThe school faces closure as it is just over one-third full

First Minister Carwyn Jones has failed to defend his education minister from opposition claims he undermined his own policy.

AMs criticised Leighton Andrews for backing a campaign to save a school facing closure in his constituency due to his surplus places policy.

Welsh Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams said Mr Andrews was "undermining" the first minister's leadership.

Mr Jones denied this while saying the schools' places policy had not changed.

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Media captionIn the Senedd Mr Andrews heard opponents accuse him of undermining his own government

Leighton Andrews was photographed early this month holding a sign saying "Save Pentre Primary School".

The minister said he was standing up for his constituents as Rhondda's assembly member.

Mr Andrews has repeatedly warned councils across Wales that they must close and amalgamate schools to deal with excess capacity.

He was at the centre of a political row over health two weeks ago when he was rebuked by Mr Jones for using the Labour party's name to oppose potential cuts to specialist accident and emergency services at the Royal Glamorgan hospital in Llantrisant which serves his constituency.

'Not changed'

In first minister's questions on Tuesday, Ms Williams asked Mr Jones, "Can you not see that the minister's behaviour conflicts with his role that he has taken and with your government's position and with your public statements, something that you have just repeated?

"Do you not accept that when a minister behaves in just such a way it undermines your government and it undermines your leadership?"

Mr Jones insisted that he did not accept that "for one moment".

"As I say, the policy (on school places) has not changed," he said.

"These are matters, of course, that in the future will remain the same.

"It is correct to say that there are surplus places in Wales and those surplus places need to be dealt with," the first minister added.

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies told the first minister that Mr Andrews was week in, week out taking positions "that differ from your government's position - whether that be on accident and emergency services or indeed his own department's position on surplus school places".

Mr Davies asked Mr Jones how anyone could have confidence in the Welsh government's ability to improve education standards "when you have a minister who isn't buying into cabinet responsibility and is campaigning on one side of the fence for the Rhondda and on the other side of the fence for the government".

In his replies Mr Jones asked the Lib Dem and Conservative leaders why they were not commenting on a speech by Welsh Secretary David Jones on Monday widely seen as down playing the prospects of further substantial devolution.

'Strong track record'

Rhondda Cynon Taf council (RCT) has just completed a consultation on closing Pentre Primary School which has just 73 pupils, despite having room for 202.

The council issued a statement saying every council in Wales was "under a clear direction" from the Welsh government to tackle the matter of surplus places within its schools.

The authority confirmed Pentre has the highest percentage of surplus places - 64% - of any school within Rhondda and so had to be considered.

"The minister wrote to every [council] cabinet member for education last year, instructing local authorities to increase the pace of reductions in surplus places, or the Welsh government would take direct intervention itself.

"Rhondda Cynon Taf Council has a strong track record in taking the very difficult decisions necessary to reduce surplus places within schools, and in doing so, improving the provision of education for children locally."

Mr Andrews has written a detailed objection to the council's plans for Pentre on the grounds that Welsh government guidance had not been properly followed by the Labour-run council.

In a submission to the council, he questions how issues such as the effect on education standards and safety of journeys to school, were covered by the consultation.

He also has questions whether the council has thought about the impact on the community.

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