In Wales responsibility for Education has, since 1998, been devolved to the Welsh Government. The Welsh Government replaced the Welsh Office, which was a department of the UK government responsible to the Secretary of State for Wales, and is directly answerable to the National Assembly for Wales, a body consisting of 60 members elected every four years according to an “additional member” system. Since the first election in 1999, Labour has always held the most seats, but has never won an outright majority. On two occasions this resulted in coalition governments, once with Plaid Cymru and once with the Liberal Democrats.
The Welsh Government has no independent tax-raising powers and is solely dependent on a grant from the UK government calculated according to the Barnet Formula.
The Minister for Education and Skills at the National Assembly for Wales is currently, in 2014, Huw Lewis (Labour).
The Inspecting Body is “Estyn”, which is the Welsh language verb meaning “to extend”. It is independent of, but funded by the Welsh Government. Teachers in Wales are required to register with the General Teaching Council for Wales.
Even before devolution, education in Wales differed in some key respects from that in the rest of the UK. Possibly the biggest difference is the presence, since the first state-funded Welsh-language primary school opened in 1947, of two parallel streams where parents in most of Wales can opt to have their children educated either in English, or through the medium of the Welsh Language. Many of these children come from homes where Welsh is not spoken. According to a report by Statistics Wales, in 2012 some 24% of primary age children and 21% of secondary age children were being educated through the medium of the Welsh language. This percentage has climbed steadily since the 1960s.
In the 2011 census some 20% of the population of Wales claimed to be able to speak Welsh, though significantly fewer considered themselves fluent in the written language. Welsh has equal legal status with English for all government business.
In Welsh-medium schools, Welsh is taught as a first language alongside English; Welsh is the language of communication in the classroom and on the playground.. In English-medium schools, Welsh is compulsorily taught as a second language for all pupils up to Year 11.
There are no state-funded Academy schools in Wales. Maintained schools are funded from the Welsh Government via the 22 Unitary Authorities, each of which is also responsible for SEN provision within that Authority. Neighbouring Authorities often form loose alliances but SEN provision varies enormously across the country. A review in 2013 recommended reducing the number of Authorities to between 10 and 13 and it remains to be seen how this will affect schools.
There are no Schools for the Deaf in Wales. Most provision is either peripatetic support within mainstream schools, or through resource-bases. Two thirds of the population of Wales is concentrated in the major urban areas of the south; Newport, Cardiff, Bridgend, Swansea and the valleys. The rest of Wales is sparsely populated with attendant travel and support problems.
There are extended fingerspelling [glyphs] to take account of Welsh spelling for those deaf children whose home language is Welsh, or who are being educated in Welsh-medium schools.
Schools in Wales teach a National Curriculum with English, Welsh, Mathematics and Science as Core Subjects. The Foundation Phase – a pedagogy emphasising “learning by doing” and high teacher to pupil ratios – was introduced at Nursery level in 2008 and is now followed up to the end of Key Stage 1. Annual national testing in literacy and numeracy was introduced for all pupils in 2013.
The percentage of pupils eligible for Free School Meals is higher in Wales than across the UK as a whole, and achievement as measured in GCSE and A-level grades and other assessments such as Pisa is lower than the UK as a whole. Some educationalists have criticised the Welsh Government's policies as being directly responsible, though attainment in Wales has historically been slightly below the rest of the UK.