When Mark Drakeford was a schoolboy, the prospect of life beyond his school walls was a vague one.
The Queen Elizabeth Grammar School for Boys, based in Carmarthen was, without putting too fine a point upon it, firmly ensconced in its 400-year-old history.
“It had very little connection with the outside world,” the First Minister told the Pembrokeshire Herald earlier today.
“I had no idea what I was going to do with my life when I left. Its curriculum was extremely traditional and there was no sense that we were being prepared for a future in our own locality.
“I remember being in the school library one day and finding an old library card belonging to my father who had attended the same school before the second World War.
“And that told me so much about the way in which the school had progressed. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life as we weren’t being encouraged to think beyond the school walls. And there was certainly no indication that the school was connected in any way to the area around us.”
How times have changed.
Today (Thursday) Mark Drakeford visited Ysgol Cae’r Elen in Haverfordwest where he met members of the school’s own senedd comprising students from Years 6 to 11.
During their discussion the students, who are being taught through the medium of Welsh, had an opportunity to question the First Minister as well as the Senedd’s Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price, who were jointly visiting the school as part of the Co-operation Agreement. The agreement aims to investigate ways in which the Welsh government and Plaid Cymru can work cohesively together over the next three years on policies where there is a common interest.
It goes without saying that education forms an integral part of their discussions.
“Visiting Cae’r Elen this afternoon has given us the perfect opportunity to see how the new curriculum we’re creating in Wales is being carried out in the school,” continued Mark Drakeford.
“It’s about making sure that the students’ education is of the best quality but also that it has a strong relevance to their future in the locality.
“This is an extremely exciting time for Pembrokeshire and also for the whole of Wales as a result of all the developments in natural resources that are taking place in the south of the county.
“We have sea, wind, waves and rain which is everything we need to make serious advancements in green energy. And this is going to create jobs for the people who want to stay here.”
His comments were echoed by Plaid Cymru senedd leader, Adam Price.
“There’s a huge amount of potential here in Pembrokeshire so it’s important to start looking at this and utilise the potential to create opportunities for jobs,” he told members of Cae’r Elen’s senedd.
“The challenge is how to make that potential a reality.”
Mark Drakeford and Adam Price were then shown around the school where they visited classrooms and listened in on some of the student’s lessons. This included a Spanish lesson, where the children were being instructed through the medium of Welsh.
“And this is what’s so incredible,” commented Mr Drakeford. “We heard three languages being used – Welsh, Spanish and English – and this helps create such flexibility in the students’ minds.”
Accompanying them on their tour was Cae’r Elen headmaster Dafydd Hughes. Earlier this week Mr Hughes received an outstanding report from the Estyn school inspectorate based on the school’s exemplary progress since it first opened in 2018.
During its very first term it had a total of 389 students; this September that figure will have grown to 900, with 94% coming from non Welsh-speaking households.
“It’s an amazing success story for the school but it’s also a very sound investment in the Welsh language,” said Mr Hughes.
“The way in which the school has been designed means that it’s very fit for purpose. All of the students are under the same roof from the nursery years right through to the sixth form which enables us to see their trajectory. And we want that journey to be as smooth as possible.
“Naturally we’re not perfect and there are always lessons to be learnt and improvements to be made. But I’m so proud of the community around us, for showing such faith in the school since it first opened its doors, particularly when you consider the exceptionally high number of students we’re educating from non-Welsh speaking backgrounds.”
Following their tour around Ysgol Cae’r Elen, Mark Drakeford and Adam Price continued their Co-operative Agreement journey with a visit to the new social housing development project at Cashfield Estate in Haverfordwest and the Bro Preseli extra-care housing scheme in Crymych.