Editorial - Tory takeover no reason to press panic button

14th May 2010 at 01:00
The British election has left the Learning Country's plans in peril, but there's still hope

There may be trouble ahead. After this week's drawn-out conclusion to the UK election, teachers in Wales could be feeling understandably anxious. Before polling day, schools had been warned the Tories would accelerate cuts to public services in Wales if they gained power. Now the Conservatives are settling into Downing Street in a coalition with the Lib Dems, the cuts remain on the agenda - and the handful of Liberals in the cabinet are unlikely to talk their new colleagues down.

Plaid Cymru fears the worst, disappointed after it missed out on joining the rickety coalition Labour proposed, which had been its best chance at protecting funding for Wales. Elfyn Llwyd, Plaid's Westminster leader, warned this week that the Tories' plans would have a "disastrous effects on the Welsh economy".

Given that Wales' schools are already shamefully underfunded compared with those in England, could there be any more reasons to feel dismal? Unfortunately, the answer is "yes".

As we report on our front page today, a lack of money already appears to be scuppering key pledges to transform education. Targets to improve pupil attainment and attendance, and to reduce class sizes, are set to be dropped. As Philip Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, remarks: "A lot of it comes down to the simple fact that the government has not properly funded education."

So the grand ambitions of the Learning Country are in peril. But don't reach for the whisky or Tesco job application form yet. There are plenty of causes for hope.

For a start, it remains too early to predict what the Con-Lib coalition will mean for Wales. Those who are apprehensive about Britain's new rulers will be reassured by the fact that schools here remain under the direct control of the Welsh Assembly government, led by the Labour-Plaid coalition. In this era of "new politics", first minister Carwyn Jones is right to be hopeful that a constructive relationship can be established between the Assembly and Westminster.

More relevant for teachers is the possibility - remote though it may seem - that they might eventually see school funding improve. The Conservatives' election manifesto bemoaned the fact that pupils in Wales receive #163;527 less than those in England, but did not explain what they would do about it.

However, the first policy that David Cameron noted would be common ground between the Tories and Liberal Democrats is the "pupil premium", a progressive system that would provide more funding for children from deprived homes.

The swing towards the Tories in Wales, which may be echoed in the Assembly elections next year, could bolster the case to introduce such a system here. And it would be the schools that now struggle most for funding, and the ones in areas of high unemployment, that would see the greatest benefit.

So there may be trouble ahead. But while there's uncertainty, some hope and a chance, let teachers face their classes - and get on with it.

Michael Shaw, TES Opinion Editor; E: michael.shaw@tsleducation.com.

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