Mark Drakeford has just delivered a 'full throated' attack at Vaughan Gething's Welsh Government

Wales' former First Minister has publicly torn into his successor's plan to ditch a policy which would have changed the dates of school holidays for Welsh school children. It was a policy Mr Drakeford introduced in his time as First Minister but which Vaughan Gething's administration has today announced it will postpone.

Mr Drakeford is now a backbench MS after standing down as First Minister, the role now held by Vaughan Gething. He stood in the Senedd chamber and during a debate on the topic, fronted by Welsh education minister Lynne Neagle, said the plan to change the summer holiday from six to five weeks would cause political damage, reputational damage but also impact "the life changes of children".

He called it a "disappointing statement" by education minister Lynne Neagle, while stating he did not dispute her commitment to children but "it was the quality of her decision making".

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“Opinion was hugely divided on this,” the Welsh education minister had admitted as she confirmed no changes will be made this Senedd term as had originally been planned. Any change is therefore unlikely before 2028 as any changes would require a two-year lead time.

"Let's be clear that what we've heard this afternoon is the abandonment of a manifesto commitment made by the Labour Party at the last election. And the Minister shouldn't seek to shelter behind semantics in saying to me that this was a commitment to explore reform of the school day, because she knows perfectly well that her predecessors published a plan—not an exploration, but a plan—to implement that commitment, and that will now not be happening in this Senedd term and what was that plan, Llywydd? It would have moved one week—one week—in five years from the school holidays in the summer to the autumn half term.

"Nobody I think could claim that the Government was rushing headlong down some radical path, but it was a start. It was a start on a journey that would have improved the outcomes for children in Wales. I regret the political damage. I regret the reputational damage that will be done to Wales, just as other parts of the United Kingdom were looking at Wales and pointing to us as an example of what a progressive Government could do. What I really regret is the damage that will be done to the life chances of the children who are at the heart of this policy.

"Colleagues here will know of the difficulties experienced on the Ely estate here in Cardiff. I'll say to the cabinet secretary: the children that I am concerned about, their families will not be worrying, as was said in your statement, about the quality-of-life opportunities that come with an extended summer break. Those families will approach the summer holidays in a spirit of anxiety, sometimes amounting to fear. And the life chances of those children rely absolutely on what the school can do for them, and the fantastic schools that there are on the estate who do so much to invest in those children who have no chances.

Mark Drakeford in the Senedd chamber, criticising Lynne Neagle and the new Welsh Government as Jeremy Miles watched on -Credit:Senedd.TV
Mark Drakeford in the Senedd chamber, criticising Lynne Neagle and the new Welsh Government as Jeremy Miles watched on -Credit:Senedd.TV

"Those children, in July, have had the benefit of everything that that school can do. When those children go away in July, in those six weeks, they will not see a book, they will have no opportunity to play in a way that allows them to appreciate what maths can do for them in their lives, and when they come back in September, the school starts all over again. The idea that there is no learning loss in the lives of those children is absolutely absurd. What this policy would have done is it would have begun to close the gap in the lives of those children. Here is a Government that could have done something to help them, but it has decided not to. What explanation does the Cabinet Secretary think I should offer those children who now find their interests in second place, against those of the reactionary forces that will always be attached to the status quo?" For the latest politics news in Wales sign up to our newsletter here.

He said once those children break up in July, they do not get books or opportunities. "What this policy would have done was to begun to close the gap in the lives of those children. Here is a government that could have done something to help them, it has decided not to." He asked Ms Neagle to explain how he should explain that to those children.

As Mr Drakeford launched his attack, the former education minister and defeated Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Miles, watched on. During his response, Caerphilly MS Hefin David shouted it was “ridiculous” to let him continue speaking longer than the allotted time. Mr David said it was “ridiculous” to let him continue speaking. Llywydd Elin Jones then berated Mr David in turn and and told the former First Minister to carry on: “Hefin David,you said it was ridiculous me allowing Mark Drakeford to continue, it is not,” the Llywydd said as she told him the former First Minister carry on.

In her response, Ms Neagle replied saying she "regretted the tone" of the comments. "I feel they call into question my own commitment tt children and young people which is the only reason I am standing in this job. With respect Mark I think I have set out very clearly my reasons for this decisoin today. It's about listening to a consultation. You can't have a consultation and not listen to it".

She said "major reforms and serious attainment issues" have to be tackled, and need to be prioritised. "To think that a week's change in the school year is going to make a difference to the systemic changes we're facing in education is quite, frankly, fiddling while Rome burns and I'm really really sorry you've chosen to couch it in those terms".

At one point, as Mr Drakeford interjected, she told him to "let me finish, I let you speak, didn't I, I didn't say a word while you were speaking". She told him she had made the decision based on a consultation which 16,000 people replied to and what she had heard "on the ground".

"This is not about reactionary forces. This is about me making a decision based on a 16,000-plus consultation and what I am hearing on the ground about a school system that is struggling and overwhelmed with reform, that is finding it challenging to raise attainment, and which is also struggling for funding. So that is what I am prioritising, and I make no apologies for that decision. I have made that decision after many weeks of careful consideration, in what I consider to be the best interests of all children and young people, including the children on the Ely estate, who I care passionately about." she said.

The timing of his public criticism of the administration is also key. Tomorrow, Vaughan Gething will face a no confidence vote in the Senedd chamber where he needs the support of every one of his Labour group to survive. While the vote is not binding - so it doesn't automatically force him to have to leave the FIrst Minister role - such criticism does not help questions about his tenure as First Minister.

Plaid Cymru MS Sioned Williams wrote on X afterwards: "The tensions in the Labour Senedd group just spilt over in dramatic form. Mark Drakeford just launched full throated attack on the education cabinet secretary rolling back on Labour manifesto commitment. Hefin David [Caerphilly MS] stormed out..."