The third term of the National Assembly for Wales began in May 2007, following the elections. Education is a significant area of responsibility devolved to the Assembly, covering early years and schools, family policy, further education (FE) and higher education (HE), adult and community education, qualifications, and the careers service. Notably, teachers' pay and conditions of service and pensions remain the responsibility of the Department for Children, Schools, and Families at Westminster, as does the maintenance of the database of teachers' records, though teacher training and support are devolved to the Assembly. Education in particular is an area where the Assembly has been very proactive in developing distinctive policies, and there have been several changes in the administrative process to support that development. During 2006 the Welsh Assembly department responsible for education and training was expanded to assume responsibility for all education and training with the exception of HE in higher education institutions (HEIs) and in certain instances in colleges of further education. Funding for these is the responsibility of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.
The Education Act 2002 provided Wales with the opportunity to develop its educational policy along lines which differ in a number of ways from that elsewhere in the UK. That development has been seen clearly as part of the aim to break down barriers between departments, as exemplified in the Assembly document A Winning Wales (2002), which covers education and economic development, giving a sense of the potential for cohesive policies across boundaries in a small country. A Winning Wales is one of a number of ambitious documents setting the strategy for the devolved Assembly; those relating to education in particular are The Learning Country (2001) and The Learning Country: Vision into Action (2006). The first sets out a ten‐year strategy for education in Wales, covering all ages, with the emphasis on a continuum of learning from pre‐school through to lifelong learning and skills updates. The second reinforces the original document, giving an overview of progress so far and updating the strategy.
Certain key issues, such as widening participation in post‐compulsory education, are central drivers across all the jurisdictions, though the strategies for implementation are often distinctive. In the widening access agenda, for example, geographical and demographic features in Wales are reflected in the Reaching Wider initiative (2002), whereby the Funding Council supports broad groupings of HEIs in delivering initiatives which respond appropriately to local and regional factors. Other policies which are common throughout the UK include enhanced early years provision, improvements in buildings and environment, and the aspiration to reconnect with disaffected children and young people. In a number of instances, however, Wales has either adopted different methods of achieving those goals or has developed distinctive initiatives such as the Welsh Baccalaureate.
Over recent years the Minister for Education has commissioned a series of in‐depth reports in a number of areas. The emphasis in the guidance for all of these has been on evidence‐based recommendations, and resource has been invested to enable a significant level of research and analysis to support the process. Studies and pilots have been carried out in relation to the initiatives at pre‐school and school stages, with the implementation of programmes such as Flying Start (2007) for early years education.