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Funding pilots

In view of your recent article, I feel I need to put the record straight regarding the funding of the Foundation Phase pilots in Wales (TESCymru, August 13).

The first important factor is that the scale of operation is different in the voluntary and maintained settings and therefore there will naturally be different demands on funding. For instance, there are considerably fewer children in each voluntary playgroup than in local authority playgroups.

Consequently, the amount and cost of equipment required will be significantly reduced.

Second, existing staffing levels vary considerably. The ratio of staff in the voluntary sector is already one to eight, compared to one to 13 in the local-authority-run nurseries. We therefore need to cover the additional cost of bringing all pilot settings down to a ratio of one to eight.

Another factor is the cost of management funding. The new Foundation Phase will require staff to undergo appropriate training. In the maintained sector, the cost of supply cover is much higher than in the non-maintained sector as the voluntary sector salary is based on an hourly rate while teachers' salaries are based on teachers' pay and conditions.

It is important to recognise that the Assembly will begin the pilots on the basis of the staffing levels which were contained in our consultation paper, that is on a one to eight basis. We believe that both types of setting must be on a level playing field as we are equally committed to both the voluntary and maintained sectors.

We will, however, crucially be testing whether this staffing level gives improved outcomes before rolling it out across Wales. To do so, we will want unequivocal evidence of value for money and affordability. This is what the taxpayer would expect from us.

Information about the new Foundation Phase will be made available for parents as well as schools at the beginning of the pilots in September, which will explain that the proposals are about learning through well-structured play, practical activity and investigation. Our plans are born out of a conviction that our youngest children need the best start in life and we intend to give them one!

Jane Davidson

Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning

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