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Senedd Election 2021 - Education Policy Manifesto Pledges

Naomi White
Naomi White

Our Monitoring and Research Officer, Naomi White, analyses the education commitments made by the three main parties in the run up to the Senedd Election 2021.

Early Years and Schools

Both Plaid and the Welsh Conservatives made a number of commitments to early years provision in their respective manifestos, with both parties committing to expand free childcare to 24 months, as well as both pledging develop Welsh-medium nursery provision by working with organisations such as Meithrin Cymru. The Welsh Conservatives have promised reforms to the Flying Start programme. Plaid Cymru have also pledged to expand this provision to Welsh-medium early years education for children aged 12 months until they are eligble for full time education. Plaid Cymru have also pledged to develop innovative guidance for parents and fund £35 per child weekly as a top-up payment to families living below the poverty line.

School meals for pupils has been a hot topic in the press recently and the parties’ pledges have reflected the importance of this issue. Plaid have been the boldest in their pledge to provide free school meals to all primary school children using quality Welsh produce. The Welsh Conservatives by comparison, have pledged to ensure that those entitled to free school meals will continue to have these meals available over school holidays. Welsh Labour has pledged to maintain its commitments to providing free breakfast for all primary school pupils and to invest in its School Holiday Enrichment Programme to abolish holiday hunger.

Both the Welsh Conservatives and Welsh Labour have committed to sticking with the 21stCentury Schools Programme, with the Welsh Conservatives seeking to “accelerate and extend” the programme whereas Welsh Labour has committed to an investment figure of £1.5bn. Plaid Cymru has focused extensively on digital attainment of pupils, with promises included in the manifesto to establish a major new collaborative programme on digital skills bringing together education, employers and Government.

Welsh Language and Education

The Welsh Language and its place in Welsh Education has formed a key part of the manifestos for the three main parties. Plaid Cymru have gone the furthest with its proposals, guaranteeing to; protect closure of Welsh-medium schools; set targets for the increase of provision of Welsh-medium teaching; improve Foundation Phase teaching of Welsh; consider free transport to Welsh medium schools; make primary education bilingual in Wales; support Higher Education and Further Education (HE and FE) establishments to conduct research in Welsh. Welsh Labour has vowed to introduce a Cymraeg 2050 Welsh Language Education Bill; expand Welsh language early years provision including nursery groups and parent taster sessions; ensure parents have access to Welsh through The National Centre for Learning Welsh; Incentivise young Welsh speakers to return from universities to teach Welsh in schools. The Welsh Conservatives have assured that they will; create more Welsh-medium school places and explore opportunities for teacher exchanges; cut tuition fees in half for Welsh students studying STEM and modern foreign languages subjects; provide free transport to Welsh-medium secondary schools pupils.

Teaching

All of the three key parties have pledged to recruit greater numbers of teachers across schools in Wales.

  • Plaid Cymru has committed to recruiting an additional 4,500 teachers including support staff such as non-teaching staff to support pupil needs. As well as pledging to introduce a national in-school system of one-to-one and small group tutoring.
  • Welsh Labour has pledged to recruit an additional 1,800 teachers and tutoring staff.
  • The Welsh Conservatives, have committed the most, promising 5000 teachers across Wales and promises relating to tutoring, summer schools and targeted support for pupils.

Plaid Cymru has additionally promised to focus on professional learning of staff, particularly in terms of Welsh Language skills and have also committed to raising the starting salary of teachers by 10 per cent to £30,000 from 2022. In addition, the party has pledged to conduct a review of Initial Teacher Education. The Welsh Conservatives have pledged to provide all newly qualified teachers with a guaranteed first year of employment in a Welsh school or college.

Plaid and Welsh Labour have made commitments relating to supply teachers with Plaid opting to revert to a Local Education Authority System for supply teachers, whereas Welsh Labour have pledged to “develop a sustainable model for supply teaching that has fair work at its heart”. Plaid Cymru have also promised to “streamline the so-called ‘middle tier’ between schools and Welsh Government”, including local authorities, education consortia, universities, Estyn, WJEC, and Qualifications Wales.  Welsh Labour are planning to enact the Welsh Curriculum from 2022 if they are successful, whereas the Welsh Conservatives would push this back until 2023.

Mental Health

All parties have acknowledged the mental health crisis that young people across Wales are facing and have made a number of pledges specifically related to mental health provision in schools. Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour appear to be taking the bolder moves when it comes to youth mental health, with Plaid Cymru committed to investing in emotional resilience and mental health in schools as well as in post-16 education providers, investing in the establishment of Youth Wellbeing Centres. Welsh Labour has committed to working with schools to help them meet mental health challenges including provision of additional counselling. The Welsh Conservatives by contrast, have pledged to ensurethat all schools, colleges and universities have mental health and wellbeing services, with no further detail on how investment would be allocated.

Further and Higher Education

All parties have pledged a number of key manifesto commitments in relation to post-16 education, these include; increasing apprenticeship take up; investments in university led research and making Welsh Universities more attractive to Welsh students. Both Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Conservatives have pledged to provide free bus travel to all 16-24-year olds, with the Welsh Conservatives extending this pledge to include discounted rail travel also.  

In regard to apprenticeships specifically, Welsh Labour has committed to create 125,000 all-age apprenticeships during the next Senedd term, whereas the Welsh Conservatives have raised this figure to 150,000 apprenticeships and have also committed to expansion of degree apprenticeships within this figure. Plaid Cymru have not committed to a specific ballpark figure, however, the party has committed to; tackle underrepresentation of women and people of colour in apprenticeships as well as increase access for those from disadvantaged backgrounds; double funding for Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol to enable it to fully develop its Further Education and Apprenticeship Welsh-medium Action Plan; create a UCAS-style portal with information on apprenticeships and FE courses; ensure apprentices under the age of 21 are partnered with a Further Education college.

Both Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Conservatives have recognized the growing importance of Technology and STEM subjects across Wales, with the Welsh Conservatives pledging to Establish an Institute of Technology in North Wales focusing on STEM subjects and Plaid pledging to establish Institutes of Technology on existing Further Education sites.

Plaid Cymru has committed to conducting an urgent Ministerial review of post 16 provision whereas Welsh Labour has pledged to review adult education services.

The parties’ biggest divergence is when it comes to the Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification and youth employment support. The Welsh Conservatives have pledged to scrap the Welsh Baccalaureate entirely whereas Plaid Cymru have pledged to phase out GCSEs, A Levels and BTEC, in order to replace with a Welsh version of the International Baccalaureate. In relation to employment support of young people, Plaid Cymru has pledged to create a National Employment Plan to ensure that guaranteed work is available for every 16-24-year-old. Welsh Labour have a similar policy pledge, committing to support all young people who have been affected by both Brexit and the pandemic by developing a new Young Persons Guarantee, giving everyone under 25 the offer of work, education, training, or self-employment. The Welsh Conservatives have not included a similar pledge.

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