Welsh Education minister forced to resign for rank hypocrisy

Leighton Andrews' tainted legacy for Welsh education

Newport students protesting against cuts

Welsh Minister for Education & Skills Leighton Andrews resigned on Tuesday after he was caught doing what every other minister is guilty of – backing cuts and austerity nationally while pretending to oppose them in his own constituency. The hypocrisy of MPs and AMs serving in governments but pretending to campaign against them in their own constituencies finally caught up with Andrews because he took it too far.

Andrews has recently opposed NHS cuts that affect his constituency while sitting in the cabinet that is implementing them. He was publically corrected by the First Minister and ordered to remove all references to Labour from the campaign material. Opposing party policy on health was bad enough but publically campaigning against Welsh Government policy in the department for which he is Minister was obviously the last straw.

The scandal is a major setback for the wily Andrews, who defected from the Liberal Democrats to Labour in 1997 and has since climbed the Welsh Labour ranks and served as Education Minister since 2009. He was the only minister not to change posts in Carwyn Jones' reshuffle earlier this year and is unlikely to be out of the cabinet for long.

Andrews' greatest crime is not his defence of a school. Quite the opposite. It is the role which Labour laud him for: four years of attacks on education at all levels in Wales.

He effectively re-introduced the discredited school league table to Wales. His obsession with Welsh standings in the world PISA rankings has led him to harm the previous Foundation Phase curriculum in primary education with target-driven testing. Many of the gains of much-acclaimed Foundation Phase in Wales have been abandoned even before their benefits have become apparent.

As the President of the NUT, Beth Davies, said:

"In Wales we got rid of the dreaded SATs and have basked in the joys of the Foundation Phase and the Skills Framework only for [Andrews] to decide he wants to go back to national testing; and this May hundreds of seven- to 11-year-olds in our schools [were] tested in numeracy and literacy".

A survey by the NASUWT published today indicates half of teachers in Wales are looking to leave the profession.

Schools in Wales have faced closures on a criminal scale. Teachers in Wales, like in the rest of the UK, are overworked to the point of exhaustion, while mergers have led to protests by teachers and parents across the country. Local Education Authorities are slowly being wound down as a move towards schools having separate budgets and competing against each other.

Under Leighton Andrews, maintenance grants for students have been slashed, as have direct state funding to universities. Cuts to staff coupled with students being treated as cash cows has meant worse staff-student ratios, and in a recent policy statement Andrews proposed introducing ultra-accelerated two-year bachelors' degrees in Wales.

Welsh universities have been pushed – with the enthusiasm of their own vice-chancellors – into partnerships with the worst of big business, such as Swansea University's collaboration with BP. When those private ventures have gone bust, the universities have been left holding the bill, as shown by the breakdown of Aberyswtyth University's biosciences programme. Andrews' fetish for public-private partnerships also contributed to the scandal-ridden collapse of the University of Wales.

Institutions at every level have also been rushed into ill thought-out mergers. Andrews has never given a serious answer as to why he thinks there were too many universities or colleges in Wales. Instead, his "reconfiguration" agenda, which is in many aspects carbon-copied from Scotland's "regionalisation" agenda, has led to farce – as Swansea Metropolitan Uni lecturers debated how to make sure their trade union's voice was heard in the event of a hypothetical merger, they learned that an actual merger deal had just been signed without any consultation with workers or students.

Emma Griffiths (pictured above), a student at the now-merged University of South Wales who fought the merger, said:

"I'm ecstatic that Leighton Andrews has resigned. He's caused nothing but course closures, job losses and cuts to Newport university since forcing a merger upon us with Glamorgan. The merger has brought misery to the staff and students. These cuts are not only detrimental to our education at Newport University, but the city as a whole. I'm looking forward to building an anti-cuts movement involving the students and staff in Newport, putting pressure on whoever takes over Andrews' role as Education Minister to invest in our university and reverse these cuts to our future".

The mass merger of local colleges into consortia stretching over hundreds of miles of rural Wales means students have to pay more in transport and spend more time to get to lectures. Many students are unable to afford the money or time, and have dropped out.

Student parents, part-time students and disabled students are among the hardest hit – the Welsh Government under Andrews' watch has slashed EMA, ALG and SSG, the three main support grants for FE students. Supporters of Andrews might point to his establishment of more apprenticeships in Wales, but most of those apprenticeships have been used to provide big business with cheap or even unpaid labour.

The most recent display of this contempt is Andrews' proposed Wales FE HE Bill, which is now being discussed in the Welsh Assembly. An FE college worker commented:

"Many trade unionists in the college I work in will be hoping that Andrews takes the Wales FE\HE Bill with him. This piece of Labour legislation proposes giving corporation boards of further education colleges more autonomy, threatening to undermine attempts to establish all-Wales terms and conditions. It grants boards powers to dissolve themselves and transfer their assets (built up with public money) to other bodies, including limited companies. It also contains plans to essentially outsource Student Finance Wales".

This bill advances plans which Youth Fight for Jobs Wales took the lead in warning about a year ago: distancing colleges from public control, creating a route for principals to privatise those colleges, endangering pay guarantees which help ensure teachers and support workers stay in the areas where they're most needed. Every education trade union in Wales, as well as the National Union of Students, objected to the proposals when they were put out for consultation last year. The Wales TUC have also raised its voice in disagreement with the plans. Andrews has not changed a single word of the bill's key provisions.

If the Welsh Government are serious about moving on from Leighton Andrews' tainted legacy they should immediately scrap this bill, as Wales TUC conference demanded. Then work can begin on reversing the cuts to education funding, scrapping tuition fees, and keeping schools open.

However students in Wales remember is was not just Leighton Andrews but every other Labour AM who signed a 2010 NUS-led pledge not to cut student grants, and who then broke that pledge.

Education workers remember Welsh Labour's manifesto promise to reverse the incorporation of FE colleges, a promise which has similarly been broken; former education workers remember the mass layoffs of teachers, tutors, lecturers and support staff which have followed directly from Andrews' cuts.

Andrews’ position will be filled by Merthyr Tydfil AM Huw Lewis. All the indications are that he will not make any significant improvements to Andrews’ damaging policies. The Welsh Government's policies in education can't be blamed on one Minister. The cuts that the Welsh Government are passing on in the NHS and the cuts being made by Welsh Labour councils show that we can't expect any resistance to austerity from Welsh Labour, no matter which of them are ministers.

Any effective force to defend education in Wales must come from below, not from the established parties. Campaigns to save schools should link up on the basis of a common opposition to all cuts and all closures.

Trade unions have the power to stop education cuts through a militant programme of industrial action; students and the NUS should side with the unions, against the Welsh Government. The Youth Fight for Jobs campaign, which is backed by NUS Wales and by lecturers' union UCU, can unite students, workers and the community on every front. We need this unity and willingness to fight together just as much today as we did on Leighton Andrews' first day in office.

Edmund Schluessel, NUS Wales National Executive & UCU member (pc) and Ronnie Job

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