End to funding lottery

1st July 2005 at 01:00
Gethin Lewis on why the National Union of Teachers has proposed reforms tailored to Wales

In 1997, the NUT Cymru held a breakfast launch called Teachers Say Yes. We are not sorry. Devolution has suited education in Wales. Our strengths and traditions nationally are different from our neighbours in England.

We have the economy of scale in Wales and a tradition of working together which should enable us to come together to tackle and solve our problems.

Recently, the NUT Cymru launched a report called A New Clarity in Education Funding. For the past 18 months, education consultant John Atkins has been researching the funding of education in Wales in a study commissioned by the NUT.

Devolution assumes that those with the local knowledge make the best decisions. However, we share the worries and frustration of our members who find that the various steps in the complex funding process are like walking deeper into ever-murkier waters.

The report the NUT Cymru has commissioned attempts to balance the need for local authorities to retain a large degree of flexibility, while at the same time making sure there will no longer be wide differences between what is spent on pupils depending on where they live in Wales, something commonly known as the postcode lottery.

It recommends a new approach. There would be an earmarked teaching and learning grant for local authorities to pass on to schools to pay directly for the "core function" of schools. This would include the cost of employing teachers and learning support assistants in all schools, managing the delivery of the curriculum, and providing learning materials for pupils.

This important grant would be based on activity-led principles.

The cost of staffing schools with qualified teachers and support staff is central to this grant. It would not cover the provision of premises, equipment or other services, which would continue to be funded by the local authority according to what are seen to be the local needs.

Newly-qualified teachers want to complete their induction year as soon as possible. If they cannot do so, it is frustrating for them and wasteful of the money invested in their initial teacher training.

The report therefore recommends introducing a year's guaranteed employment for all NQTs trained in Wales who have not managed to find teaching posts by the start of the academic year. Similar arrangements have proved successful in Scotland, at moderate cost.

LEAs would, as now, have responsibility for decisions about school re-organisation. Too many small primaries in Wales are still in Victorian buildings. The report recommends a progressive replacement programme for Victorian schools.

We should not tolerate 21st-century children being educated in inappropriate, unsuitable school buildings built for their great, great-grandparents.

The NUT Cymru believes strongly in the importance of effective LEAs to the provision of education. At this year's Wales TUC conference at Llandudno, one of the successful motions proposed by the NUT called for a fundamental change in the way inspections are organised in Wales.

It was headed: "Let's make it public, not private, for school inspections."

An inspection team from one LEA would inspect schools in an authority in another part of Wales. In that way, the supportive and advisory role would not be compromised on their home patch.

Equally, schools would have the satisfaction of knowing that serving education professionals were inspecting them and not, as is too often the case, people whose active professional involvement in teaching is a distant memory.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate in Wales (Estyn), would be charged with monitoring the inspection process. Private profit would no longer be central to school inspections in Wales. Imagine what schools could have done with the underspend of nearly pound;4 million by Estyn in 2003-4.

We would like to see the Assembly government supporting and giving guidance to local authorities on how they should maintain and develop these services. Neighbouring LEAs should be encouraged, where possible, to pool resources for the most cost-effective and efficient delivery of those services.

This would be particularly helpful in such support services as Athrawon Bro, music, educational psychology and speech and other therapists.

However, schools must not be impoverished by not having proper financial resources for the statutory challenges placed upon them.

This report calls for greater clarity to ensure that schools feel confident that they are being funded adequately for their important teaching and learning work.

All statutory changes - for example, planning, preparation and assessment time, the foundation stage, the Learning Pathways reform of the 14-19 curriculum, to name a few - should be properly funded, based on the actual costs that these requirements need.

Education has been a success story of devolution, and its continued success can be guaranteed by funding the work of schools now and for the future in a more transparent, activity-led, made-in-Wales way.

Diwedd y gan yw'r geiniog.

Gethin Lewis is secretary of the NUT Cymru. Copies of A New Clarity in Education Funding can be obtained by emailing cymru.wales@nut.org.uk

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