Fund to cut infant class sizes expected to remain until at least 2021

(Title Image: Wales Online)

Here’s a round-up of this afternoon’s education questions.

The draft budget and schools

Shadow Education Minister, Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) picked up on some of the specifics in the draft budget – namely a fund to keep smaller rural schools open, as well as the future of a £36million fund to cut infant class sizes.

“This £36 million, though….has already prompted some questions about its value for money in terms of its outcomes. You’ve also heard that schools are worried that maintaining the levels of employment of all of these new staff….this £36 million may have bought, may be pretty difficult when this class-size funding commitment comes to an end.”
– Shadow Education Minister, Suzy Davies AM

The Education Minister, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), was pleased that the small schools funding has helped keep a pledge to keep smaller rural schools open – the same level of money as previous years will be available.

The Minister told AMs her intention is for the £36million fund to remain in place “for as long as she’s a minister” and probably until the end of the Fifth Assembly (April 2021) at the very least.

A successor to Erasmus+?

Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West) criticised the UK Parliament for rejecting an amendment to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill which would commit the UK to take part in Erasmus+ (EU student exchange programmes) after Brexit.

The Minister didn’t rule anything in or out in terms of a distinctly Welsh approach soon:

“Now, it is true to say that the vote this week does not preclude us from an ongoing negotiation, and I have used every opportunity that I have had and will continue to have to persuade (the UK Government) of the real value of that money. And sometimes, politicians and civil servants need to be reminded that we can know the cost of everything and sometimes miss the value of some things, and Erasmus+ is an example of where the value that is appreciated is so much more than the financial sums that are invested.”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams

The Minister confirmed there have been discussions on a possible replacement scheme – possibly UK-wide or a Celtic programme – but it’s unlikely to have anywhere near the breadth, strength or track record as Erasmus+.

Call for equality between Welsh and English language GCSEs

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) raised the case of a constituent who was denied a place at medical school for having a C-grade in GCSE English, yet achieved a B-grade in her first language, Welsh. Given that communication skills are important for any prospective doctor, and the lack of Welsh language skills amongst health staff, surely Welsh and English should be treated on an equal basis?

Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) raised the increasing difficulty in comparing Welsh qualifications to those in England due to different qualification formats and grading systems.

The Minister said the ability to work in both languages would be a clear advantage and she offered to look into this individual case. Though it’s the responsibility of individual universities to set course entry requirements, in principle she agreed that English and Welsh are of equal standing.

On comparability of qualifications, the advice given by Qualifications Wales was clear that universities understand the Welsh letter-based grading system far better than England’s number-based system.

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