Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Theory and practice

I have posted previously about the re-organisation of secondary education in the Dinefwr / Gwendraeth area of the county.  The re-organisation was a consequence of piloting a 'tri-level' approach to considering systemic change in the educational arrangements.  The process wasn't actually invented here, but it has been applied with some enthusiasm by the Welsh Government.
There's a quite detailed assessment of the background to the introduction of the approach available here written by David Egan and Steve Marshall, but the approach is based on the principle that reform is best driven by partnership between the Government, the Education Authorities, and the schools themselves.
In theory, that seems to be a good basis for driving reform.  In practice, however, it has produced a set of proposals which I, and many others, find completely unacceptable.  I think that there are three main reasons for that.
The first is that the three levels involved are not exactly equal partners in the process.  Rather, there is an hierarchical relationship involved; the schools are run and funded by the LEA, and the Welsh Government lays down the rules within which the LEA and the schools can operate.
The second is that the county council selected an area of the county to participate, only including the schools in that area.  That looks to many of us to have been a pretty arbitrary decision; but once made, it inevitably constrained the range of options which could be presented.  (It’s not an unusual phenomenon, of course – he who frames the question can hugely influence the answer.)
And the third is that at least some of the parties went into the process with their own agendas. 
The county council seems to have had the objective of coming up with whatever reconfiguration was most likely to persuade the Government to agree to a major capital investment in the county's education infrastructure.  That's not necessarily an entirely bad objective, but when it becomes an over-riding objective, it can lead to where we are – a mismatch with the needs of the community. 
The government's officials seem to me to have had the simple objective of reducing the number of schools.  Again, not necessarily a bad objective in itself (albeit one with which I wold disagree, and not one that is anywhere spelled out quite that bluntly in any of the Government's official strategy documents), but when coupled with an apparent lack of understanding of the difference between 'Welsh-medium provision' and 'Welsh-medium education', it has been a major factor in arriving at an unacceptable outcome.
Where are we now?  The proposals have developed a momentum of their own despite the fact that they run counter to the language policies of both the government and the council.  And a process which seemed sound at the outset seems to have become little more than a shield to hide behind for all concerned, since everything is the fault of ‘someone else’.  
As an aside, it's interesting to note, that although what happened in Carmarthenshire was described as a 'pilot' of the process, there seems to have been little subsequent mention of it elsewhere.

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