Former Welsh FM launches furious attack on government minister

A former first minister has made a startling attack on the Welsh Government’s decision to delay changes to school holidays.

Mark Drakeford, who was the leader of the Welsh government until March, questioned the “quality” of the Welsh Education minister’s decision-making, after the announcement that she was dropping plans to take a week from the summer holidays and add it to the one-week break in October.

Mr Drakeford said the move would cause “political damage” and harm the life chances of children.

But education secretary Lynne Neagle said the decision was about listening to the results of a consultation, which could not be ignored.

The scheme was devised during Mr Drakeford’s tenure as first minister and is the latest policy to be put on ice since Vaughan Gething took over.

Changes to farming subsidies were put on hold last month.

The apparent split in the Labour party comes a day before Mr Gething faces a no-confidence vote in the Senedd.

The decision to delay any implementation until the next Senedd term was announced by Ms Neagle on Tuesday.

Speaking during Plenary in the Senedd on Tuesday, Mr Drakeford said it was not the “quality of her commitment” to children which was being scrutinised, but the “quality of her decision-making”.

He called the decision to delay implementation an “abandonment of a manifesto commitment”.

“It would have moved one week, one week, from the school holidays in the summer to the autumn half term,” he said.

“Nobody, I think, could claim that the Government was rushing headlong down some radical path, but it was a start.”

He added: “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.”

Ms Neagle said she “regretted the tone” of some of his comments, which she felt “call into question my own commitment to children and young people”.

She said: “With respect, Mark, I think I have set out very clearly my reasons for this decision today. It is about listening to a consultation.

“You cannot have a consultation and then just ignore that consultation. That would not be acceptable.”

She added: “To think that a week’s change in the school year is going to make a difference to the systemic challenges we’re facing in education is, quite frankly, fiddling while Rome burns, and I’m really, really sorry that you have chosen to couch it in those terms.”

Hefin David, a fellow Labour member, repeatedly tried to intervene while Mr Drakeford was speaking, with the Llwydd – speaker of the Senedd – telling him not to question her decision to allow the former FM to continue.

She said: “You said ‘this is ridiculous’, me allowing Mark Drakeford to continue. It’s not. I’ve allowed you discretion time after time to continue on important issues for yourself, so remember that, Hefin David.”

Mr David, the member for Caerphilly, then left the chamber, and Sioned Williams, the Plaid Cymru member for South West Wales, accused him on X, formerly Twitter, of having “stormed out”.

She said: “The tensions in the Labour Senedd group just spilt over in dramatic form – Mark Drakeford launched full-throated attack on the Education Cabinet Secretary rolling back on Labour manifesto commitment.”

Speaking to the PA news agency, Mr David denied storming out, saying he “left the chamber briefly” as is common during long plenary sessions.

He said he had been trying to intervene to tell the Llwydd that the former first minister had gone three minutes over the time allotted for backbenchers on statements, which is one minute.

He added the longest he had been allowed was one minute 30 seconds.

The move to scrap implementing the change has been welcomed by teaching unions, with one calling it a “waste of time”.

Shaking up the holiday schedule was intended to help improve the education experiences of young people, especially the most disadvantaged, and align more effectively with the way families live and work.