Liberal Democrat AM Kirsty Williams was appointed to the Labour cabinet by the first minister.She defended her policy of cutting infant class sizes after questions were raised.
Cutting class sizes is one of nine commitments within an agreement between Ms Williams and Carwyn Jones.Ms Williams said: “The main challenge that we have is building confidence in our education system.
“Truly ensuring that everything that we do puts the child front and centre, that we listen to the concerns of parents and the teaching profession.”
She said that cutting infant class sizes to no more than 25 pupils would help improve standards.An education expert and a Labour AM have claimed there are more effective ways of spending scarce resources.
But Ms Williams said smaller classes are “a major priority for parents and it’s an important aspect of a teacher’s workload”.She added: “Is it on its own the one thing that we need to do to raise standards?
“No, of course not. But this isn’t an either or situation, this is about applying all the levers the Welsh Government has to raise standards.”
The Liberal Democrat manifesto also pledged to protect school funding, though that is not part of the agreement with Mr Jones.”I will be doing everything that I can to ensure that we have the resources that we need to protect school budgets,” she said.
The Diamond review on higher education funding and student finance is due to publish its findings in the autumn.As Welsh Liberal Democrat leader during the assembly election campaign, Ms Williams said she would scrap the grant currently available to Welsh students to help with their tuition fees because it was not “affordable or sustainable”.
Instead, her party wanted to provide a new, less generous, grant to help with living costs and the money saved would be pumped back in to universities.But as education secretary in an otherwise Labour cabinet, could not guarantee she will be able to implement that policy.
She said her priority is to “recognise that everybody that has the ability to go on to university or higher education should have the opportunity to do that”.
“We know that for many students it is the day to day living costs that make it difficult to access a place in higher education,” she said.”The agreement that I have with the first minister is that we will look for an early implementation of the Diamond review.
“I’m hopeful that the Diamond review will show us a way forward that will ensure that if Welsh students have the ability and the desire to go to university they will not be put off from doing so because they cannot afford the day to day costs of doing so”.
Ms Williams and Mr Jones have maintained that they are not in “coalition”, though Ms Williams concedes her “progressive agreement” with the first minister has some “shared characteristics”.