Draft budget sparks cuts fears

9th October 2009 at 01:00
UK debt mountain means less cash for Assembly government to spend on education

The education sector in Wales is bracing itself for a turbulent period following the announcement of the Assembly government's draft budget this week.

Schools will have less to spend on improvements and repairs to their buildings next year after capital funding was cut by pound;8 million.

While revenue funding is set to increase by pound;15 million, there will be less money for small and rural schools, and cuts will be made to the continuing professional development fund for teachers and school leaders.

The post-16 sector will also have to make efficiency savings of 5 per cent, prompting fears of further redundancies in a sector that is already facing serious difficulties.

But teaching union leaders have warned that while 2010 will be a tough year for education, 2011 could be even worse, with a number of factors combining to create the "perfect storm" for education in Wales.

They predict that whatever the outcome of next year's general election, severe restrictions on public expenditure will have to be made to get to grips with the UK's national debt, resulting in considerably less revenue for the Assembly government as it approaches its own elections.

By 2011 funding for a number of the Assembly government's education initiatives, such as the play-led foundation phase, will be absorbed into local authority budgets, making them subject to regional variations.

It is also feared that local authorities could struggle to take forward their ambitious transformation plans.

Gareth Jones, secretary of heads' union ASCL Cymru, said: "We all expected it to be a very difficult budget year, but 2011 is going to be even harder. The budget settlement for 2011 is an event which has all the makings for the perfect storm."

Dr Philip Dixon, director of teaching union ATL Cymru, said: "The governments in power in Westminster and Cardiff Bay will have to face up to real public service cuts in 2011. That's when the phoney recession will end and the real tough times will hit."

Jenny Randerson, the Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman in the Assembly, warned that Wales was entering a "dark period for our children and their education", with the prospect of "crumbling classrooms, out-of- date books and over-stretched teachers and lecturers."

But Jane Hutt, the education minister, said that money is being spent where it is needed most.

The minister has spent the summer making a big show of her commitment to fight for education and pledging to find cash to keep funding the major initiatives, and will see the budget as a victory.

She has secured funding for the continued roll-out of the flagship foundation phase, along with an additional pound;1.75 million to drive forward the Welsh medium education strategy, and pound;1.5million to provide a school counselling service.

A further pound;20.5 million will be made available to help those young people who have been hit hardest by the economic downturn through a range of programmes.

Ms Hutt said: "It is essential we use our resources wisely, making sure that our pioneering education policies are properly funded to succeed."

But while there is a general acceptance among the teaching profession that the draft budget could have been much worse, headteachers realise that they will have to wait until at least next spring when the final budget has been agreed to see how it really affects their schools.

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