No consideration towards making free school breakfasts available later in the day

(Title Image: Cardiff University)

Here’s a roundup of some of the key points from this afternoon’s questions to the Education Minister.

Headteachers under Strain

Shadow Education Minister, Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West), raised a recent piece in The Western Mail which focused on the mental exhaustion facing headteachers, with passing references to excessive bureaucracy.

Education Minister, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), said this was precisely why she was moving away from a “tick box culture” and was supporting more self-evaluation in schools. This will be backed by a new leadership academy.

The elephant in the room is, of course, the new curriculum.

“You’re ring-fencing an awful lot of money to train teachers for this new curriculum….when we’re not really clear what ‘this’ means and at the same time, that means there is money not going into school budgets, which is not enabling teacher freedom and which is not enabling greater flexibilities for schools.”
– Shadow Education Minister, Suzy Davies AM

The Minister said teachers were helping to design the curriculum, but she accepted some issues need ironing out – which is why the implementation has been delayed to ensure teachers are ready.

Taking their eye off the ball

Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West), whilst welcoming the work in schools, said the Welsh Government had taken their eye off the ball when it comes to post-16 education.

“We’ve seen major pressures in the college sector, strikes averted at the eleventh hour, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that workload pressure is still a reality….There are major governance issues in higher education. We’ve seen the vice-chancellor of Bangor having left the post recently, and serious financial difficulties there and in Cardiff with £21 million of cutbacks.”
– Bethan Sayed AM

Since December’s reshuffle, further education is within Kirsty Williams’ remit and the Minister was looking forward to working with FE colleges. She said, however, that universities were autonomous bodies and responsible for their own financial viability.

In response to a follow-up, the Minister refused to comment further on issues relating to the vice-chancellor of Swansea University as it was still subject to an investigation.

Flexible Free Breakfasts?

Neil McEvoy AM (Ind, South Wales Central) asked whether there was room for free breakfasts to be offered later in the day to pupils who find it difficult for whatever reasons to attend the free breakfast clubs.

Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth) said the free breakfast scheme has come under increasing strain, with some councils reducing opening hours and others introducing charges.

The Minister was a sceptic of free breakfasts when they were first introduced but based on the evidence has become a convert.

“One of the ways it does make a difference is that it is the ability to access that food that is an incentive for parents and, indeed, sometimes sadly children on their own, to get themselves out of bed, dressed and to the school….but I have not had any conversations about making that food available later on in the day.”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams

The Minister mentioned a school in Wrexham which introduced a “walking bus” which went around a deprived area making sure pupils were able to get to breakfast clubs on time. She went on to say that the breakfasts themselves need to be free, but schools are allowed to make a small charge if breakfast clubs are being used for a longer period of time as de facto childcare.

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