Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to be here with you this morning.
I know what you’re all thinking – No I am not Iain Duncan Smith, though I’ve been compared to him recently – I’m the one with more hair!
First of all, I’d like to thank everyone who has taken part in our Spring Conference this year- their contributions have been excellent.
I have to say, taking on the Education portfolio and being responsible for the Welsh Language on behalf of the Welsh Conservatives has been a privilege.
Ensuring that Wales has a first class education system has always been a top priority for the Welsh Conservatives.
However, education standards have been slipping here in Wales under the Labour/Plaid Assembly administration.
Let’s look at those standards here in Wales.
The most recent international statistics highlighted that out of the 67 countries taking part, Wales was ranked lower than Poland and Estonia for reading, maths and science.
And if that wasn’t bad enough –the most recent report by the Welsh Schools Inspectors Estyn tells us that four in ten pupils in Wales have reading skills below their actual age.
This is a shameful reflection on the Labour and Plaid Assembly Government!
When this First Minister came to power, he promised to better fund Welsh schools and to correct the underfunding by successive Labour-led Assembly Governments.
Well, we’ve heard this rhetoric before from previous Labour leaders.
We all remember education, education, education!
But this First Minister has been a member of an Assembly Government which, from the outset, has underinvested in schools, colleges and universities across the country.
In 1999-2000 the investment gap between England and Wales was just £58 per pupil.
In 2009-10, a decade later, the gap is now £604 per pupil.
With this sort of funding gap, it’s no wonder that young people are not able to reach their potential.
Conference, it is clear - Labour and Plaid have failed the young people of Wales!
This Labour-Plaid Assembly Government has frittered public money away on gimmicks such as the free school breakfasts scheme.
Money they should’ve spent on educating schoolchildren – on more teachers, books and repairing crumbling classrooms – has been spent on cornflakes and coco pops!!!!
Make no mistake about it, no matter how much the Welsh Education Minister snaps, crackle and pop about it…
And, oh boy, can he snap….. we saw that recently at the Welsh Labour Party conference…
He may bully, the media, he may bully the BBC, and he may bully individual interviewers…
But this politician and this Party will not be bullied.
So let’s send a message loud and clear – we will not tolerate bullying in the classroom and we will not tolerate bullying from Labour and Plaid Ministers!!
The Assembly Government has cost thousands of schoolchildren proper classrooms with heating, lighting and computers and other modern facilities by this free school breakfast scheme.
Now you can call me old fashioned, but I believe that parents – not teachers- should be giving their children breakfast.
We believe the best way to help people improve their prospects is through education and employment, not welfare and hand-outs.
There is no such thing as a free breakfast!
I believe our message must be absolutely clear: schools are not just places in which our children are taught; they are an important part of our communities.
And that’s why more consideration must be given to the local community and to the Welsh Language when reorganising schools in Wales.
Then of course, we have the Assembly Government’s flagship tuition fees policy.
A policy that has been unmasked as an uncosted pre-election gimmick written on the back of an envelope by publicity-hungry Labour Ministers.
After years of spending money they didn’t have and racking up a massive budget deficit in Westminster, Labour politicians should have learnt by now to keep track of their spending of taxpayers’ money and not make uncosted and unaffordable financial commitments.
This policy will see some £50 Million going out of Wales and away from Welsh Universities.
So what are our proposals? What are our educational policies for Wales?
While Labour and Plaid are closing 170 schools in Wales – we are committed to cutting bureaucracy and making sure that tens of millions of pounds extra go into the frontline.
We would fund schools directly, giving power to parents, teachers and governors who know their schools best – that is real devolution.
We believe in an education system that inspires and challenges our children.
We believe that exploring and promoting enterprise and life skills will help inspire young people to be the entrepreneurs of the future.
Investing in skills is to generate a stronger economy and a better standard of living.
With youth unemployment figures at a record high in Wales, we shouldn’t wait until a young person is unemployed before we take action.
We need to strike now!
That’s why we would establish a social enterprise in every secondary school so that children can develop practical business skills through their time in education.
Conference, it’s time for a fresh approach to education in Wales.
Our education system is not fit for purpose…
And the Labour Plaid Government approach to education is certainly not fit for purpose…
Thousands of children and parents are being let down every day by poor policies and poor leadership.
We are the only party in Wales who offer real change to the education system.
We will work hard for: more accountability from our politicians!
…More trust in our teachers!!
…More opportunities for our children!!!
So let’s get out there and make that change happen.
Let’s give Wales a new voice