Let's talk cash before we leap

28th November 2008 at 00:00

Once again it appears education officials have not been doing their sums (see page 1). We witnessed it with the foundation phase, and now it seems the Assembly government is on the brink of another funding fiasco with the 14-19 learning pathways.

Everyone knew there was not enough money to introduce the foundation phase so rapidly, despite the policy being warmly welcomed by primary teachers. Eventually, and due to the good work of education minister Jane Hutt in fighting for more, the chronic underfunding was addressed with an extra Pounds 60 million on the table.

So, how is that we are in the same place again with the 14-19 learning pathways?

Why is there such a desire by the government to launch into post-devolution policies like self-destructive missiles?

The rush to introduce the learning and skills measure, making the pathways a legal requirement, is done in the best interests of learners. Officials say many 14-year-olds are presently not offered enough vocational subject choice, leading them to be disenchanted and drop out of school.

But surely writing blank cheques without knowing the cost of the overhaul is simply crazy. Many would say we haven't even got the infrastructure in Wales to make the initiative work. Heads' unions argue there should be a three-year pilot scheme to work out the true cost, and who can argue with the sense of that?

Recently, TES Cymru published research by Professor David Reynolds revealing significant underinvestment in the Welsh education system since devolution compared to the rest of the UK. The figures have not been contested, and appear to be accepted by the government.

Has the 14-19 learning pathways been made the financial priority it should have been? The foundation phase wasn't to begin with.

Schools cannot operate their budgets in the dark, and this is what the government appears to be asking them to do.

The government has full support for this flagship policy and its admirable aims to prevent young people dropping out of school. But the passage of the learning and skills measure must be halted until the full cost is, at the very least, estimated. The Assembly government must take a step back before they jump to avoid another funding fiasco.

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