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Millions needed to fund wish-list

Welsh Assembly members pledge to improve education, but where will the money come from? Lisa Hutchins reports

WELSH Assembly members have come up with a multi-million pound wish-list to transform education.

Teaching union leaders welcomed ambitious plans to spend millions on a Welsh bac, new technology, free milk, smaller class sizes and teachers' pay as well as improving standards. But they are asking how the Assembly, which has no revenue-raising powers of its own, will fund them.

It is unclear where the extra money will come from. Coalition leaders Rhodri Morgan, First Secretary, and Michael German, Lib Dem leader, say only that the reforms will be funded from allocating existing money in the overall budget differently.

The wish-list is part of a controversial "partnership agreement" laying the ground rules for coalition government in the Welsh Assembly which provoked the resignation of a Labour education cabinet member.

Tom Middlehurst, who held the post-16 education brief in the minority administration, ann-ounced on Tuesday that he was resigning. He said a plan for his 27 Labour colleagues to work with the six Liberal Democrat members, including offering them two cabinet seats, was unacceptable.

He said he disagreed with "significant issues" in the coalition deal and added that he did not believe the Lib Dems were trustworthy.

The controversy did not entirely overshadow the announcement of the agreement, made up ofa list of more than 100 pledges which include sweeping plans for the future of Welsh education.

Promises to teachers include improved pay and conditions, reform of salary structures in ways not linked to pupils' exam performance, and reduced paperwork.

An additional pound;65 million over the next three years will be put into teacher recruitment with the aim of cutting all primary class sizes to under 25 pupils.

Training grants will "fully fund" new primary teachers, to tackle claims that Welsh staff are getting a worse deal than their English colleagues. A school buildings fund will offer pound;200m over three years to reduce the repairs backlog.

All infants will qualify for free school milk from January 2001 in a pledge worth pound;1.3m. Nursery education is to be made available to the parent of every three-year-old who wants it with a target date of 2003.

Further education is tackled with a plan to set up a new post-16 Welsh baccalaureate qualification giving equal weight to academic and vocational courses.

Money for the plans will come from the "ongoing budgetary processes of the Welsh Assembly" according to the document. The Assembly has no money-raising powers: it can only allocate funds made available by the Treasury.

The partnership agreement has been praised by NUT Cymru, Wales' largest teaching union. Its secretary Gethin Lewis said: "We now have a clear vision for the development of a distinctive education system."

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