Friday, October 19, 2007
Commenting on the statistics, the Welsh Liberal Democrats education spokesperson, Kirsty Williams said: “In an era where we are constantly told that the number of children is falling, I’m amazed that there are still so many classes with more than 30 pupils.
“Smaller class sizes make life easier for teachers, and leads to better teaching for pupils. This is particularly important at the primary level where children discover how to learn and put in place the building blocks for future learning.
“In partnership government from 2001 to 2003, Welsh Liberal Democrats invested to reduce class sizes – giving each pupil more teacher time. Unfortunately, in government alone, Labour dropped the promise to continue that work.
“The new Labour/Plaid government has failed to make it a priority.”
Whatever happened to 'education, education, education'?
In local government we have had to work with the resources we have. In truth this is a resource led issue from central government. If they provide the money and the appropriate guidance then local government will willingly respond to that. Unfortunately, that did not happen under Labour, nor is it happening under Plaid-Labour now.
As a consequence Plaid-run Gwynedd has discovered that it is operating under the same constraints as Cardiff, Swansea, Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Denbighshire in seeking to produce the highest possible quality of education for its pupils in the context of falling pupil rolls, crumbling buildings and a Welsh government that is washing its hands of any responsibility for dealing with those factors.
They are in power, they have the power to reduce class sizes, yet they choose not to. The WAG budget does not set the class sizes and a radical reorganisation would allow adequate new monies to tackle this.
The whole rationale for reorganisation is surplus places. These are determined by a formula set down by WAG, who also place considerable pressure on LEAs to eradicate them, without it has to be said, taking any of the flack for this. The formula obviously contains assumptions about class sizes because there are statutory limits in place in some cases and strong guidance in others.
It is also the case that funding for education is based on pupil numbers therefore if you are maintaining surplus places then you are paying out money that you are not being funded for. Given the other constraints on local government finance then this is clearly unsustainable.
You will see therefore that WAG guidance and funding is critical in this. These are also the reasons why Cardiff and other Councils are not in a position to use surplus places as a means to reduce class sizes. They cannot afford it and they will still be in breach of Assembly regulations on surplus places.
It is not as simple to say that they are in power and they can do it. There are clear restraints that cannot be circumvented. I hope you can see that radical reorganisation that would eradicate surplus places could not then release money to create more 'surplus places', when the money was not there in the first place.
The driver for this has to come from WAG because they hold the purse strings and they can alter the guidance. They would also need to fund improvements to many schools to allow structural changes to accomodate smaller classes.