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Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Ceredigion 14-19 Learning Partnership

Ceredigion Cabinet has started the ball rolling with secondary school reorganisation with a meeting of School Governors in Aberaeron on Monday night to discuss the 'Ceredigion 14-19 Learning Partnership Terms of Reference and Governance Arrangements'. A grand title enough to frighten the life out of any non legal mind but its all about how secondary schools, Coleg Ceredigion and vocational trainers can work with each other under a strategic banner managed by Ceredigion Education Department. Most is driven by WAG and the national education agenda.
In Ceredigion its the Lib Dems who are in charge of the education portfolio so I came prepared not to expect a lot. After the usual rambling introduction we were treated to a 20 minute disection by the Director of Education of this Cambrian News article. Maybe he had been reading a bit of George Monbiot and wanted to join in the fun but to start a night to discuss the future of secondary education listing, in his opinion, the inaccuracies and misinterpretations of the Cambrian News was brave and unusual. He insisted we were there to discuss options and no solutions were to be foisted on anybody. Several other officers provided additional descriptions of the proposals which I can summise that a strategic board will be created with guidance power on policy for school governing bodies but that the ultimate decision will be taken locally by governing bodies themselves. Then came the stick, if governing bodies failed to comply with the wishes of the strategic board then the big brother Welsh Assembly will step in. Ceredigion will become another Anglesey or Denbigh.
This is fundementally the wrong approach. Anglesey and Denbigh are totally different scenario's, one arises from poor political leadership and the other from poor officer leadership. You cannot build a sustainable consensus in favour of a policy if your over-riding argument is one of threat if the right decision isn't taken.
These are my other concerns:-
  1. The strategic pyramid is unclear and it appears that there is a chain of pyramids in place. Is it the Cabinet's policy that over-rides all others? WAG policy? or the local policy of individual governing bodies?
  2. There is no compulsion for governing bodies to submit to the will of the strategic board and the governing bodies hold all financial powers. Strategic direction will not work without finance so why create such a powerless structure unless finance will no longer be controlled by governing bodies. One to watch.
  3. There is no direct line of accountability in the structures proposed.
  4. There is no direction on how disputes, and there will be many, will be resolved.
  5. There is no clear statement why the structures are being put in place and what they aim to achieve.

One of my favourite quotes is by Disraeli " a progressive country change is constant..." and even though Ceredigion has historically had some of the best secondary education results in Wales, we cannot stand still and systems, structures and education have to evolve. I am yet to be convinced that collating power in a single county based structure is the right way, I do think that successful and capable governing bodies play a constructive role in society. Speaking as a parent, governor and former pupil, these are developments we must watch.

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