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Pay for pupils or potholes?

Swansea may be about to get clean streets and a space academy, reports Adi Bloom, but more down-to-earth issues worry heads.

This year the streets of Swansea will be clean and free of potholes, but headteachers say that a pristine city will come at the expense of its children's education.

In its annual budget, Swansea Council increased spending on street cleaning by 10 per cent, while its education budget received an increase of only 4.4 per cent. Moreover, spending on street maintenance increased by a total of 67 per cent.

With an annual budget of pound;133.5 million, education still receives substantially more money than the pound;6.8m allocated to street cleaning and maintenance.

However, Mike Day, the Liberal Democrats' spokesman for education on Swansea Council, says this year's small increase reflects the priorities of the Labour-controlled council's cabinet.

"Their argument is that picking up dog mess and fixing holes in roads are the priorities they hear from constituents. But heads are saying that there is now insufficient funding to keep spending at the base level from last year," he told The TES.

Paul Green, headteacher of the city's Gowerton comprehensive, said: "We had to make three people redundant last year, in response to a relative drop in funding. I agree that dog-fouling and road repairs are important issues. But we have classrooms which have rotting windows, rotting walls and rotting floors."

Education spending in Wales is not allocated directly to schools by the Welsh Assembly. Instead, each local authority is awarded a lump sum which it divides up according to its own priorities. Spending therefore varies from authority to authority.

This year, Swansea Council will spend pound;3,128 per pupil on education, while the neighbouring Neath Port Talbot authority will spend pound;3,411.

John Miles, Swansea's cabinet member for education, insists that his authority should not be judged merely on school spending.

"Our results are better than those in Neath Port Talbot," he said. "Our budget has not affected our delivery of education."

Over recent years, he said, education had been a priority and the council had funded significant repairs to school buildings. However, it was now time to invest elsewhere.

"Mending potholes and cleaning streets have not been adequately funded over the years, precisely because we have been putting money into education," said Mr Miles.

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