Equal gender representation

I've always been proud of the fact that our National Assembly was the first in the world to have equal numbers of men and women. We weren't the first to have more women than men, though. The Basques beat us to that.

So it is a little sad that the number of women AMs has gone down since then. I came to the conclusion some time ago that anything in the 60% to 40% range was quite acceptable, and therefore don't think the 42% we have now is so bad, but it would have been right at the limit of acceptability if John Dixon's election had stood and Eluned Parrott not taken his place.

This means alarm bells should be ringing, and it's therefore right that Rosemary Butler and now Leanne Wood should raise the issue, for there is a real danger that the inequality might get larger in future unless we do something now to stop it happening. We should also remember that this problem exists to a far greater extent in elections to other bodies such as the UK Parliament (where only 18% of the 40 Welsh MPs are women) and local councils (where only 26% of the 1,266 councillors in Wales are women), so anything we propose should be extendable to those bodies as well.


The big question is to what extent legislation could be used to address this. I believe legislation could and should be used, but that it must be subject to two over-riding principles. The first is that nothing should interfere with individual voter choice, therefore any legislation should only be applicable to political parties. The second is that any legislation should be scrupulously equal to both genders, and should not favour one gender over another.

Perhaps the second of these principles is more contentious than the first. I do accept that "positive discrimination" might be desirable and necessary in some circumstances. But I think it should only be introduced if there is a major imbalance (and that it should only be a temporary measure until the imbalance is rectified) and if the balance could not be rectified (or would take a long time to rectify) by legislation in which both genders were treated equally. This means that positive discrimination might well be appropriate when appointing people to positions that existing incumbents doing the same job could hold for another twenty or thirty years, but that it is not appropriate for elections that are held every four or five years.

As it happens, the electoral systems we currently use are ones in which the choice of candidate rests almost exclusively with political parties. There is therefore room for legislation to help ensure gender equality, but we need to accept that legislation can only achieve this to a certain extent. If I had my way I would change the voting system for all elections to the Single Transferable Vote, and this is the view of both Plaid Cymru and the LibDems as well as some people in other parties. But assuming we are stuck with our present voting systems, I think we could introduce the following legislation for the different types of election we hold.

1. First-past-the-post elections

In a first-past-the-post system which elects one representative per constituency (i.e. MPs and constituency AMs) I think it would appropriate to set a rule that each party should field an equal number of candidates of each gender on a region-by-region basis ... though if a particular region had an odd number of seats, the party would of course be free to decide either way for the final seat.

The major objection to this is that it could cut across the right of a local constituency party to choose its own candidate. However I am not aware of any party that allows a constituency to choose its candidate without any input or oversight at all from the party in general, so I don't think the objection is particularly valid. Each party would of course be free to work out how it ends up with equal numbers as they see fit, but one easy way of doing it would be to group constituencies into pairs or foursomes.

Legislation of this sort would apply equally well on a UK-wide basis for Westminster elections. And it is very badly needed.

I think the size of region we have in Wales for National Assembly elections—between 7 and 9 constituencies—is about right, though it could perhaps be a little larger. If a region is much larger there is more room for circumventing the intention of the legislation by loading the "unwinnable" seats with candidates of the less favoured gender. So if, for example, things were done on an all-Wales basis, it would be possible for a party to put 20 candidates of one gender in the 20 seats they were most likely to win.

To illustrate how legislation would work in practice, we need only look to the 2011 election, where one party won all the constituency seats in South Wales Central and South Wales West, and all but one of the seats in South Wales East. This is an extreme situation, but requiring parties to field equal numbers of candidates of each gender in a region would ensure equal gender representation to within one seat. Legislation would be less effective in regions where one party did not expect to win nearly all the seats, but that shouldn't negate the principle. In fact it becomes particularly important when we consider that constituency seats are only part of the way we elect AMs, as will become clear in Section 4 below.

2. First-two-three-or-four-past-the-post elections

The principle of requiring parties to field equal numbers of candidates of each gender would also apply to the rather strange system we currently use to elect many—though by no means all—local authority councillors. In fact it would be particularly suitable for multi-member wards, and there is in fact a much greater need for it because only 26% of the local authority councillors we elect in Wales are women.

As a reminder of how the current system works; in a four-seat ward each voter has four votes, and the four candidates with the most votes are elected. It is very often the case that all four candidates elected are from the same party.

So I think it would be perfectly acceptable to legislate that each party must put forward an equal number of male and female candidates in each ward (or in the case of an odd number, a difference of only one). There would be little danger of the parties abusing this by, say, putting up four "no-hope candidates" of one gender alongside four "credible candidates" of another gender in a four-seat ward, for this would just split their vote. No party in its right mind would put up more candidates than there are seats available.

In local authorities where most or all of the wards are single-seat wards (Sir Benfro, Sir Gâr and Ceredigion for example) the same rules would apply as for first past-the-post elections as I described above, with the local authority being the region. But it might be even better to double up one-seat wards into two-seat wards.

The effect of doing this would be limited in local authorities in which a large number of independent candidates are elected, but there isn't much we could do or would want to do in such circumstances. However the legislation would apply where so-called "independents" stand together as a group and effectively form a party in all but name, but it would not apply to independent independents.

3. Closed list elections

The essence of a closed list system is that the voter can only vote for a party (or an individual not associated with a political party) and that the party decides the order of the candidates.

This system lends itself particularly well to gender equality legislation if the parties are required to alternate the gender of the candidates on their list. This is the way that elections in the three Basque provinces in Euskadi are organized, and as a result the number of men and women elected is always more or less equal. Each party is free to choose whether to put a man or woman in first place on their list.

However it would be slightly better (i.e. it would still produce the same gender equality, but would give the parties more flexibility) if, instead of alternating, the list was paired odd and even. A party would be free to put either a man or woman in the number 1 slot, but the person in the number 2 slot would have to be of the opposite gender. They would then be free to put either a man or woman in the number 3 slot, but the person in the number 4 slot would have to be of the opposite gender ... and so on.

Closed lists are used in the UK to elect MEPs, and I think it should be no problem to legislate that political parties must produce gender-paired lists for these elections. However because the UK euro-consituencies are relatively small (the largest being SE England with ten seats) the outcome of such legislation on gender balance would be limited, though not ineffective. Wales has only four seats, but such legislation would guarantee that if any party won two seats, we would have elected at least one male and one female MEP.

4. Mixed system elections

It is tempting to think that the regional AMs elected to our National Assembly are elected by a closed list system, but this is not actually true. They are elected by an additional member system designed to partially compensate for the unfairness of the first-past-the-post system used to elect constituency AMs. Which regional AMs are elected depends not only on the regional votes cast, but also on the constituency results in each region.

However the same mechanism that is used to help rectify any proportional imbalance between political parties can at the same time be used to help rectify any gender imbalance with one minor modification.

Firstly, parties would have to select an equal number of constituency candidates for each region as described in Section 1 above; and they would also be required to produce a gender-paired list as described in Section 3. The modification would be in the way any additional seats were allocated. Each party would get the same number of additional seats as it is entitled to now based on the same formula as is used now, but those individual seats would be allocated by gender.

If a party had won no constituency seats, or an even number of seats with an equal number of winning candidates of each gender, any additional seats they were entitled to in each region would be allocated in list order. However if a party had more winning constituency candidates of one gender than another in a particular region, any additional seats they are entitled to would be allocated to balance the overall number of men and women elected. It's probably best to illustrate how this would work with examples.

•  If the party had won one constituency seat in the region, or a greater odd number with a gender imbalance of one (e.g. 2:1 or 3:2) then the first additional seat they were entitled to would go to the highest placed candidate of the gender that would give them equal numbers of male and female AMs, who might well be the number 2 on their list rather than the number 1. If they were entitled to two additional seats, the second additional seat would go to the highest remaining candidate irrespective of gender. If they were entitled to three additional seats, the third additional seat would be of the gender that would give them equal numbers of male and female AMs ... and so on.

•  If the number of constituency seats a party won had a gender imbalance of two (e.g. 2:0, 3:1 or 4:2) then both the first and, if applicable, the second additional seat they were entitled to would go to the highest placed candidates of the gender that would give them a more equal number of male and female AMs. These might well be numbers 2 and 4 on the list. If they were entitled to three additional seats, the third additional seat would go to the highest remaining candidate irrespective of gender. In the unlikely event that they were entitled to four additional seats, the fourth additional seat would be of the gender that would give them equal numbers of male and female AMs.

•  If the number of constituency seats a party won had a gender imbalance of three (e.g. 3:0, 4:1 or 5:2) then the first three additional seats they were entitled to would go to the highest placed candidates of the gender that would give them a more equal number of male and female AMs. These might well be numbers 2, 4 and 6 on the list. In the unlikely event that they were entitled to four additional seats, the fourth additional seat would go to the highest remaining candidate irrespective of gender.

•  If the number of constituency seats a party won had a gender imbalance of four or more then any additional seats they were entitled to would go to the highest placed candidates of the gender that would give them a more equal number of male and female AMs. However in practice they might just scrape one, and would be very unlikely to be entitled to more.

At first glance, this might seem unfair to the number 1 candidate on a party's regional list, who could potentially be leapfrogged several times by lower placed candidates of the opposite gender, and might not get elected at all. But it isn't unfair. It would only affect those parties which had tried to circumvent the intention of the legislation by loading the winnable seats with candidates of their favoured gender. It would therefore would act as a powerful incentive for parties not to do it.


Gender is not always self-evident or obviously classifiable. So for the purposes of this legislation, I think that any transsexual candidate undergoing medical gender reassignment should be considered to be of their target gender, irrespective of how far along that path they might be. However there is a difference between a transsexual and a transvestite. A man could not be considered a woman just by dressing in drag and changing his name to Edna, or vice-versa.


Finally, I should repeat that my preferred solution is to do away with our existing electoral systems and use STV for all elections, with the sole proviso that every party would be required to field an equal number of male and female candidates in each multi-member constituency, or a difference of only one if they fielded an odd number of candidates.

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Well done, Swansea

Congratulations to Swansea for winning major silverware in their centenary season. Next stop Europe getting a bigger ground than Bradford City ;-)



I was criticized for congratulating Swansea when they won promotion. Lack of balance, I was told. It will alienate Cardiff supporters. But I hope to congratulate them for getting into the Premiership before the end of the season.

So long as neither of them beat Everton, I'll be happy.

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Glasnost returns

Thanks to a certain Dic Penderyn, I've just learnt that my favourite blogger is still fighting his lonely battle against reality, this time gunning for the headteacher and board of governors at Ysgol Glanwydden in Conwy.

He is circulating these letters. Click the images to see them at full size.


Ysgol Glanwydden is a primary school in a pleasant area of Penrhyn Bay, ideally situated for anyone who lives in Ynys Môn and works in Chester.

According to him, the "true" state of the school is "abysmal under any definition" and "most pupils are illiterate in English and distinctly lack numeracy skills". The reason for this, as any reader of the Daily Mail will already know, is "all strictly down to excessive and obsessive teaching of the Welsh language".


It is therefore a little unfortunate that the Welsh Government should today have launched a new website which gives comprehensive information about every school in Wales and how it performs. The information was previously available on StatsWales, but it has now been brought together in a much more accessible way.

Of course we need to bear in mind that the statistics about Ysgol Glanwydden on this site are "nothing other than a fictional and a meaningless account used as the means to deceive parents", but it might be worth taking a look at them anyway. They're on this page.

We can see that the school actually performs very well indeed. At Key Stage 2, 96.8% of children achieve the expected standard in English compared with a county average of 86.5% and a national average of 85.2%; and 100% of them achieve the expected standard in maths compared with a county average of 86.4% and a national average of 86.8%.

The standards in English are all the more impressive because the school is "staffed entirely by Welsh-speaking teachers" who, as a result of this, "lack English language literacy and fluency".

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People in Wales want policing to be devolved

In response to the Welsh Government saying that it wanted policing to be devolved to Wales, the new Tory Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed-Powys, Christopher Salmon, told the BBC that:

There was "no real appetite out there" to devolve policing.

"It's much more to do with a power grab by political anoraks in Cardiff Bay than it is about what people really need," he said.

BBC, 19 February 2009

I think it would be timely to remind him, and any others who oppose the devolution of policing to Wales, of the results of a survey by YouGov for Prifysgol Aberystwyth in 2009.

For each of the following issues, please indicate which level of government you think should have responsibility for making decisions relating to it in Wales:


The Welsh Government ... 50%
The UK Government ... 33%
Local Councils in Wales ... 10%
The European Union ... 1%
Don't know ... 7%

YouGov/Prifysgol Aberystwyth Survey, 23 October 2009

It's also worth pointing out that there is a margin in favour of devolving policing to Wales from supporters of all four parties at Assembly elections, including those who vote Tory. This is the breakdown:

The Welsh Government ... Plaid 72%, Lab 58%, Tory 42%, LibDem 57%
The UK Government ... Plaid 16%, Lab 33%, Tory 41%, LibDem 36%
Local Councils in Wales ... Plaid 9%, Lab 4%, Tory 15%, LibDem 9%
The European Union ... Plaid 0%, Lab 0%, Tory 0%, LibDem 0%
Don't know ... Plaid 3%, Lab 4%, Tory 2%, LibDem 3%

So wouldn't it be nice if politicians from all four parties could unite behind the views of their supporters and back the devolution of policing to Wales?


A slightly different question, ths time about devolution of policing and criminal justice, was asked by RMG-Clarity in March 2011. The result was an even more emphatic yes:

Would you like to see the Assembly gain responsibility for police and the criminal justice system?

Yes ... 56.7%
No ... 26.0%
Don't know/unsure ... 17.3%

RMG-Clarity, March 2011

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Inextricably intertwined

In this post yesterday I set out some of my initial thoughts on the Welsh Government's submission of evidence to Part II of the Silk Commission. I now want to look at some crucial aspects of it in more detail, but I think it's only right to say at the outset that there is much in it that I welcome. Indeed I was rather pleasantly surprised by some of what it said. I didn't think Carwyn Jones, or Labour in Wales generally, had it in them to come out so definitely in favour of wanting devolution of policing and the justice system, or of moving from the "defined powers" model (or a "conferred powers" model, as the submission called it) we currently have to a "reserved powers" model similar to that which operates in Scotland.

Yet I must also admit to having some doubts about it; particularly to what extent it represents the view of, say, Labour MPs in Wales or of the Labour leadership in Westminster. Has Carwyn done the hard work of consulting with the wider Labour Party in Wales and with the leadership of the party in Westminster, or is he just flying a kite? Are Labour's MPs in Wales willing to accept this as Labour Party policy?

About this time last year I had a chat with Owen Smith, and one of the things we talked about was who actually led the Labour Party in Wales; particularly because of Labour saying that its manifesto for the Westminster election in 2010 over-ruled its subsequent manifesto for the Assembly election in 2011 on nuclear power. He said that Carwyn was undisputedly recognized as the leader of the party in Wales, rather than the then Shadow Secretary of State, Peter Hain, who to me seemed to be acting as if he was in charge. Now that Owen himself is doing that job, will he be equally unequivocal in support of Carwyn's leadership on the matter of further devolution for Wales? I hope so.


In this post I want to concentrate on just three aspects of the Welsh Government's position because they are inextricably intertwined: moving to a reserved powers model of devolution, policing and establishing Wales as a separate legal jurisdiction.

The WG wants to move to a reserved powers model, wants policing to be devolved, but does not want to see Wales become a separate legal jurisdiction at this time. I have grave doubts about whether that position is tenable.


Many of the political conversations I have had over the last few years have been over why Wales has such a different model of devolution to that of Scotland, and in particular why Wales has a defined powers model rather than the reserved powers model which Scotland enjoys. Most of the people I've talked to and things I've read suggest that it was not possible for Wales to have a reserved powers model because Wales was not a separate legal jurisdiction. But I must balance this by saying that even though this was the reason given at the time, some people believe it was not a valid reason, but instead was just a pretext put up by politicians who did not want Wales to have a similar devolution settlement to Scotland.

I can't give a definitive answer about which is right, but I can point to what Alan Trench—whose opinion on anything to do with devolution is not to be dismissed lightly—has said about it. These are bullet points from a presentation he gave in Cardiff last year, though the emphasis is mine:

•  As far as legislation is concerned, the key advantage of a Welsh jurisdiction would be to move to a ‘reserved powers’ model of conferring law-making powers on the Assembly – like Scotland and N Ireland

•  There are material advantages to having the ‘reserved powers’ model for making Welsh legislation work, by helping ensure legislation is within devolved legislative competence

•  And you need to have a separate jurisdiction for that, regardless of what substantive new functions might be devolved as part of creating a Welsh legal system

Alan Trench, 8 June 2012

So if the Welsh Government really does want to move from the current defined powers model to a reserved powers model—which is something I fully agree we should have, for all the reasons given by both Alan and the WG, as well as a few more—there must be a very serious question mark over whether it can happen unless Wales also becomes a separate legal jurisdiction.


I must admit to finding the WG's position on establishing Wales as a separate legal jurisdiction rather odd. It was definitely seen as a priority last year when they launched a consultation on it, but they have back-tracked on that and are now of the opinion that this is not something they think appropriate at this stage.

The reason they give for this change of position is in sections 17 and 18 of their evidence:

17.  The case for establishing a separate legal jurisdiction ... needs also to be addressed in the context of the Welsh Government's responsibilities for Policing and Justice. In his lecture to the Society of Legal Scholars in November 2012 previously referred to, the Counsel General said:

"If ... the Welsh Government cannot at present move forward with proposals for taking on Policing and Justice responsibilities, the case for a separate legal jurisdiction may be considerably weakened. It would be of limited or even dubious worth pursuing a Single Legal Jurisdiction "in principle" if Welsh Ministers and the Assembly did not also obtain a reasonably full set of powers in relation to Justice; crucial aspects of the supposedly separate jurisdiction would still be the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice. Thus, arguably, establishing a separate jurisdiction without transferring the relevant responsibilities to Welsh Ministers and the Assembly would simply amount to asking the Ministry of Justice to run two parallel systems, one for England and one (albeit to perhaps lesser extent) for Wales. They would not be likely to agree to this, and even if they did, it is not obvious why the inherent confusion would be of benefit to people in Wales".

18.  As noted above, the Welsh Government has concluded that it cannot now seek powers for the devolved institutions in relation to Criminal Justice and the administration of justice in Wales, although this remains our longer-term ambition. It follows that, for the reasons given by the Counsel General, a move to a separate jurisdiction now would not be likely to be of benefit to the people of Wales.

The reasons for the WG not wanting Criminal Justice to be devolved (although wanting policing to be devolved) seem to be primarily to do with cost rather than principle:

We believe that Policing and Justice (including criminal justice) should in principle be matters of devolved competence. But the potential costs and risks are such that we do not feel able to argue for transfer of criminal justice and administration of justice responsibilities at the present time ...

However the WG does want to "cherry pick" a number of specific responsibilities to do with various aspects of the justice system which are too numerous to describe here.


To me, it all seems rather confused and badly thought through. The conundrum is this:

•  The WG wants a reserved powers model, but (probably) can't have one without Wales being a separate legal jurisdiction

•  Wales (probably) can't be a separate legal jurisdiction unless it takes on policing and justice

•  But the WG is unwilling to take on policing and justice as a whole, because it believes it will (probably) not be accompanied by an adequate transfer of funds to pay for it

•  Therefore Wales (probably) can't become a separate legal jurisdiction

•  Therefore Wales (probably) can't move to a reserved powers model

Maybe there is a way to break this conundrum, but it would surely result in the same sort of dog's breakfast as Peter Hain's 2006 Act proved to be.

The better answer is blindingly obvious: establishing Wales as a separate legal jurisdiction, devolving policing and justice, and moving to a reserved powers model of devolution should all happen at the same time. This would be at the "core" of the new Government of Wales Act, and would be accompanied by an adequate transfer of expenditure from Westminster to Cardiff Bay to cover it ... though of course the Act would include many other things as well.

As I have said before, a substantial increase in responsibility of this sort would justify increasing the number of AMs in the Senedd to 80; but the cost would be more than offset by reducing the over-representation of Wales in the House of Commons from 40 to the same level as the remainder of the UK. This would be about 33 for the current size of the House of Commons; 30 was the figure if the number of MPs in the UK as a whole had been reduced.

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Half a cake

I wouldn't exactly call the Welsh Government's submission of evidence to Part II of the Silk Commission half-baked. It is probably better to say that it is a very nicely baked and decorated cake ... but that we've only been given half of it.


The full document is available here and here. At 33 pages, it's not too much of a read.

I've just read through it once, and some of the initial things that strike me are:

•  The Welsh Government's overwhelming fear that, although it generally wants Wales to have a devolution settlement that is equal to that of Scotland and Northern Ireland, Westminster will not properly fund the costs of any additional transfers. My feeling is that if this issue was properly addressed, the WG would be much more eager to take on additional responsibilities. I fully agree with their suggestion that there should be independent scrutiny of budget transfers from the UK government to the Welsh government.

•  General confusion over the best way to devolve policing and justice to Wales. Previously the WG, and Carwyn Jones in particular, seemed to want Wales to be a separate legal jurisdiction as a prerequisite for the transfer of other aspects of police and justice to Wales. But having been warned by the Counsel General that the case for a separate jurisdiction was weaker unless policing was devolved, the WG's priorities seem to have flip-flopped. Because of a lack of clear thinking, the WG's evidence appears to be an incoherent mish-mash of wanting some aspects of police and justice devolved but not others. This is unfortunate, because I think Theodore Huckle's point was that the whole of police and justice should be devolved together. Surely it makes much more sense to do it all in one go. Nevertheless I welcome the WG's desire for all policing and justice matters to eventually be devolved to Wales, even if only at some point in the future. The principle is right, but their timing needs to be re-thought.

•  What concerns me most is the timescale. As I understood it, the purpose of Silk was to formulate a coherent package of reforms to the devolution settlement for Wales that was broadly accepted by all four political parties. Because Silk's recommendations would be based on broad consensus, the Westminster Government (for it is they who set up the Commission) would then be able to swiftly and uncontentiously implement the changes in a new Government of Wales Act before the next Westminster election in 2015. The new powers and responsibilities would then be available to the new Welsh government formed as a result of the Assembly election in May 2016. The current WG seems to think that nothing will happen until after the next Westminster election 2015, and therefore that the new powers and responsibilities would not be available until after the Assembly election in 2020 or 2021. This must be challenged. We need the new powers to be in place for 2016.

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School reorganization in the Vale

In many respects the Vale of Glamorgan's education policy over the last few years has been forward-looking and positive, particularly the way they responded to a survey showing that the demand for Welsh-medium education was much greater than the provision, and quickly moved to establish two new Welsh-medium starter schools, one in Barry and one in Llanilltud Fawr. Details are here and here.

That makes the reports in the Glamorgan Gem and Western Mail about the impending closure of three schools in the Vale—Llanfair Primary and Llancarfan Primary in the rural Vale, and Oakfield Primary in Barry—appear to be something of a departure from their previous standards. The details of the proposals have not yet been published, but I'd like to offer a few comments on matters that don't seem to have been raised in the reports so far.

Llanfair and Llancarfan Primary Schools



These two schools in the rural Vale are remarkably similar in several respects. They are both located in small villages some distance away from any alternative school and serve large but sparsely populated areas. They are also about the same size. From last year's school census, Llancarfan has 109 children of statutory school age and Llanfair has 114, although Llanfair also has nursery age provision. For a rural area these are very healthy numbers, and are certainly not low enough to justify any thought of them being closed on account of their size. To put things in perspective, only last week Ceredigion announced that they were reprieving Ysgol Dihewyd, which has fewer than 20 pupils.

The average year size in each school is just over 15 compared with an admission number of 18. This means that both schools are comfortably full with very few surplus places. In fact in both cases the original school premises were too small, and they have therefore had to rely on additional temporary accommodation for many years. In itself, this would be a source of concern which might justify a degree of rationalization; however both schools have been enlarged within the last few years. It is complete lunacy to contemplate closing schools which the council has only recently invested considerable amounts of money to permanently enlarge. There must surely be a degree of continuity between one administration and another, otherwise taxpayers' money will simply have gone to waste.

Finally, both schools are rated very highly by Estyn. The reports are here and here.

Oakfield Primary School


The situation at Oakfield is rather different. It is in an urban location in Barry and there are five other schools within easy walking distance of it: Cadoxton, Colcot, Gladstone, Holton and Jenner Park. Based on a capacity of seven times the Admission Number, all these schools have surplus places. These are the figures for statutory age children (i.e. excluding nursery provision) for 2012:

Cadoxton ... 413 capacity ... 331 on roll ... 82 surplus places (20%)
Colcot ... 406 capacity ... 237 on roll ... 169 surplus places (42%)
Gladstone ... 350 capacity ... 329 on roll ... 21 surplus places (6%)
Holton ... 525 capacity ... 344 on roll ... 181 surplus places (34%)
Jenner Park ... 273 capacity ... 199 on roll ... 74 surplus places (27%)

Total ... 1,967 capacity ... 1,440 on roll ... 527 surplus places (26%)

Oakfield ... 210 capacity ... 89 on roll ... 121 surplus places (58%)

Source for capacities | Source for numbers on roll

This level of surplus places is clearly unsustainable and at least one of these schools needs to close, even allowing for future population growth. In such a situation the only question is which.

Oakfield is an obvious choice for three reasons. First, it is not a good school. It's inspection report from Estyn is terrible, classed as "unsatisfactory" on every key question. This is as bad as it can be. So if we put any weight behind the idea that we should not close schools that perform well, it stands to reason that those which perform badly should be first in line to be closed ... providing that there are other, better schools in the same area with enough surplus places. The two closest alternatives, Colcot and Jenner Park, are only a few hundred metres away. So no family will be inconvenienced by the closure.

Second, Oakfield has by far the greatest percentage of surplus places and is now more than half empty. The unpopularity of the school must be linked to its poor performance, and parents are obviously voting with their feet. It is therefore pointless to keep the school open for much longer.

The third reason for choosing to close Oakfield is that it shares the same building with Ysgol Gwaun y Nant. This Welsh-medium school is rated Grade 1 by Estyn on every key question, and is understandably growing both on the strength of its good reputation and because of the general increase in demand for Welsh-medium education. It therefore makes perfect sense for Ysgol Gwaun y Nant to gradually expand into the space currently taken up by Oakfield Primary. Furthermore, there is no reason why this cannot be phased over a few years so as to minimize disruption to children already at Oakfield.


In short, I think the Vale of Glamorgan would be wrong to close either Llanfair or Llancarfan Primary Schools, although perhaps there might be a case for administrative savings such as federalizing the schools under a single headteacher and board of governors.

But the closure of Oakfield Primary seems to be entirely justified both in terms of value for money in reducing surplus places and—much more importantly—because it provides a substandard quality of education to the children who go there.

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David Jones must be sacked

I've pondered for a while over whether to say something about David Jones' extraordinary comments on Face to Face earlier this week, and his subsequent explanation for them. Of course I have nothing particularly new to add that hasn't already been said by hundreds, if not thousands, of people; but I've decided that I need to add my voice because his comments are of a nature that cannot be ignored. We cannot turn a blind eye to bigotry and prejudice against any section of our society, especially when it comes from those who hold positions of power in government.

First, we need to be clear about exactly what he said. This is the relevant extract from the interview:


"Certainly, in constituency terms, I felt that overwhelmingly the constituents of Clwyd West were opposed to the change. But also I regard marriage as an institution that's developed over many centuries, essentially for the provision of a warm and safe environment for the upbringing of children, which is clearly something that two same-sex partners can't do. Which is not to say that I'm in any sense opposed to stable and committed same-sex partnerships."

Face to Face, ITV Wales, 14 February 2013

Although I disagree with his decision to vote against equal marriage, that in itself is no reason for him to be sacked. The reason David Cameron should remove him from his cabinet position is specifically because he said that same-sex partners cannot provide a warm and safe environment for the upbringing of children. He made a blanket statement—to use his own words from the same interview, we might call it a crude characterization—which is not only patently untrue, but grossly offensive to the many same-sex couples who do provide a warm and safe environment for the upbringing of children.

I would have hoped he might look again at what he said in the interview and apologize. In the stress of an interview it is all too easy not to express things as clearly as one would have liked. But instead of doing so, he tried to justify himself by making this statement:

"I was asked on the Face to Face programme why I voted against the same-sex marriage proposals. I replied that I had done so on the basis that I took the view that marriage is an institution that has developed over the centuries so as to provide a safe and warm environment for the upbringing of children. I made the point of stressing that I was fully supportive of committed same-sex relationships. I also strongly approve of civil partnerships.

"I did not say in the interview that same-sex partners should not adopt children and that is not my view. I simply sought to point out that, since same-sex partners could not biologically procreate children, the institution of marriage was one that, in my opinion, should be reserved to opposite-sex partners."

ITV Wales, 15 February 2013

This is a classic example of studiously missing the point. Nobody is in any doubt that a marriage between opposite-sex partners can provide a warm and safe environment for the upbringing of children. The point at issue is that David Jones made the blanket assertion that same-sex partners cannot provide that sort of environment. That is bigotry, pure and simple.

For me, the obvious question is why, if he really does believe that same-sex couples cannot provide that environment, he is in favour of same-sex partners being allowed to adopt children. In any adoption the well-being of the child is paramount, and no child should be adopted by any couple—whether gay or straight—which cannot provide a warm and safe environment for that child to grow up in. It is self-evident hypocrisy for David Jones to claim he is in favour of same-sex partners being allowed to adopt if he believes that same-sex partners are incapable of providing it.

Prejudice, offensiveness, bigotry and hypocrisy should not be tolerated from any politician of any political party. That is why he must be dismissed from his position as Secretary of State for Wales.

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