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Friday, July 18, 2008

Another funding fog

Anybody listening to the Education Minister in Plenary yesterday would have thought that all was hunky dory with the Foundation Phase. She was at her most robust when defending the scheme in questions from Kirsty Williams:

Jane Hutt: I am sure that all will be revealed on how we move forward for the benefit of children and their education because of the commitment and the decisions that I have made, which have given our schools the stability and confidence that they can deliver the 1:8 ratio for the statutory curriculum for three to four-year-olds. I am seeking further funding, but the roll-out of the 1:8 and the 1:15 ratios is under way. It is wholly unhelpful to have this constant negative griping about this major investment in the education of our young people and children in Wales.

This is of course all part of the cut and thrust of political debate in the chamber but I do not think that the Minister will be able to shrug off the more considered all-party report from the Assembly's Finance Committee so easily:

A report by the National Assembly’s finance committee said there had been a “systemic failure” in the transfer of relevant funding information between councils and the Assembly Government.

The pioneering foundation phase scheme, which starts in September, aims to encourage three to seven-year-olds to learn through play.

The report, published today, also highlights concerns about staffing costs and recruitment and the effective allocation of funds.

The comments of the Teaching Unions are particularly pertinent and leads me to wonder which schools the Education Minister has actually been talking to:

“It is unsatisfactory that schools are expected to implement the foundation phase in September and yet the schools still don’t know exactly where they are going this coming September, the following September or the September after that.

“Somebody needs to take control and direct where this initiative is going at this moment in time or there’s going to be a potential disaster in some schools.”

Iwan Guy, acting director of the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) in Wales, who gave evidence to the National Assembly’s finance committee last month, said: “There’s a lesson here for all future initiatives. They must be pre-costed before they are published or broadcast.”

Despite the political fix that has got the Minister over the hurdle of starting the roll-out in September the future of the Foundation Phase has still not been secured and will not be until the Government demonstrates that all the necessary funding is in place.
As the mother of a five-year-old who is being kept back in year one this September with the new intake from the nursery class, because there isn't room for all THIRTY of her class to move up to year two, and who is taught a fair proportion of the time by people who are nowhere near as qualified as a real teacher, I read any statements from WAG about how much education has improved for the youngest children with a bit of a derisory sneer, I have to say.

I suppose this is the problem for any government making claims about education: the people who care most, parents, all have first hand knowledge of what is happening in the real world. Even without the comments of teaching unions and finance committees, we all know that whatever impenetrable streams of jargon come out of Jane Hutt's mouth this week, we won't see a difference to the understaffed, stretched schools in Wales any time soon.
The reason for the problems with the Foundation Phase is that the Local Authorities (including your Swansea) have not responded to the request for statistics from WAG.
Absolute nonsense. As all parties concerned have pointed out including the teaching unions and the WLGA the Government has had sufficient information to deliver a proper costed scheme for some time. This is an excuse invented by the Minister to dig herself out of a hole.
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