Extra £5m for new early-years scheme’s ‘too little, too late’
A FUNDING boost of £5m for a planned transformation of early-years education in Wales was yesterday denounced by head teachers as “wholly inadequate”.
Teachers’ groups and councils insist insufficient resources are in place to support the learning-through-play foundation phase for three to seven year-olds – a flagship Assembly Government policy.
Education Minister Jane Hutt yesterday announced a further £5m on top of £25m to fund the roll-out this September. She stated that while she was committed to the goal of a staff to pupil ratio of 1:8 for three to five-year-olds, this was not a statutory requirement.
Iwan Guy, acting director of the National Association of Headteachers in Wales, said: “We’re happy she found the extra £5m but it’s wholly inadequate. The worrying part is she’s said it’s coming from within her education budget.
“Who’s going to lose out? It’s not new money for education. . . If we ran our schools the way the Assembly Government has run this initiative, we’d be vilified for it.”
Emphasising that the 1:8 ratio is essential, he said: “The pilot schools have shown it does work at 1:8. Suddenly we’re being told that’s not statutory.”
He fears the curriculum cannot be satisfactorily delivered unless this staffing level is achieved. “The only ones who are going to suffer are the children,” he said.
He claimed it had been clear for two years that there was insufficient funding. “The chickens are coming home to roost,” he said.
Mr Guy said the change in policy pointed to a failure at the heart of the civil service.
He said: “I think the officials in the Assembly have to stand up and say, ‘I think we got this wrong.’ I must admit, I think the minister has been misinformed on what was required.”
All three to five-year-olds will experience the play-based classes in September. There are 47 pilot schools in Wales which have the 1:8 ratio in place.
Secretary of NUT Wales David Evans said: “We welcome the fact it’s a step in the right direction; it’s right to put in more money.
“But £5m isn’t going to be enough so that everyone can achieve the 1:8 ratio come September.”
Commenting on how much money may be needed, he said: “I think £15m is possibly a conservative estimate.”
Ms Hutt said councils had been slow to provide details of costs. She said local authorities had been asked to undertake an audit but there had been a “disappointing response”.
But the Welsh Local Government Association described the £5m as “too little, too late”, warning of “massive underfunding”.
It predicts there will be a shortfall of £10m.
A spokeswoman said: “The minister’s criticism of local authorities for failing to provide the necessary information is a smokescreen.”
Wales Organiser of the NASUWT Rex Phillips does not expect the foundation phase to be fully rolled-out until 2011-12 but welcomed the longer time-frame.
He said: “It’s taking a slow, considered approach to the roll-out of the foundation phase, rather than being overambitious about what can be achieved.”
But Philip Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) in Wales, said: “We very much welcome the promise of new money, but as well as that, we welcome the new way of working the minister has established with the teaching unions and other key players.”
Conservative Shadow Education Minister Alun Cairns said: “Jane Hutt has lost the respect of many teachers over her handling of the foundation phase and is now quickly losing the confidence of the entire profession.”
The Assembly’s finance committee is conducting an investigation into the financing of the foundation phase.