Fears on funding

15th December 2006 at 00:00
But school leaders won over at conference by talk of government department shake-up

WALES'S TOP education official won the hearts and minds of headteachers after revealing plans for a radical shake-up of the government's department for education, lifelong learning and skills (DELLS).

But members of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) Cymru reiterated fears about funding and micro-management of schools by government.

Australian Steve Marshall, director of DELLS, told delegates of his plans to make it better connected to other departments, and to join up government polices.

It left heads attending last week's conference in Llandrindod Wells speculating that he could be the man to champion their cause in the "parallel universe" of officialdom. But Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, was accused by delegates of not trusting them to get on with their jobs, as well as not consulting enough over initiatives.

Ian Garrero, head of Newport's Basseleg school, also challenged her over perceived education funding inequalities between England and Wales. He claimed a third of Welsh pupils were housed in mobile classrooms, and schools in Wales had lost pound;300,000 in efficiency savings.

Phil Whitcombe, head of Barry's Bryn Hafren comprehensive, said heads should be trusted to do their jobs, and that his desk had "become a big filing cabinet".

The minister and her director argued funding comparisons should be made with countries from across the world. Mr Marshall said the United States, one of the highest spenders on education, was doing less well than other lower-spending countries.

But he said there was an alarming variation in spending between local authorities in Wales, and raised his own concerns about the state of school buildings.

"This is something I have not come across in Australia," he said.

He also responded to criticisms of the way a new pound;16 million fund called Raise, which targets support for the most deprived pupils, has been distributed to schools with free school meal rates of 19 per cent or more.

"There may be schools and children in leafy suburbs who also need the extra money," he said.

Ms Davidson claimed to be tightening up on local councils which pass 1 per cent efficiency savings on to schools as budget cuts, and said the government was keen for school funding to be based on actual needs, and for budgets to run over three years.

John Dunford, ASCL's general secretary, praised Ms Davidson for her vision of education, particularly the Welsh bac, but said policy implementation should be left to the experts - heads.

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