We Could See Expectations Fall Now Leighton's Gone; Gareth Evans - Appointed Western Mail Education Correspondent the Week before Leighton Andrews Was Made Education Minister in 2009 - Looks Back on Four Frantic Years for Wales' Schools, Colleges and Universities

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Byline: Gareth Evans

B AD luck, I'm back," said Leighton Andrews to journalists waiting outside Welsh Government headquarters in March.

After months of speculation, Wales' most belligerent politician had retained the enigmatic education brief. But, it transpired, he would not hold on to it for long.

Mr Andrews was appointed Jane Hutt's successor as Education Minister in December 2009. New First Minister Carwyn Jones had entrusted one of his closest allies - and campaign manager - with Wales' hottest portfolio.

What followed has been described as a "white knuckle ride" for Welsh education. But it was a rollercoaster the nation's schools system desperately needed.

Mr Andrews was plucked from relative obscurity (he held two deputy roles prior to his promotion) and famously took the first few months after his appointment swotting up on the intricacies of education policy.

In fact, Mr Andrews' meticulous eye for detail and willingness to immerse himself fully into the parallel world of education became a feature of his tenure. Forever researching, he was very rarely caught off-guard.

Looking back over his notable achievements, there are two that stand out. First, Mr Andrews' radical tuition fees policy and decision to subsidise Welsh-domiciled students wherever in the UK they choose to study.

To many, a trebling of tuition fees - approved by the UK Government in 2010 - was a blockade into higher education. There were caveats in place to support those worse off, but prospects of a lifetime in debt proved a bridge too far for many.

Mr Andrews, in a way that no other Welsh politician has done before or since, took on Westminster - and won.

Unfazed by taking on the London-based establishment, he proved, unequivocally, there was another, Welsh way.

His long-running battle with UK Education Secretary Michael Gove was the source of intense media coverage and while qualifications remain a topic of consternation in England, it is testament to Mr Andrews' resolve that GCSEs and A-levels have a sound footing in Wales.

The minister's decision to regrade tainted GCSE English papers soured relations last summer, but although the Welsh Government's role in the fiasco is open to debate, Mr Andrews only ever had the best interests of Welsh students at heart.

Analysis of the minister's four-year tenure would not be complete without reference to the Welsh Government's reconfiguration agenda. The creation of a "smaller number of stronger universities" was always in the offing - but higher education is a notoriously tough nut to crack.

If anyone was going to merge long-standing foes it was Mr Andrews but his high-profile assault on Cardiff Metropolitan University would ultimately prove futile. …