Leanne Wood: Welsh education 'graveyard of ambition'
Wales' education system has gone from being a "watchword for excellence" to the "graveyard of ambition", Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood says.
At her party's spring conference she said Plaid would introduce a "comprehensive" literacy and numeracy programme to improve standards.
Ms Wood also accused Labour of a "shocking dereliction of duty, an absolute travesty".
She pledged to raise standards "when I am returned as first minister in 2016".
She told her party's spring conference in Beaumaris, Anglesey, that with 40% of children leaving primary school unable to read or write to the right standard for their age, education had become one of Wales' "great failures".
Her speech attacked the performance of Labour ministers in the Welsh government.
"Wales, in the past a watchword for educational excellence, has slipped further and further behind - not just England, but behind 36 other countries in reading and 38 in maths," she said.
"For Wales - a country where in the past, great store was placed on the value of education - it is extraordinary that it has now become one of our great failures.
"The Welsh education system has become the graveyard of ambition."
A Plaid Cymru government would introduce a comprehensive literacy and numeracy programme with early intervention to specifically target boys, she said.
The aim would be to make sure all children perform to the best standards by the age of 11.
Ms Wood said the party would try to "utilise willing volunteers like retired teachers and other professionals in this work".
"When a child fails in education, the consequences stay with them for life," Ms Wood said.
"Let's take responsibility for putting it right ourselves, now."
She told delegates Plaid would "earn the right to govern our country by presenting a responsible, competent, and business-friendly plan for boosting the Welsh economy".
'Fuelled by success'
"Our vision is of an independent Wales - independent in spirit and in reality, not dependent on handouts from Brussels or from London, a country fuelled not by charity but by our own success."
Ms Wood said she had set her party the challenge of having "a million conversations with the people of Wales" as part of the campaign to win the 2016 assembly election.
"I pledge to you that when I am returned as first minister in 2016 I will make sure standards in education are raised."
Ms Wood, who became Plaid's first female leader last year, is planning to stand down from her regional seat as an AM for South Wales Central at the next election in 2016 to stand in a constituency.
It means she will be giving up a relatively safe route back to Cardiff Bay in an attempt to help her party break new ground.
She said the campaign for the 2016 poll had already begun and would involve people "in every city, in every town, in every village and every county" in order to "restore people's faith in politics".
In her speech, Ms Wood accused Labour of presiding over a Wales that had become a "one party state of denial, immune from criticism, refusing to take responsibility".
She also attacked the coalition government in Westminster.
She confirmed the economy and job creation remained her top priority, and accused the UK government of making "failure" its "hallmark".