More able and special needs pupils cause most concern

14th November 2008 at 00:00

The message from headteachers in our TES Cymru poll is unequivocal; a majority questioned see a lack of funding as their everyday hurdle and a greater majority say pupils' education is suffering as a direct result of underfunding. Heads questioned in the secondary sector were slightly more adamant that money matters and their budgets are overstretched.

We conducted a snapshot survey of heads to see if the findings of Professor Reynolds's research resonated on the teaching frontline in Wales.

We spoke to heads geographically drawn from four corners of Wales, including Welsh medium and bilingual schools. Sixty heads were from leading primaries and forty from secondary schools.

We asked firstly what the biggest issue was they were presently facing. A majority - 63 per cent - said a lack of funding without hesitation, with a slightly greater percentage from secondary schools.

We then asked whether the heads believed a lack of funding in Wales's schools was having a negative impact on pupils and there was an almost emphatic response - 90 per cent strongly agreed.

Significantly, pollsters reported huge differences in the responses of heads and the mood on the ground.

There was generally more optimism from primary heads; many were appeased with the recent injection of cash for the foundation phase for under-7s - Pounds 60 million over three years.

But secondary heads were more sombre, with some predicting job cuts and redundancies.

There was particular concern over the proposed 14-19 learning pathways measures, which will mean collaboration between schools and colleges for the vocationally led learning pathways, and the provision of wider course choice for pupils, which becomes a legal requirement next September.

Some heads in primaries said lack of staff means pupils are being taught in large mixed classes, which teachers believe is a serious disadvantage. But for heads in small rural schools, particularly in Anglesey and Carmarthenshire, the threat of closure or reorganisation was often a much bigger worry.

Heads were particularly concerned about the impact of low funding on more able pupils and those with special educational needs.

But a majority of heads in both sectors thought pupils in Wales had strong advantages in education policy compared to England, both with the foundation phase and key stage 2 curriculum.

But they all stressed children could only fully benefit when provided with adequate funding.

One of the biggest issues for primary schools was the inability to keep up to date with technology due to lack of funds. This was particularly apparent by heads who had previously worked in England and saw visible differences in resources between the two.

Only a small minority of heads strongly disagreed that funding held back children in Wales, saying money should not be used as an excuse. Both were from Welsh medium schools.

Nicola Porter, Editor TES Cymru

POLL RESULTS OF 100 HEADS

Question 1: What is the main issue currently facing your school?

Funding - 63.

Workload - 12

Bureaucracylegal issues - 14

Other - 11

Question 2: To what extent do you agree or disagree that less money has a direct impact on a pupil's education?

Strongly agree - 90

Slightly agree - 8

Slightly disagree - 2

Strongly disagree - 0

Question 3: To what extent do you agree or disagree that Wales is disadvantaged by having less per-pupil funding than England?

Strongly agree - 83

Slightly agree - 6

Slightly disagree - 3

Strongly disagree - 2

No opinion - 6.

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