Don't blight devolution's children

Nicola Porter

Being the underdog has always brought the best out of Wales. Whether it is in our schools or on the rugby pitch, there is always a burning passion to succeed.

Today, TES Cymru gives examples of schools in Wales that are outperforming counterparts in England that have significantly more per-pupil funding.

Does the fact that we have less money bring out the best in our teachers? We witness this at Glyncoed and Penyrheol comprehensives - two schools performing well against the financial odds (see pages 3-4).

But success is clearly not all about money. Feedback from heads in our poll suggests they believe Wales is rich in education policy, despite their being the poor relation (see page 5).

Scrapping Sats and league tables early on in devolution was a visionary step; introducing the foundation phase for under-7s is also looked on with envy beyond the borders.

By publishing the findings of Professor David Reynolds's research today, TES Cymru does not aim to damn devolution - many good things have come from our separation from Westminster. Instead, we hope the findings will encourage a debate about whether the Welsh have got their financial priorities right?

We are not saying education expenditure in Wales has not increased - it clearly has. But Professor Reynolds says there has been significant underinvestment compared with the rest of the UK, and says it is blighting our children's futures, lowering the morale of the teaching force and leading to falling standards.

On the latest figures, he predicts that schools in England will be Pounds 500 per pupil better off - 10 per cent - at an average 950-pupil school. Meanwhile, investment in areas of nation building - the administration of the Welsh state and promotion of the Welsh culture, media and sport - has gone up dramatically compared with the rest of the UK.

Statistics are often said to be misleading, but what the Assembly government cannot ignore is the strength of feeling of Wales's teachers. We asked 100 heads what the biggest issue facing them was: 65 per cent said lack of funding, while 90 per cent said children's education was suffering as a result.

In 2006, a cross-party committee of Assembly members came up with 27 recommendations to tackle the so-called funding fog that is still being worked through. The need for consistent financial reporting, a battle cry of the heads' union ASCL Cymru, is now stronger than ever.

In 2004 - on Bastille Day - First Minister Rhodri Morgan embarked on what was called the "bonfire of the quangos". It was supposed to streamline the Welsh state and save money.

Quangos, such as the post-16 funding body ELWA, along with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (ACCAC), were brought in-house.

But how much money has it actually saved? And are there still too many redundant salaries being paid?

How much does it cost to administer 22 local authorities in Wales? And do we really need to photocopy every school document bilingually?

Questions need to be asked and answered. Jane Hutt, who is proving a popular education minister, and one who listens, must listen to headteachers this week and respond. Not to do so would be failing the children of devolution, who after all should be everyone's biggest priority.

Nicola Porter, Editor

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Nicola Porter

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