Cash fears won't stop play

18th July 2008 at 01:00
Determined schools have managed their budgets to bring in the foundation phase this autumn

Determined schools have managed their budgets to bring in the foundation phase this autumn

The play-led foundation phase will go ahead in most reception classes this September despite it not being a legal requirement, a snapshot poll by the TES Cymru reveals.

However, the NUT Cymru warned this week the "good news" could result in a two-tier system, with many children missing out if their schools defer for one year.

Secretary David Evans said: "We welcome this but it is a pity not all schools could go ahead this year."

Many primary heads contacted said they would be signing up to the FP, which introduces a play-led curriculum and recommends a 1:8 teacher-pupil ratio. They said they would do this regardless of the funding shortages, said by the Welsh Local Government Association to be more than pound;13 million.

Last month, the Assembly government said that full national roll-out of the FP for under-7s would be pushed back until 2012.

A highly critical draft report released this week by an Assembly committee investigating underfunding of the scheme blames a "chronic system failure" in communication between local authorities and the government for the cash crisis.

But many schools still say they will meet the recommended 1:8 teacher-to- pupil ratio. Others said they will go ahead understaffed, believing pupils should not miss out on the new curriculum that is proving so popular. The strategy, which is often taught outdoors, was widely welcomed by the teaching profession when it was introduced as a pilot scheme in 2004, based on similar play-led learning schemes used abroad.

But the Assembly government admitted last month that the roll-out year had been underfunded and found an extra pound;5m. The finance committee said it was right to delay, to help schools prepare better.

But many heads say canny budgeting and planning have helped them beat the crisis despite the "doom mongering" by some. Many non-pilot schools also said they were determined not to disappoint pupils and parents.

Some schools that have already tested out the new curriculum are reporting improvements in pupil behaviour and attendance.

"The children have got used to learning in this way," said Heather Thomas, head of Fairwater Primary in Cardiff. She will go ahead with roll-out despite having only enough staff to meet a 1:14 ratio.

At Romilly Infants and Nursery School in Barry, all three reception classes will meet the 1:8 ratio.

Acton Park Infants in Wrexham is also providing 1:8 cover, with the help of extra local authority funding. Deputy head Christine Edwards said: "We have used a lot of the FP practices since last year."

A government spokesman said it was good if schools were going ahead with the "fantastic" strategy.

Leader, page 28.

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