'I will battle to boost budgets'

12th December 2008 at 00:00
Leading official admits schools in England are better off and more investment must be found

Wales's leading education official says he will fight to provide more cash for schools even though the recession is deepening.

Professor David Hawker, director of the Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills, admitted schools were better off over the border, and there had been more educational investment.

Siding with heads, he said he knew more investment must be found for the frontline, and hinted there were plans to "lever more" in.

Professor Hawker, who took over as director of the department in the summer after holding posts in England, told heads he wants to pinpoint exactly where money is being spent compared to England.

He said at the annual conference of the heads' union ASCL Cymru: "I shall be fighting for resources, believe you me, because I can see the difference between England and Wales in terms of resources."

Mr Hawker's acceptance that Welsh schools lack investment compared to England comes weeks after new research, commissioned by TES Cymru, reveals the difference per pupil in secondary schools between the two countries is now Pounds 500. It also showed there has been 6.4 per cent less educational investment in Wales since devolution compared to the UK average.

The figures arrived at by David Reynolds, professor of education at Plymouth University, were not contested by the Assembly government. But officials believe it is a pointless exercise to compare the two countries, and instead chose to criticise Professor Reynolds for "running down Wales".

The government line is that improving teacher quality combined with "richer" education policy will make up for any funding shortfalls.

However, school funding, or lack of it, dominated the conference.

Incoming president Nigel Stacey said there was no escaping the subject of funding. "It is dominating our thoughts and limiting our capacity to facilitate school improvement measures," he said.

While heads welcome the direction of educational policy, they fear there simply isn't enough cash to deliver an ambitious agenda, Mr Stacey said.

But education minister Jane Hutt steered clear of funding, instead raising questions on the continuation of the Raise fund (Raising Attainment and Individual Standards in Education in Wales). At present all schools with 20 per cent or more free school meal entitlement have more direct funding in their budgets. But she suggested other money could be available to replace the attainment-raising programme, raising the possibility Raise could be scrapped.

Other major issues aired at the conference were the 14-19 agenda and the implementation of the proposed learning and skills measure, a new law making the 14-19 learning pathways compulsory. ASCL Cymru's own research showed deep concerns among members over schools and colleges collaborating to offer more courses so soon.

Mr Stacey said collaboration between schools and colleges is "alive and well" in Wales, but he warned that it could fail because of the speed of change and a lack of planning from Dcells.

Outgoing president Phil Whitcombe, head of Bryn Hafren Comprehensive at Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan, warned of an "unmitigated disaster" and a fiasco like the foundation phase if the Assembly government did not change tact.

Jane Hutt acknowledged concerns over the timetable for legislation, saying the lessons of the foundation phase had to be heeded.

Outlining ASCL Cymru's policy agenda for the coming year, secretary Gareth Jones said funding would become even more of an issue with the economic downturn.

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