Wednesday, 8 July 2009

What's the real agenda

A couple of days ago, Clive Betts posted about the debate in the Assembly last week on Transforming Education. Clive suggested that "The only people who would have known what was happening were the handful of journalists were attended the briefing by civil servants. What they told us was certainly not replicated during the Assembly debate".

Clearly, I was not at the briefing for journalists, so I don't know what was said there. But I have to admit that Clive has highlighted a point which has been worrying me somewhat – which is that the agenda of the Education Department at the Assembly Government does not seem to be fully explained or understood, not least by the AMs themselves.

When I read the documents whch are at the heart of the particular debate which Clive refers to, I read them as at the very least facilitating, if not actually encouraging, moves to abolish sixth forms and move to a system of tertiary colleges throughout Wales. And setting sixth form funding, alongside FE college funding, at Assembly government level rather than local authority level seemed to me to be giving an extra lever to the education department to achieve that goal.

Clive suggests that the civil servants briefed journalists to the effect that imposing this approach across Wales was precisely their intention. It wouldn't surprise me for one moment to learn that this was their intention – but I'd be surprised if they really briefed journalists to that effect so openly. The policy documents themselves are far from being as black and white as that; and certainly don't seem to match what is being said by individual AMs, which is the point which Clive makes. So, one would have to believe either that the AMs understand what the department is up to and are keeping quiet about it; or else that the civil servants fed an agenda to the press which has not been fed to (or perhaps not fully understood by) the people supposedly making the decisions.

It isn't just on the sixth form issue that I have concerns; I have similar concerns on the question of Welsh-medium secondary education. In both cases, the Education Department seems to be pursuing an agenda with far-reaching consequences, which is not spelled out in the wording of the formal documents, but which is being delivered in practice through the less formal day-to-day communication between the Department and local authorities.

There's nothing wrong, per se, with the government using its majority to push through its policies. But there is something very wrong if, as Clive suggests, the full implications of those policies are not really being made clear to those being whipped to support them.

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