Carwyn Jones offers plenty of diagnosis – but sadly for Wales, no cure
Just weeks after taking office, Carwyn Jones outlined a bold philosophy for government – describing education and skills as the key to Wales’ success, and promising to strengthen the Welsh education system.
Fast forward seven years, and it’s clear that it hasn’t gone to plan.
This week the OECD published the latest edition of its triennial snapshot of international education performance, and Wales once again slipped backwards; firmly rooted to the bottom of the UK league table, and, along with the Scottish system, said to be “holding back” the UK average.
For a First Minister who once served as Education Secretary, Labour’s record on education is an embarrassment.
Successive generations of schoolchildren have been left behind by a government that freely admits to have taken its ‘eye off the ball’. And, according to the latest Pisa results, more than 1-in-5 Welsh students do not attain the baseline level of proficiency in reading required to enable them to ‘participate effectively and productively in life’. What that means is that the Welsh Government is abjectly failing thousands of pupils every year, denying them the skills they require to function properly as adults.
And it’s not as though we haven’t seen this coming. In 2010, after another set of appalling results, Leighton Andrews (then Education Minister) declared that there could be “no alibis and no excuses”. He called for honesty and responsibility to be watchwords of Welsh Government.
In 2013, and the next release of figures, Huw Lewis – his replacement – pleaded for more time, promising that 2016 would be different. Well here we are, with a new minister offering plenty of excuses for a regime she once opposed, and very little honesty or leadership.
In spite of all the tough talking and promises to do better from the First Minister, the latest figures place us in the bottom half of the global education league table and re-confirm Wales' status as the worst performing school system in the UK.
As the son of two teachers, Carwyn Jones made a big play on the importance of education and it’s in that context his leadership must be judged.
After seven years in charge those warm words mean very little to the lost generations of Welsh students who struggled through an education system let down by Labour.
It is not just the one failure, however. There are a staggering array of failures which have littered Carwyn Jones’ tenure as First Minister, and on the 7th anniversary of his leadership, let’s reflect on 7 of the most high-profile…
A Lost Generation:
After 7 years in office, Carwyn Jones has led the Welsh education system to the bottom of the pile.
Record NHS Cuts:
Carwyn Jones’ Labour: the only party in the UK to have ever cut the NHS budget.
Wasting Taxpayers’ Money:
Carwyn Jones had to apologise after his government lost 10s of £Millions selling publicly owned land.
A Postcode Lottery:
For 7 years Carwyn Jones has refused to implement a Cancer Drug Fund, denying patients access to life-prolonging treatments.
Neglecting Rural Wales:
Under Carwyn Jones’ Labour, rural councils have received the worst funding settlements and Welsh farming has been neglected.
Lowest Take-home Pay in the UK:
Under Carwyn Jones’ Labour, Welsh working people continue to endure the lowest take-home pay in the UK.
Pulling up the Housing Ladder:
Carwyn Jones has presided over a Welsh housing crisis, pulling up the ladder on aspiration by scrapping the ‘Right to Buy’.
Anniversaries offer an opportunity for reflection, and it might just be that when the First Minister wakes up this morning he reflects on the challenge he set himself seven years ago.
His diagnosis – that education and skills are the key to Wales’ prosperity – remains correct, but it’s now abundantly clear that he cannot provide the cure.
In this context, Leighton Andrews’ calls for honesty, leadership and a new approach to accountability seem somehow prescient. The First Minister has failed on the first two, but on the third there is still hope.
After seven years in office there is little to suggest that Carwyn Jones can arrest the decline, and whilst I respect the mandate he secured in May, he would do well to look around him – to reflect on whether it’s time to pass on the baton to fresh thinking.
Wales needs new ideas, not more of the same.