Minister vows to safeguard school cash
Wales's education minister has promised to protect funding for flagship programmes such as the play-led foundation phase and the 14-to-19 learning pathways, to help lead the country out of recession.
In an exclusive interview with TES Cymru this week, Jane Hutt pledged to do everything she could to safeguard education provision at all levels and to ensure that recently-launched initiatives continue to be rolled out.
But the minister also warned the teaching profession that "tough decisions" would have to be made in the 2010-11 education budget to meet the UK government's demands for efficiency savings.
Wales is set to lose more than pound;400 million in revenue and capital funding from Westminster next year as the result of Chancellor Alistair Darling's budget last April, and Ms Hutt said her department must ensure it is "spending money effectively".
Speaking to TES Cymru, Ms Hutt said: "Investing in education is at the forefront of leading Wales out of the recession.
"As we get to draft budget time, tough decisions I'm sure will have to be made but . my work has been to safeguard education and to protect the flagship programmes.
"I will be scrutinised by the budget committee and the profession, but I hope they will see that I've done everything I can to secure and safeguard education provision."
Ms Hutt said that investing in education will save money in the long term by preparing more young people for work or further study.
"If we can get young people to want to stay in education, that will help to tackle the Neets (not in education, employment or training) challenge," she said. "As the recession bottoms out, it will be the people with skills who will get the jobs."
She also promised that her officials would look for ways to "lever in" more money to the education pot from other parts of the budget and to maximise the use of European funding.
Leaders of teaching unions welcomed the minister's assurances, but said they would fight to make sure school funding was not cut.
David Evans, secretary of the National Union of Teachers Cymru, said he expected Ms Hutt to honour her promises. "I don't think it's good enough for the minister to say tough decisions will have to be made - tough decisions are made by schools every day.
"This is not something that can be delivered on a shoestring budget. The minister should be fighting her corner as strongly as possible and making sure the appropriate monies are there - our pupils don't deserve anything less than that. Our message to the minister is simple; even a 1 per cent cut is too much."
Gareth Jones, secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, accepted that the next few years would be "tough", but said school funding must not suffer.
"I think everybody expects a very tight budget scenario, but it's no good having new initiatives if the main costs of education are not protected," he said. "We can't do everything that we are currently being asked to do. Ensuring that maintained schools are properly funded is an absolute priority."
During the interview, Ms Hutt also answered TES Cymru readers' questions on subjects including the Learning and Skills Measure, the School Effectiveness Framework and the General Teaching Council for Wales.
She also commented for the first time on rumours that she is planning to stand as a candidate to replace First Minister Rhodri Morgan when he steps down later this year.
"I haven't ruled myself out," she said, before quickly adding: "But clearly we haven't got a leadership contest . yet. I enjoy being education minister."