the senedd in cardiff bay
The Senedd Credit: Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament

The Senedd rejected calls to introduce free schools and academies after a report found major challenges in Wales’ education system.

Tom Giffard led a Conservative debate on educational attainment, warning that Wales is consistently at the bottom of UK-wide league tables.

The party’s new shadow education secretary pointed to an Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report on education in Wales which found low outcomes and high levels of inequality.

Mr Giffard told the Senedd the IFS report highlights the pitfalls of the Welsh Government putting all its eggs in the basket of a skills-based approach.

Criticising a failure to measure skills inequalities and pupil progress, he stressed that Wales’ lower performance is due to policy and approach rather than funding or the pandemic.

‘Breaking point’

He said: “It seems the Welsh Government relies on Pisa results to tell the story but then, when those same results are all too disappointing, they are dismissed in equal measure.”

Mr Giffard, who previously worked in a primary school, said declines in Pisa results can be observed in almost every country that has adopted a skills-based approach.

Raising concerns about disappointing Pisa results, the South Wales West MS pointed out that Wales saw the lowest scores in the UK for every subject.

Heledd Fychan, Plaid Cymru’s shadow education secretary, warned that Wales’ schools are understaffed and facing difficult decisions due to budgets being at breaking point.

She criticised implementation of the Welsh Government’s additional learning needs (ALN) reforms, saying schools cannot realise the aims without the budget to bring them to life.

Ms Fychan said Plaid Cymru agreed with much of the Tory motion but her party would not support calls for free schools and academies.


Sam Rowlands described the IFS report as damning, warning that the Welsh Government’s education reforms have been disastrous and have widened inequality.

The Tory MS claimed the reforms are systematically holding back disadvantaged children, saying: “The most remarkable fact is that the performance of disadvantaged children in England is either above or similar to the average for all children in Wales.”

Mr Rowlands added: “The poorest in England’s schools are doing the same or better than the Welsh average, thanks to ambition, the academies and free schools.”

Samuel Kurtz, a fellow Tory, said free schools and academies have driven up standards in England as he argued a Wales roll-out provides an opportunity to improve outcomes.

James Evans, the Conservative MS for Brecon and Radnorshire, highlighted the party’s pledge to get 5,000 more teachers into Wales’ classrooms.


Buffy Williams, the newly elected chair of the Senedd’s education committee, said Wales is undergoing a profound transformation propelled by ALN and curriculum reforms.

The Labour MS for Rhondda stressed the importance of listening to teachers and allowing ample time for the reforms to take root in classrooms across Wales.

Altaf Hussain recounted a conversation he had this week with a headteacher at one of the largest schools in his South Wales West region.

The Conservative said: “The major improvements they have been delivering to attainment and addressing behavioural issues are all at risk because of cuts to funding.

“Vital work undertaken to improve the lives of young people with additional needs could be halted because they cannot afford to continue employing the support workers.”


Lynne Neagle recognised the scale and seriousness of work still ahead to improve Wales’ education system, stressing: “I am not, in any way, complacent about that task.”

Wales’ newly appointed education secretary, who takes over from Jeremy Miles, said sustained improvement in attainment will be among her top priorities.

She told the chamber: “My early focus has been to listen closely to schools and where it is clear that schools seek more scaffolding.”

Ms Neagle said the Welsh Government will work with trade unions and employers to reduce workload and eliminate unnecessary red tape.

The Conservative motion was voted down, 14-35, following the debate on April 24. The motion as amended by the Welsh Government was agreed, 26-23