Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Education: When do we get down to business?

This is my third post in recent weeks on education, so it must be a subject that's close to my heart.

Uncertainty is dwelling in the hearts of the Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills* in this new year. There is a structural redevelopment project currently underway in that department that is due to make its impact early this year and staff are waiting with baited breath.
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Staff are concerned that some of their jobs are not safe and wonder what the outcome will be as a result of a job evaluation exercise which has been published recently. Many staff have experienced this uncertainty since early 2007 and feel unsettled as a result of this further structural redevelopment to the department.

In addition to restructuraling the dynamic of the department, there's an overwhelming plan to reduce the number of staff since the 'Bonfire of the Quangos', and it is estimated that this project will result in a reduction of about 40 to 50 posts within the Education Department.

Change is constant, and restructuring is all very well - but two such restructuring projects since the announcement of the merger beggars belief. Miss Wagstaff argues a need to get down to business and an end to this constant handling of only the day-to-day running of a department. Staff are worried, and more importantly, parents are worried about education in Wales. Presumably this is all down to there having been an ineffective restructuring programme carried out first time round.

How many other departments have needed further restructuring? How has this affected the organisation? Have staff woke up to lessons learned? Who's to blame? How much has it cost in terms of project work, consultancy, and lack of delivery?

Meanwhile, Steve Marshall, Welsh Assembly Government Director of Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills is leaving in March 2008 to take up a new appointment in Canada.

What's the official response?

The First Minister said:

Since coming here just over two years ago to head up Education in Wales from a similar job in the State of South Australia, Steve has made an enormous contribution to education in Wales. His fresh approach and wealth of international experience have laid the foundations for a first-class education system that is fit for purpose in the 21st century. From our youngest learners in the Foundation Phase, through to skills development for young people and adult learning, Steve has superbly led the delivery of our Made in Wales policies superbly well. It is a sad fact of life that if you appoint an international high flyer in running your Education Department, there is always the risk that someone else will also recognise these talents and offer him an even bigger job, as has happened with Ontario having 13 million people compared to Wales’ 3 million. We wish him and the world of education in Ontario all the very best wishes.
The Permanent Secretary said:

I would like to thank Steve for leading the Department for Children, Education and Skills with great dynamism and vigour. We have all benefited from having someone with Steve’s outstanding educational expertise and leadership and management skills working for us.
Education Minister Jane Hutt said:

Steve has been a great asset for education in Wales and his new appointment reflects the recognition he has worldwide in the education field. Before his departure, he will be spearheading the launch of our school effectiveness programme across Wales which will stand us in good stead to take forward these important tri-level reforms. I would like to wish him well in his exciting new post in Canada.
Miss Wagstaff said:
[speechless]
*This department became a 'super' department since the merger of the education Quangos with the Education Department of the Welsh Assembly Government in April 2006 and has since undergone two major restructuring programmes.

27 comments:

Cardiff man 16 January 2008 at 09:58  

Why is it that when things are going wrong the obvious reaction is to restructure? Plain incompetence

Anonymous 16 January 2008 at 10:04  

In light of your previous posts it's pretty clear why education in Wales is having a tough time. Steve Marshall was meant to create a revolution in the department and change to for the better. Either it was a complete shambles before he arrived or we won't find out for years whether or not the work he has done will change it for the better.

Ed 16 January 2008 at 10:19  

My concern is one of further change. What happens if the person brought in to replace Marshall has his own views on how the department should be set-up and run? It's very clear that some staff are not happy and friends tell me that former quango employees have never been happy with their new bosses.

Valleys man 16 January 2008 at 10:38  

I've heard it argued that the department is top-heavy. Too many senior civil servants and not enough middle managers to carry out the work.

Anonymous 16 January 2008 at 10:49  

"Too many senior civil servants"

This wasn't helped by the mergers, where a large proportion of staff came in on higher salaries than their counterpart grade in the civil service. A lot of this influx did well out of their new position and some are out of their depth in terms of grade.

Treachery of the Blue Books. 16 January 2008 at 11:00  

Everyone knows that Marshall couldn't believe how useless most people he met in the Assembly on both the political and civil service side were. Another wasted two years whilst Welsh children continue to be at the bottom of the table. It seems that Hain isn't the only incompetent involved in Welsh public life at the moment.

Rhondda Dropout 16 January 2008 at 11:04  

This is what you get when the Welsh Assembly adopts the same approach to Welsh Education as regional rugby does to obtaining a new scrum half. Perhaps the should have asked Mike Cuddy or Peter Thomas to persuade him to stay in Wales

Anonymous 16 January 2008 at 11:19  

I'd also heard on the grapevine that Marshall wasn't impressed with the department, its people and politicians. We all start work with good intention, but if the set-up isn't right there's only so much you can do.

Dotcommentator 16 January 2008 at 15:33  

Today I received the 2008 Corporate Wales directory. There's a good quote from Jane Hutt: "I am not in favour of change for change's sake. Too often new initiatives are not given time to really settle down before they are overtaken by new ones." Whoops!

vale of glamorgan expects 16 January 2008 at 17:05  

I can honestly say that I've never heard a good word said about Jane Hutt.

She's the teacher that schools never had.

Mr Benson 16 January 2008 at 17:20  

I wouldn't be at all surprised if he's leaving before the whole experience damages his career. You can only take your vision and expertise so far in a job like that before reality smack you in the face and brings you back down to earth.

Anonymous 16 January 2008 at 18:31  

There's enough difficulty between civil servants and former quango staff working together in harmony to last a generation in Wales.

Anonymous 16 January 2008 at 19:33  

There's enough criticism of the government in the papers. Please try and be constructive.

Dotcommentator 16 January 2008 at 23:21  

Saying that the people in the jobs probably are not good enough is constructive. Far too AMs are voluntary sector escapees and town councillor material.

Dotcommentator 16 January 2008 at 23:22  

Oh, a nice word about Jane Hutt: she's a decent and kind person - exactly the sort who doesn't get things done in politics.

Anonymous 17 January 2008 at 01:01  

You should write a post on which AMs deserve to be in politics and have something to contribute.

Dotcommentator 17 January 2008 at 08:36  

Heh, I'll put that suggestion in my ministerial in-tray.

I don't think it's quite a case of deserving or not deserving to be in politics. I'm not discounting people from those backgrounds but they often seem to have few ideas, having spent their careers to date in sectors that tend to think of a new idea as just another ultimately meaningless initiative. Some of the best AMs - in terms of general charisma, ideas and aims - are the ones who had careers outside politics before they joined the Assembly and Assembly Government.

Miss Wagstaff 17 January 2008 at 09:59  

DC - Some excellent points made. Valleys Mam posted on Cabinet Ministers and their pre political careers a week ago, which hit the nail on the head.

http://merchmerthyr.blogspot.com/2008/01/cvs-of-ams-and-mps-in-respect-of.html

"I'll put that suggestion in my ministerial in-tray"

How do you know the Private Office catch phrase? ;)

Anonymous 17 January 2008 at 11:54  

Do we know the likely contenders for Director of Education?

Anonymous 17 January 2008 at 12:43  

There are a number of people eligible in the department. WAG has an option to go external the same as last time, which tends to lead to bad feeling, but they may obtain a better candidate that way.

Dotcommentator 17 January 2008 at 12:54  

Cheers, I'll take that as a roundabout compliment that I have my finger on the pulse.

Imagine the Assembly Government were a full law-making body with tax-raising powers, how many AMs little pet projects would be rendered redundant? Quite a few, I'd think. From the comfort of partial devolution it's fairly easy to prioritise whatever one likes but in full government AMs will have to make decisions that are tough (not to be confused with Gordon Brown's 'tough, long term decisions' mantra) and decisions that will annoy or disadvantage a lot of people, simply because it's a question of priorities. I think a good number of current AMs would not be capable of such a task.

Jamie 17 January 2008 at 14:11  

"finger on the pulse"

If only the WAG was in that comfortable position.

Miss Wagstaff 17 January 2008 at 14:19  

DC - I guess what we have in Wales is a variation of advanced 'painting by numbers' when it comes to governance.

Senedd Whip 17 January 2008 at 18:38  

The trouble with painting by numbers is that you eventually run out of paint. You then have to go to the parent and ask for more.

They will then point out how much paint you've wasted and that you were given an adequate amount in proportion to the other children in the first place.

Anonymous 17 January 2008 at 20:46  

What happens if you use the wrong paint and have to run to the expense of doing it all again?

Miss Wagstaff 17 January 2008 at 21:16  

The Director of Education has been interviewed by the Western Mail - short post tomorrow.

Pier Pressure 18 January 2008 at 17:04  

I wonder if his replacement will have the tagline 'Welsh learner' in his biography. A servant has a tendency to follow in the footsteps of his master.

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