From funding cuts to pupil absence, violence against teachers and trailing attainment Wales’ new Education Minister Lynne Neagle has a daunting in-tray. Key issues that faced her predecessor Jeremy Miles remain largely unresolved as schools tackle post-pandemic problems against the backdrop of Welsh Government reforms and slashed budgets.

Matters on the agenda for schools include Wales’ worst ever performance in UK and international Pisa league tables as well as stubbornly poor pupil attendance and behaviour. Ms Neagle will also need to face up to the angry backlash from staff unions over Welsh government plans to shorten the six week summer holidays.

Teaching unions have shown their power and willingness to take strike action after their successful walk out over pay last year and have threatened the same over changes to the school calendar. Ms Neagle will want to demonstrate the Welsh Government’s education reforms are working and will need their support to produce visible results and improvements. You can read more about what the Chief Inspector for Schools says about standards here

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With purse strings ever tighter the new minister will have to fight for her department’s funds both in Cardiff Bay and to the UK Government. And it’s not just schools who are complaining about budgets - universities are also making redundancies as they struggle to balance the books and the further education sector has warned of the effect of reduced budgets on colleges and apprenticeships.

As a former chair of the Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education Committee Lynne Neagle will be well aware of the pressures and know many of those in education. As she takes over her new portfolio we take a look at what’s likely to be top of her to do list.

Changes to school year dates and summer holidays

This is potentially a high profile row with feelings running high on both sides. The Welsh Government has been consulting on cutting the summer holiday to five or four weeks.

These changes could be made from September 2025, meaning schools would get a two week break in October 2025 half term and a five week, rather than six week summer holiday in 2026. Proposals also include looking at cutting the summer holidays to just four weeks by moving a second week from the summer break and adding it to the Whitsun holiday.

But all the school staff unions in Wales oppose the plans and wrote to the previous Education Minister saying so. They have warned they may take industrial action over the plans or leave the profession altogether. They argue secondary schools need a long autumn term to effectively prepare pupils for exams.

Farming unions and tourism bodies have also strenuously objected. On the other side some teachers say primary school pupils lose learning during the summer.

Teaching union NEU Cymru, which held last year’s successful strike to obtain a higher pay award, is now balloting members on the changes as well as possible strike action over pay and school funding. “We need to send a clear message to Welsh Government that moving two weeks from the summer holidays is unacceptable. It is not a priority for education and won’t have the positive impact that the education workforce and learners deserve,” the union said

The new minister will need to persuade them otherwise or face up to a fight if she wants to keep this plan on track. You can read more about the proposals and views in support of them here


From the worst ever Pisa scores to warnings from the Chief Inspector of Education that teaching in schools across Wales is not good enough the new minister will be aware that all eyes are on standards and results.

She’ll need to be seen to be taking action after an outcry on Wales trailing once again in Pisa results published at the end of last year and Estyn Chief Inspector Owen Evans warning in his annual report in January that schools face with staff shortages, high absence, and low attainment.

Mr Evans said “learners’ knowledge and skills remain weaker than they were before the pandemic” and “we continue to see too many examples of ineffective self-evaluation and improvement planning in education.”

On a more positive note he said educators “work diligently and respond to the challenges” and hoped his report “prompts constructive reflection and discussion about how we can collectively improve”.

A major report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies also said Wales needed to start publishing more data on school attainment and school performance.


As ever, it’s all about the money. The education and Welsh language budget fell by £65m or 1.6% in the latest budget.

Schools, universities and the further education sectors report they are struggling with reduced funding and rising costs with redundancies made or planned.

School exam subject choices are being slashed and class sizes getting bigger. The Welsh Government has said that the UK government’s austerity agenda meant overall funding was insufficient and the 2024-25 draft budget had “presented the most stark budget choices for Wales in the devolution era”.

The new minister will have to compete with other big beasts such as health if she wants more money for her department. But schools have been clear that they don't have the money they need.

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Pupil absence

School attendance has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels four years after classrooms first shut to Covid and efforts to get them back have not succeeded. The new minister will be keen to hear from a working group set up by her predecessor on how to address this.

Headteachers have warned that some pupils have got out of the habit of coming to lessons and they are struggling to get them back. Latest Welsh Government data shows average attendance for this academic year to date is 90.3%, slightly from 89.5% over the same period in the 2022/23 academic year.

But only an average of 88.5% of half-day school sessions were recorded as present for pupils aged five to 15 in the last week of the spring term. Pupils from the least well off families and those in key exam years are least likely to attend lessons.

Fines for non attendance have been re-introduced but remain controversial. While hundreds of parents have been fined for not sending their children to school some headteachers say fines don't work and more resources are needed to tackle social and mental health problems that keep children off school.


Pupils attacking one an other and staff may not be common but unions report it is on the rise with staff in at least two schools walking out because they say safety is at risk. One union, Nasuwt Cymru says there is a behaviour “emergency” with 38% of its members in Wales reporting experiencing violence or physical abuse from a pupil in the last 12 months.

Staff have walked out in Caldicot High School in Monmouthshire and Pencoedtre High School in Barry saying violence from pupils was not being addressed. Teachers at Pencoedtre said they were "used as punchbags".


Wales long awaited new curriculum is now well underway. The last tranche of secondary schools came on board to follow it from last September after delays caused by the pandemic.

The proof of the pudding will now be in the results - some of which may be years away. The Welsh Government was quick to point out that the latest Pisa results were not delivered from teenagers who benefited from the new curriculum.

But Ms Neagle will need to keep a close eye on how the reforms are going and the introduction of the Wales-only GCSEs.

One influential body has already called for a pause in the reforms. A report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies last month laid the blame for declining attainment in Wales at the door of policy rather than poverty.

The IFS study, which looked at national and international attainment, said Welsh Government policy and reform – rather than resources – has caused a decline in children’s attainment and continuing on the same path won’t improve matters. It called for the new curriculum to be revised, a pause on GCSE reform in Wales, and a return to more published data on pupil attainment. You can read more about that report here.

The new Education Minister may not want to hear it but the IFS said Welsh policymakers could “learn” from approaches in England which have seen more progress.


Universities have warned that home tuition fees no longer cover teaching costs as prices rise. The Welsh Government has responded in part by announcing tuition fees will rise in line with England.

In February the Welsh Government announced the £250 rise in academic year tuition fees for undergraduates, taking the cap up to £9,250. It was the first rise since 2011, and puts the student fee regime in Wales on the same footing as the rest of the UK. However, it also cut its direct funding to the university sector.

With tougher visa restrictions for international students and inflationary pressures on running costs, Welsh and UK universities are facing a challenging financial outlook with vice-chancellor of Cardiff University, Wendy Larner, describing the sector’s business model as “broken.”

There have been calls for the new Welsh Government to review of the future of Welsh universities. Swansea University has announced it is looking to shed hundreds of jobs.

The New Education Minister’s message to schools

In her first message to schools Wales’ new Education Minsister Lynne Neagle said she understood the hard work they do and shares the matters that worry them. Writing to staff as the new term gets underway she promised them her support.

She told them: “I am acutely aware that you are supporting our ambitious transformation of education while also dealing with the aftermath of a global pandemic. The increase in mental health issues amongst learners and the workforce, a drop in attendance and reports of deteriorating behaviour are matters that worry us all.”

She said schools alone could not tackle the social pressures affecting them: “Government, parents and carers, and society as a whole need to come together to address these challenges. I know it can’t all be the responsibility of schools.”

She said she intended to spend her first few months as minister visiting schools and listening to those in the profession promising an open door policy to hear their views.