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Is playtime over before it's begun?

It is shocking that heads expected to deliver the foundation phase for all under-fives this September are still "planning in the dark" (page 1). This sweet-wrapped initiative, which was so welcomed initially by the participating pilots, is starting to sound like one big headache for many infant and primary schools.

There is no doubting the evidence backing this play-based strategy. But the Assembly government has ignored constant pleas from teaching unions and headteachers for a breakdown of the funding which schools will receive to make it happen, creating a growing feeling of panic.

Schools which this paper spoke to this week say they have used "guess work" to determine much extra money will land in their budgets. Some have held back from training staff for the ambitious 1:8 ratio, fearing there will be shortfalls in funding.

None of this bodes well for 2008-9. The warning bells have always been there. We reported at the close of 2005 that only half of Wales's schools had enough staff to fulfil the foundation phase requirements. It seems many are still in the same situation.

Anna Brychan, director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, believes schools will now know too late how much cash they can play with. Once local authorities know how much money is in the pot next week, it then has to be distributed. In any case, teaching unions are sceptical there will be enough.

The Welsh Local Government Association has already warned that the government's budget, despite extra money for the FP, could be bad news for education.

Jane Hutt, education minister, has insisted from the outset that the FP will be financed properly. One of the heads we spoke to this week, Margaret Evitts, of Gungrog Church in Wales Primary in Powys, said it had to be done properly or not at all. She is absolutely right.

If this initiative fails, it will not be down to the hard work or enthusiasm of staff, but the inability of the government to give the profession the tools it needs to organise and prepare in good time.

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