Magazine article The Spectator

The Betrayal of Wales

Magazine article The Spectator

The Betrayal of Wales

Article excerpt

Devolution has left my country with catastrophic misgovernment

In England, success in life is bound up with where you went to school. In Wales, where I come from, the standard of education can be so miserable that you'd do better to get expelled.

I did. I'd just spent three days in 'isolation' in my south Wales comprehensive -- banished to a cubicle with a CCTV camera -- for misbehaviour. As I left the grounds, I lit a cigarette. A teacher accosted me. I got lippy and she smacked me across the face. I was expelled soon after. Thank God.

If you want good schooling in Wales, you'd be best to go private. If you're taken ill, make sure you're treated in the English NHS, not the Welsh version. If you want a private-sector job, best leave Wales. You get the picture. My country, with its mighty industrial past, has become the basket case of the United Kingdom. Wales has the highest proportion of low-income households in Britain -- and there is more poverty in working households in Wales than in non-working ones. Wales also has the UK's highest level of child poverty.

When the scale of this social, educational and economic failure is pointed out in Westminster, Welsh politicians splutter about 'a Tory war on Wales' or 'an English war on Wales'. To which, as a young, working-class guy who's lived almost all his life in Wales, I can only reply: if telling the truth is war, then this is a just war.

The problem is simple: Wales has been betrayed by 15 years of maladministration by a Labour government stuck in the 1970s. There's no shortage of patriotic fervour here: if you want a taste of national pride, visit Cardiff on a rugby match day. But that just makes it more tragic that devolution in Wales offers a masterclass in how not to run a country.

It was a Welsh prime minister, David Lloyd George, who laid the foundations for the welfare state. But don't bet on another British prime minister emerging from a Welsh state school. My old school has recently been taken into 'special measures' -- a bureaucratic term given to failure-factory schools which inflict immense damage on the communities they are supposed to serve. In total, six local education authorities in Wales are in special measures. In my class, 30-plus pupils of very differing abilities and ambitions were homogenised into a one-size-fits-all approach that didn't fit anyone. Troublemakers (including me) alleviated the tedium by devising their own hidden curriculum. Its mainstay: disrupting the work of beleaguered teaching staff.

At its worst, this culture of disaffection would create lessons so fractious that we'd have less than ten minutes of teaching. Teachers would take 'study leave' -- months of respite brought on by the stress of such a chaotic environment. Such absences were encouraged by the unions. Sorting out classroom discipline was beyond anyone's capabilities.

Do members of the Welsh Assembly know this is happening on the estates of south Wales? Yes. But they do virtually nothing, lest they seem to be 'collaborating' with the coalition. There's no attempt to challenge teaching unions that are chiefly concerned with keeping third-rate teachers in jobs. Needless to say, Michael Gove's reforms are ignored. So are any reforms. League tables? SAT tests for primary school leavers? …

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