School funding concerns raised again by AMs

(Title Image: National Assembly Research Service)

Following the fireworks of this afternoon’s emergency question, things moved on to education questions.

Direct funding not the answer to school “funding crisis”

There were a number of questions on school funding following a teaching union event held at the Senedd last week. Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) said funding problems would have a far-reaching impact on education, with many schools making cuts to special needs provision and well-being services. One (unnamed) teaching union now supports direct funding for schools; what was the Welsh Government’s view?

The Education Minister said the idea presented problems:

“….direct funding….does not, in my view, address the issue of the diversity of educational provision that we have in Wales. It undermines the law that we currently have, which says that this is the democratic decision-making responsibility of our local authorities, and would be incredibly difficult to do at a continuing time of austerity. It might be easy to do it if budgets were rising and we could have a floor below which nobody dropped….”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams AM (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor)

Plaid Cymru agreed with the Minister in principle, so was there a need for a generally fairer system of funding schools?

The Minister repeated that until austerity is lifted at Westminster, the Welsh Government and councils will have to be creative in saving and raise money. She was, however, willing to discuss alternative funding proposals.

Making every penny count

Shadow Education Minister, Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) was pleased money for an uplift in teachers’ pay and pensions from the UK Government was confirmed and wanted assurances all £47.7million of it will go on that purpose.

The Minister confirmed the money was ring-fenced. With that out of the way, Suzy turned to school funding:

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard from so many teachers about core funding as I am the moment, and, yes, we can discuss London’s role in this, but teachers are wise to the fact that the education budget increased this year, and they have questions for you and council leaders about whether central Government grant funding, which is targeted at those diverse needs you mentioned a bit earlier on – whether that is starting to give local authorities a bit of a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to providing core budgets to school.”
– Shadow Education Minister, Suzy Davies AM

The Minister accepted that while Suzy Davies wasn’t attacking the principle of policies such as the pupil deprivation grant, but it was one way the Welsh Government were trying to improve the life chances of school pupils from poorer backgrounds – which the First Minister addressed at this week’s FMQs.

A week of INSET days?

Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn) asked whether INSET (aka. teacher training) days could be harmonised across Wales – perhaps even crammed together into an additional week’s term-time holiday which might make it easier for families to take holidays during more affordable times of the year.

Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) raised the matter of a consultation on extra INSET day to be introduced for teacher training related to the new curriculum. Was there enough capacity to enable all schools to offer that training on the same day, as proposed?

The Minister said the idea of experts going out to all schools was old-fashioned, adding that wasn’t about convenience:

“…. my concern when organising INSET days is not to think about the convenience of the price of a holiday, our INSET days are there to provide teachers with the opportunity to engage in professional learning and to prepare themselves for the challenges of the new curriculum.”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams

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