Securing better education standards

Addressing the annual Welsh Conservative Party Conference in Llangollen, Angela Burns AM, Shadow Minister for Education, said:

(Check against delivery / Gwirio gyda’r cyflwyniad)


Good morning. It’s a pleasure to see you here, especially as it’s a Saturday and given the importance of this afternoon’s events and the anticipated face-off between Wales and England, I’m rather relieved to see anyone at all.

Almost as important is today’s game between the Commons and the National Assembly.

They don’t like to talk about it but I’m rather pleased the Secretary of State and his Minister have been on the losing team for the past 4 years.

Hopefully Andrew RT as Chair of the Assembly Rugby Team and the players will make it 5 years.

So a win for the Assembly and a win for Wales would make this a great weekend!


But there is another area in which we desperately need to win and that is in education.

Given our history and culture, our appetite to learn and our desire to challenge and grow as a nation it is a matter of real regret, indeed a matter of national disgrace, that we have been so lost in education.

Let me be crystal clear.

Unlike the previous Labour Education Minister who launched an all-out war on teachers, I do not believe the fault is with the teaching profession.

Yes there are some teachers who have lost the fire in their belly.

Yes there are some teachers who should never have entered the profession and yes there are some teachers who just are not very good.

But they are a small minority.

Most are engaged, determined and passionate individuals, proud of their craft and dedicated to giving students every opportunity.

However Labour would have us believe that our poor results, our chaotic structures and our exhausted bureaucratic system are all the fault of teachers.

We are where we are today because of 17 years of chopping and changing by Welsh Labour.

We are where we are today because of 17 years of missed opportunities and blame game.

We are where we are today because of 17 years of reducing expectations, aspirations and standards in education.

The current Minister has been more emollient, he has tried to patch the wounds, to staunch the blood, to breathe life into the system.

But it is too little, too late.

PISA is the international standard upon which most countries benchmark their progress in education.

Achieving good results in these tests is crucial.

Our country needs to be as good as the best if Wales is going to achieve a step change in our economy.

But we will not achieve that excellence with scores falling each time Wales participates.

A decade ago results revealed Wales performing below the OECD average.

And then it got worse.

A decade ago we were 22 out of 57 nations in Science. Today we are in 36th place

A decade ago we were 34th out of 67 in Maths. Today we are 43rd

A decade ago we were 30th in Reading out of 68. Today we are 41st

The Welsh Labour Government loves smoke and mirrors. Having not met targets they boasted they would meet they did what they do best. They changed the rules of the game.

The 2016 PISA targets will be measured on a different set of parameters. So there will be no comparables with previous results and no benchmarking with the best of the rest in the world.


Leaving aside international comparison Wales’ schools Inspectors, Estyn, do not report enormous success year on year.

Estyn’s 2014/15 Annual Report showed that 46% of secondary schools in Wales only provide an ‘adequate’ or ‘unsatisfactory’ learning experience for their pupils.

Statistics like this one exemplifies Estyn’s assessment that a number of schools do not understand well enough the curriculum requirements.

This leads to non-confident teachers and a negative learning experience for pupils.

The really shocking conclusion unveiled by Estyn is that more than 30 per cent of 15-16 year-olds have not reached levels of literacy and numeracy that allow them to communicate and operate effectively in the workplace. 

The young people of Wales deserve better than their exclusion from the workplace and Wales shouldn’t let a poor education be a brake on social mobility.

To put the latter finding more starkly, less than 30 per cent of pupils on free school meals gained the key stage 4 core subject indicator.

In other words poor kids are getting an even rougher deal.

It impacts on their life chances, on their chance of a decent stable career, on their chance of leaving poverty behind.

And this show Labour’s incompetence at its worst.

Both the current and previous Education Ministers made closing the attainment gap one of their core objectives.

As Estyn clearly demonstrates their failure is total.

The Welsh Conservatives will not tolerate this.

The Welsh Conservatives will not tolerate our young people being denied opportunities.

The Welsh Conservatives will not tolerate teachers being hamstrung in their efforts to raise standards.

The Welsh Conservatives will not tolerate Wales languishing at the bottom of any league table anywhere.


We have ambitious, well-researched, funded and credible plans for improving the outcomes of students, for supporting and developing teachers, for enabling excellence in education.

We are acutely aware that the profession has taken a hammering.

We are acutely aware that there are enormous changes in the offing, some of which are to be welcomed.

We do not intend to bury teachers, students or the system in yet more wholesale changes but there are freedoms to be given, money to be spent more effectively and aspirations to be met in order to achieve excellence in education.


The Welsh Conservatives will restore the teaching profession as the locus of our nation.

Without a robust and internationally recognised education system we cannot develop our economy.

We will struggle to grow business, to attract investment, and come up with ground breaking technologies.

We will run out of money to pay for our health service and social services.

Our roads and trains.

Our village greens and our bus shelters.

Above all, without a robust education system that recognises education is about developing the person we fail our young people as well as failing ourselves.

Education in the rounded sense is about instilling confidence and developing the capability to think critically and creatively.

Education is about giving a person the tools to communicate well and the strength of character to weather the storms of life.

In order to deliver Excellence in Education the Welsh Conservatives will act to ensure that funding in education is not wasted but goes directly to schools, colleges, universities and Students.

We will scrap the costly and indifferently performing regional consortia and expect headteachers to be responsible for their school improvement. Welsh Labour’s rhetoric is all about criticism and challenge.

Ours is about training and support so heads and teachers can react to the aspirations of their communities.

In all my years of management the one crucial lesson I learnt was the sheer futility of giving someone a task to do then tying their hands behind their back.

I will not set our education system up to fail like Labour has.

I want to secure a real change for Wales. I want to see universal and consistent excellence in education

We will build on the current curriculum proposals to ensure an education fit for the 21st century.

We recognise that at 14 some young people have begun to disengage with education as delivered at present.

We must make education relevant to student’s lives.

I’d rather keep a young person in education and reform the system to fit them than lose them.

Rescuing an adult is harder than saving a child.

We will enable and support the introduction of University Technical Colleges to help foster apprenticeships that lead to high quality sustainable jobs.

We will support Further Education colleges to deliver courses aimed at capturing and developing the potentially disenfranchised.

We will protect sixth forms and demand academic rigour throughout the system.

Welsh Conservatives will scrap the hugely unsustainable tuition fee grant.

It has cost the country billions of pounds and is draining vital cash from the education system.

We want to make higher education truly accessible.

The Welsh Government’s current policy is eye wateringly expensive and does nothing to support Students with living costs which is the main barrier to higher education.

Welsh Conservatives will help.

No more racking up of enormous debts. No more depending on the Bank of Mum and Dad if you are so fortunate.

No more juggling a demanding course and a job to make ends meet.

We will give students a 50% rebate on their rent costs.

Not a loan.

Not a grant but our investment in their future and the future of our country.

Are you aware that just under a quarter of our school population have some form of additional learning need that impacts on their ability to access education?

If they can’t get the best chance at school they will struggle even more as adults.

That’s potentially almost a quarter of our population struggling on a day to day basis to achieve their goals.

The Welsh Conservatives will bring forward an Additional Learning Needs Bill and an Autism Bill.

We will invest in ensuring that children and young people who have additional learning needs will be supported so they have the best possible chance to overcome or mitigate the challenges they face.

Everyone deserves an excellent education.

In order to secure real change for Wales and achieve excellence in education we need to recognise one absolute truth put very clearly years ago by Sir Michael Barber.

“The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers”

Therefore we will commit to establishing a higher education institution that will focus solely on initial teacher training and educational research.

This Centre for Education is crucial in progressing the development of education in Wales.

Professor John Furlong has just completed his extensive review into teacher training in Wales and he states:

“If the teaching profession itself is to make its proper contribution to the raising of standards in our schools in the way that has been set out in the Donaldson Review then what is needed is a form of initial teacher education that is expansive rather than restricted, one that gives teachers themselves the skills, knowledge and dispositions to lead the changes that are needed. At present, that form of initial teacher education is not available in Wales.”

The Welsh Conservatives will make sure that form of teacher training is available in Wales.

We want to see close partnerships between schools and the Centre for Education, conducting research through studying classroom practice and gathering data to form pedagogies that would be passed on to students.

The Centre for Education would need to work in tandem with the government of the day to better understand their end objectives and in order to develop comprehensive and world leading programmes.

Given the new curriculum as proposed by Prof Graham Donaldson, student teachers would be taught with the curriculum reform in mind.

They would also be taught to recognise additional learning needs which are a barrier to so many of our young people staying in school and doing well.

We will consult extensively with the profession and providers to shape the Centre for Education as we want to build an alumnus that can deliver outstanding teaching to students and offer peer to peer and mentoring programmes within the profession.

College of Teaching

In tandem with the creation of the Centre for Education we will re-purpose the Education Workforce Council and create a College of Teaching.

The teaching profession deserves and needs the status that is accorded to doctors, lawyers and engineers.

The College will set the standards for teacher training, will focus on continuous professional development and will develop fellowships and Head Teacher programmes.

They will also be responsible for professional standards.

The College of Teaching will be funded in part by Government and in part by membership fees.

This re-enforces our commitment to making the College of Teaching independent of Government and make it truly teacher led.

This is the change that Wales needs.

The recent Bevan Foundation Report issued a stark warning.

It said if Wales continues on the same trend by 2020 the gap in educational attainment will remain.

There will be 70,000 school leavers without at least a pass in 5 GCSE’s.

On current trends Wales is forecasted to be even poorer economically compared to the rest of the UK. Some families will be better off but thousands will struggle to make ends meet and a minority will face severe poverty.

An excellent focused education system can change our future.

Welsh Conservatives will secure that change.

That is our commitment to you.

That is our commitment to Wales.