(Title Image: Ruthin School)
Here’s a round-up of this afternoon’s education questions.
Prioritising school funding
Shadow Education Minister, Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West), returned to the issue of school funding. While the Welsh Government has identified eight priority areas, school-age funding wasn’t one of them. Meanwhile, direct school funding wasn’t protected by local authorities.
“Bearing in mind the huge changes that will be happening in schools recently, not least with the change in curriculum and the preparation for that, but also the long-standing and very acute complaints made by schools now about their direct funding, I have to say, I was disappointed not to see that more explicitly in even the cross-cutting themes of Government, because of course if you get education wrong it has an effect on every other area of spend as we go forward.”
– Shadow Education Minister, Suzy Davies AM
The Education Minister said early years was one of the priority areas and is itself a fundamental part of the education system. She accepted the recommendation of the Children & Young People’s Committee report on school funding and will provide a further response when that report is debated later this year.
Scrapping private schools
One of the headline policy proposals to come out of Labour’s autumn conference was to scrap/nationalise private schools in England. Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) asked the Minister – who was herself privately-educated at St Michael’s School in Llanelli – whether the Welsh Government intended to do the same in Wales.
“I have no plans to scrap private schools in Wales.”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor)
Given that answer, Sian Gwenllian suggested further discussion of the topic at a later time, moving on to the issue of religious education in the curriculum (amidst lobbying against RSE remaining a statutory subject in the new curriculum) and free home-school transport for pupils attending Welsh-medium schools – which is being reviewed by a number of councils.
The Minister assured AMs that religious education was to remain a statutory subject in the national curriculum. School transport doesn’t lie within her portfolio as it’s a transport issue but she said the Welsh Government were “working on a policy solution to the situation that we find ourselves in”, adding that the home-school transport proposals were a cause of concern.
Access to vocational courses
Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth) asked about access to vocational courses. He was pleased that new performance measures add greater value to vocational courses, but Wales remains some way off university-recognised parity between academic and vocational options.
David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon) added that it was a shame that older generations and parents understand that vocational qualifications can close the sort of skill gaps in Wales that we desperately need to close and university needn’t be the be-all and end-all.
The Minister said there was now no disincentive for schools to not offer a full range of vocational options, but:
“….there is more that we need to do to sometimes overcome perceptions of the value of vocational courses. And that’s why we are currently piloting a new approach to information advice to children and young people, so that we can ensure that all children are making the right choices, on the basis of a real understanding and knowledge that vocational qualifications can help them achieve their career aspirations, and fulfil their potential.”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams