Do the little things….and do the big things too.

St David’s Day  – Dydd Gwyl Dewi, the day of our national patron saint, gives us all a chance to take stock, to celebrate our Welshness, our culture, our history – and our future.

I have fond memories of going to school in an itchy woollen waistcoat, and sporting a spring onion representing an infant-sized leek, which got progressively smaller during the day as I chewed on it.

I always enjoyed the stories of his life – the miraculous rising mound of earth,  restoring the sight of a child – but more practically perhaps, I was always really drawn to the three pieces of advice he set out for us, which I think are an excellent set of principles for daily life: Be joyful, Do the little things and Keep the faith.

Optimism, practical help, and a commitment to values even in the tough times. Or at least that’s how I have interpreted them. Be joyful, do the little things and keep the faith – whatever faith means for you, of course.

And in the increasingly complex world we live in, holding on to some simple guiding principles has an obvious appeal!   But you will be pleased to hear that I am not here to give a sermon this evening, I am here to talk about politics!

In politics, optimism and keeping the faith are definitely qualities which we all need to hold on to!  And though doing the little things is a very good rule for personal kindness and a useful thing to teach our children in school –  we are in politics to do the big things, not just the little things.

But for me at least, school is where my politics started.

I went to a Welsh medium comprehensive school in the 80s where the sons and daughters of miners from Cwmgors  or a painter and decorator from Pontarddulais like me –  mixed with the children of consultants and academics from Gower. It was obvious that not everyone was getting the same start in life. Many of us will remember what the 80s were like – and plenty of kids were struggling.

And I was also a gay teenager in a time when not a single thing in the life of the school – in any part of my life in fact –  affirmed my identity, or told me it was ok to feel the way I did. No positive messages, no role models, nothing.

So my commitment to making sure every young person gets the very best start in life whatever their background, and that schools should be inclusive places, reflecting the diversity of modern Wales and where no one feels on the outside, like I did – that commitment is personal. It’s absolute and I will not compromise on it.

So in LGBT+ History Month, i am really proud to have introduced our LGBT+ inclusive Relationship and Sexuality Education Code. As a young gay man, the Tories’ attempts to demonise people like me with Section 28 was one of the reasons I got into politics.

We have brought in these changes despite an organized misinformation campaign involving hard right elements. And I promise you I will stand up to them – I will never be deflected from our efforts to protect young people and help them to be safe and healthy.

Ensuring our school life is inclusive and reflects the diversity of modern Wales is vital in other crucial ways too. In our new curriculum it’s now mandatory for our young people to be able to learn about the histories and experiences of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people – we should be so proud of this.

I recently launched our new diversity and anti-racist training programme and our bursary to encourage Black Asian and Minority Ethnic students into teaching – I have got to tell you in all honesty there is a long way to go before we have a school workforce which reflects the diversity of the young people in our classrooms — but I am totally committed to it.

But the other part of my mission is based on my simple belief that the purpose of the Labour party is to give working class children the same chance to fulfil their aspirations as the most well off children.

And many of us will have been raised with that special type of Welsh working class aspiration – which isn’t about personal advancement but a collective ambition that means that we want for each other what we want for ourselves.

Some of that is about making it easier to be at school – tackling the cost of the school day by expanding free school meals, making uniforms cheaper, access to free music tuition. or by giving each child a book of their choice to keep.

I am proud to be doing every single one of those. A lot of families are really struggling  – with school staff often dipping into their own pockets to help – so it has never been needed more.

But it’s about much more than that, it’s also about support for literacy, support for families, better links with the community, with other services, making sure teachers are trained to support the needs of disadvantaged children, to instill confidence and to encourage their aspirations, more funding for schools with more disadvantage. We know that this is how we will give every child the start in life they deserve.

And when the day comes for me to stop being education minister, the single most important thing I want to be judged on is what we have put in place to support our disadvantaged pupils, like every other pupil, to reach for the stars — and to get there.

But despite all this, not everyone has the best experience of school and we need to make sure they have chances throughout life to return to education.

When I was first elected to the Senedd I set out my ambition that Wales would become a nation of “second chances – where it’s never too late to learn”. I have seen at first hand what places like the DOVE workshop in the Dulais valley in my constituency have done to transform the lives – often of women in their communities – through adult education.

And as education minister I have been working to make that nation of second chances a reality. I have launched a review of our vocational qualifications to make sure they give people the best chance of getting decent work.  We have brought in big budget increases for further education, for adult community learning and for our work based personal learning accounts. And we have now legislated to create a duty to fund lifelong learning.

Adult education has been a big part of our history in Wales, and I want to make sure it will be a big part of our future too.

Because at the end of the day, for a Labour government, the best economic policy is education policy and the best social justice policy is education policy.

It is how we change society, to give people the chance of a decent livelihood and a fulfilling life.

How we change society, yes. But also how we equip young people for a society that is already changing all around them.   How we equip our future generations, to whom our commitment in Wales is so clear. But also equip those leaving school in the next decade.

They will become young adults as the next quarter century of devolution is dawning. A quarter century which will bring new challenges and which will demand new responses.

The climate and nature emergencies, the disruption of rapid technological change, building a new sustainable economy from the embers of Brexit, a decline in the number of working age people, an increasingly fragile constitutional settlement for the United Kingdom and the most challenging public spending situation for half a century and more.

Any one of these would be a momentous change in itself. All together and they require a collective response of unprecedented proportions.

But we can rise to this challenge and not only survive – but flourish.

Young people in education, contemplating the world of work should know that we have high expectations of them. But they are entitled to have high expectations of us too.

To expect us to ensure our future generations benefit from rising living standards, in an increasingly productive  sustainable economy which will offer prosperity and equity.

No child should be living in poverty, no adult should be without opportunity.

They are entitled to look to us to take every advantage of our small size as a nation to make Wales the easiest part of the United Kingdom to invest in, to start or to grow a good business, to create decent  sustainable highly skilled work. And to equip our young people to take those roles.

Innovation, skills, capital, but building on our natural advantages as a nation, and with a government focused on practical delivery, and that does what only governments can do – takes the risks when others shouldn’t, builds the infrastructure when others can’t, and crucially, invests in people when others don’t.

This is the Wales we are preparing our young people for.

And the challenges of technology are also opportunities. The question for our generation is: How can we improve all public services and crucially – through technology – to make sure they don’t become the preserve of the few in an age of austerity.

Whether it’s digital classrooms revolutionizing the start in life we can give our children, or 21st century care technology supporting carers to look after a growing generation of older people, if we are bold in how we harness the potential of digital innovation,  it will allow us to do not just the things we do today, better – but even more ambitious things tomorrow.

That is the kind of courage and imagination which powered Bevan’s vision of the first public healthcare system in the world.

Our opportunity – in fact our duty – is to remain true to the principle of social justice at the heart of a publicly delivered health service free at the point of need, but to recapture the iconoclasm and innovation which also drove Bevan’s vision.

This is the Wales we are preparing our young people for.

And underpinning all this, a reaffirmation of our commitment to a truly sustainable Wales. A sustainable economy and a sustainable society. The steel in the future of wales is green steel, the energy in the future of wales is renewable energy. The sectors in the future of wales are the circular, the sustainable.

And we will take people with us on this journey, by committing to a just transition where people can see the chances it offers as well as the changes it demands. New green jobs and a share in the rewards from harnessing the natural resources on your doorstep.

This is the Wales we are preparing our young people for.

And a Wales where our language is accessible to all.  Every new learner is a champion.  We see children arriving here without a word of English or Welsh – including by the way as refugees from Ukraine and Syria – who’s very first act is to learn Cymraeg. We see adults learning in record numbers, whether it be to share the journey of their child through welsh medium education, whether to gain a skill for a new job.

Whatever your story, you are welcome. That inclusive vision for Welsh reflects our inclusive vision for Wales.

This is the Wales we are preparing our young people for.

And our Welsh Labour vision will help us not only to navigate, but to shape that change.

Our vision for a more prosperous, more ambitious Wales where each of us has an equal opportunity to fulfil our potential, achieve our aspirations and live the life we want to lead.

A Wales where we will strike a new deal between the generations, with the promise of opportunity complemented by our duty of care. And the stewardship of our environment matched by our commitment to a just transition.

In a changing world, Wales will be a nation of second chances, where it’s never too late to learn, and where our journey begins from the needs of the worst off in our society, but does so from a position of economic strength.

This is the Wales we are preparing our young people for.

And it will be delivered by a Welsh Labour government which is bold, empowering, open and nimble, a government committed to partnership, which offers and demands in equal measure, innovation, challenge and accountability, which believes that everyone has a contribution to make to the future of our country and should be encouraged and supported to play their part.

Enduring Welsh Labour values which will light our path over the next quarter century of devolution.

Delivered by a Welsh Labour government together with a UK Labour government  – bringing about this vision in partnership.

And with a UK Labour government devolving power from Westminster and a Welsh Labour government devolving power from Cardiff,  not only  can we deliver this vision but we can transform the democracy of this country – and give people more control over the decisions that affect them, their families and their communities.

That’s a vision which we can all share as Members of the Senedd, Members of Parliament, councillors, trade unionists and activists – all parts of the Welsh Labour family, working together, inspiring and supporting each other. Seeking power, in order to give it away.

Every time I visit a school I leave with a sense of hope.

Our young people in Wales are truly remarkable. They are creative, they are compassionate. And I want them to live in a country which offers them prosperity and an equal chance to flourish.

Children in Wales will be going to school in national costume to learn about the life and times of our patron saint, Dewi Sant…. (and how to chew a spring onion whilst it’s fastened to your waistcoat).

And as we all celebrate our national day, let’s all once again remember that simple guide to a good life and a better future – Be joyful, Keep the faith, and Do the little things.

But – Do the big things too.



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