Education is the single biggest change we can make in Wales. A Plaid Cymru government will not let our young people down.
Welsh education which used to have an enviable reputation across the world has slipped further and further behind our British and European neighbours in recent years. At a policy level – with a constant churn of Education Ministers and Directors of Education – there has been a failure to adopt a consistent and strategic approach. Instead, we have had a slew of initiatives – some poor-performing, others more valuable but all of them weakly inter-connected – together with a half-dismantled English system of testing-and-inspection which have never been fashioned into a coherent whole.
To help create a national cradle to career education system, we will:
• invest as in early years education;
• create a world-class teaching profession;
• guarantee a job for under-25s and a debt write-off scheme for graduates.
After 19 years of Labour education ministers, our children perform worse in reading, mathematics and science than children in any other part of the UK and worse than the OECD average. The decline in science has been disastrous: our pupils perform worse than pupils in Estonia, Poland, Ireland and Vietnam. A whole generation has been educated under Labour governments but our young people have fewer science skills than countries that within the last generation were ravaged by civil war or behind the Iron Curtain. This is not just failure. It is a national disgrace.
Welsh education has some elements in common with Finland’s first-class system: an entirely comprehensive system, where children start formal learning later. We have changed the structure and the content of our education system, but we haven’t changed the quality. To reverse a decade and a half of decline we need an education revolution.
Our first priority has to be teaching, teaching, teaching.
Our Key Education Policies
1. Free full-time pre-school for all three year olds
Plaid Cymru believes that everyone deserves the best start in life. When children get a good education from an early age they are more likely to get good qualifications and go on to good jobs when they’re older. This is why Plaid will ensure that all three year olds in Wales will receive free full-time pre-school education.
Children in England and Scotland already receive more pre-school education provision than in Wales. Plaid will firstly increase the provision from 10 hours to 15 hours a week, so that children here get the same opportunities to reach their full potential. By the end of the Assembly term, Plaid Cymru will increase provision of free childcare to 30 hours a week for all three and four year olds.
We know that parents are having to deal with higher than ever childcare costs. There has been a 40% increase since 2011, making it difficult for parents to be able to return to work to support their families. By providing free full-time pre-school for all three year olds, we could help parents who already use childcare save more than £100 a week.
2. Teachers premium – raising standards in our schools
We also want out teachers to be the best they can be.
We are proposing a teachers premium that will give teachers and classroom assistants in Wales the opportunity to improve their skills and have even more fulfilling careers.
Reports suggest that teaching standards are not good enough in many of our schools. After years of continued failure of Labour government policies, the quality of teaching is reported to be “inconsistent and activities are not challenging enough” in approximately half of secondary schools in Wales.
This is not good enough. We think education is an essential part of building a successful economy. And in order for our students to get the best education, we need to have the best teachers.
Making the teaching profession more attractive
Evidence by the OECD show that countries that have improved their performance in PISA 2012, countries like Brazil, Columbia and Japan, have all established strong policies to improve the quality of their teachers by raising the requirements to earn a teaching licence and by increasing salaries to make the profession more attractive to high-achieving students.
We want teaching to become a Masters level profession with mandatory continuing professional development.
Our teachers’ premium policy would incentivise highly skilled and motivated teachers to remain in the profession as well as attract highly skilled graduates into the profession.
We will recognise the higher skilled teachers by giving all those qualified to a Masters level or with equal skills a premium of an additional 10% on top of their pay, which will help them remain in the sector, and maintain their skills level.
3. Learning Bond - attracting highly-skilled young people to live and to work in Wales to boost our economy
As well as supporting our teachers, Plaid is committed to an education system that will support every individual in Wales throughout their future careers. Plaid is offering an alternative within the current system.
As the Welsh Education Minister, I will give every student a loan to cover the costs of their studying wherever they choose to study. Our learning bond will write off £6,000 for every year of study they completed if students return to Wales within five years after graduating.
Investment in Welsh Universities and Colleges
Labour’s current tuition fee grant is an expensive, unsustainable policy and it requires a fundamental rethink. Its cost to the Welsh Government has risen from £109m a year in 2012/13 to £238.6m in 2014/15. Our learning bond will replace the tuition fee grant system and save £100m in its first year and provide a cumulative saving of £235m by the third year.
This will enable us to invest directly in our Welsh Universities. We know that under the current Labour policies, money is being drained out of Wales and being used to subsidise English Universities. According to Universities Wales, the funding gap “between Welsh and English universities could now stand at as much as £115m”, risking league table performance which in turn impacts student recruitment numbers.
The additional £100 million saved would be available for Welsh Universities and Colleges towards research, expensive subjects such as medicine, part-time courses, postgraduate courses and Welsh-medium courses.
Encouraging graduates to work in Wales and creating 50,000 apprenticeships
Our Learning bond will encourage students to study in Wales and once graduated, to work in Wales and contribute to the Welsh economy.
Our 50,000 new apprenticeships will offer valuable skills and opportunities for people in Wales, to earn while they learn and contribute to the economy. According to the National Training Federation Wales (NFTW), apprenticeships provide a £74 return for every £1 invested.
Our students are too important for us to let them slip away. Wales needs more doctors, dentists, and engineers. Students who study outside Wales are more likely to work outside Wales after they graduate; this means that we are missing out on skills that we need.
The Diamond interim report on higher education and student financing state that maintaining the status quo is not an option and that we need to revisit the tuition fee grant policy. This is welcome. We will have to wait until the autumn to see the full report but Plaid has come up with a credible policy that is workable within the current situation.
Labour's handling of education has failed us in Wales. The next election is an opportunity to have a policy that supports our children, students, teachers, universities and benefits our economy. A Plaid government will support a cradle to career education system that will work for everyone in Wales.