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Friday, May 23, 2008

Another Government u-turn

Welsh Education Minister, Jane Hutt is making a bit of a meal out of her role, particularly on the Foundation Phase.

She started off by arguing that she had allocated enough money for the scheme only to be forced to back down and put in another £5 million. When schools, teachers, local Councils and opposition politicians pointed out that this was still not enough she tried to hold the line. Then she attempted to pass the blame onto local authorities who, she said had failed to provide the necessary statistics. Now she is being forced to scale back the scheme to fit the resources she has allocated to it. This is not so much a flagship scheme as a lifeboat for the One Wales Government.
This debacle gives me no pleasure whatsoever. This is a vitally important educational initiative that could greatly benefit all children. They deserve to have it in place with the appropriate resources at the earliest possible moment. In failing to achieve this the Labour Plaid Cymru Government has let down these children. What is worse is that they have failed to acknowledge their own responsibility for this failure. Today's Western Mail gives the government's excuses short shrift:

How Ministers have found themselves in this position is baffling. Given how long the idea has been in preparation, and its central place in WAG’s overall policy programme, one would have expected all the potential pitfalls to have been worked out well in advance. It seems that has not been the case.

The Foundation Phase is a good idea, one borrowed from Scandinavia but one that will, eventually, give Welsh education its own distinct flavour. Concentrating as it does on play, rather than formalised classroom teaching, it has the potential to revolutionise learning.

But questions again have to be asked about the ability of our politicians to deliver what they promise, particularly Ms Hutt, no stranger to disasters in public services.

It doesn’t do the Assembly Government much credit either to try to blame local authorities for not providing enough data for the difficulties. As we have noted before, Labour in Cardiff Bay used to make great play of its “partnership” with (until May 1) largely Labour-run local authorities. If Ms Hutt is right that County Halls were, in fact, being deliberately obstructive, then that Labour campaigning slogan is destined for the bin too.

It’s an odd argument to make, this blaming of the problem on a lack of statistical data. The Assembly Government has a statistics directorate under its nose in Cathays Park, and a foundation phase pupil, given a few minutes on Google, could find data on how many children of what age live in each of the 22 councils. The brighter ones could probably work out the funding levels needed.

What those pupils, or their parents, will not do is put up with continued bickering and in-fighting. This is an issue that needs to be resolved quickly; if there will be more money in future Budgets, Ms Hutt and Ministerial colleagues should come out and say so clearly. Otherwise this risks being another good idea that Wales has failed to drag off the drawing board.

The Minister has dug herself into a hole on this issue. She now needs to find a way out.
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