New First Minister to ramp up education spending

11th December 2009 at 00:00
Unions say they will be `holding' Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones to his commitment

Original paper headline: New First Minister pledges to ramp up education spending

Wales' new First Minister has been given strong support from teachers' leaders, but warned of the need to deliver on ambitious pledges to increase school funding.

Carwyn Jones, who won the leadership of the Welsh Labour Party last week, is due to take over as the country struggles to come out of recession and the Assembly government faces unprecedented pressure on its finances.

Mr Jones, a former education minister, a post he held for just six weeks, has made considerable play of his support for schools. One of his key campaign promises was to deliver a rise in education spending at least 1 per cent above the block grant that Wales receives from the British government.

In one of his first media interviews following his appointment as Labour leader, Mr Jones, 42, also focused on education, stressing his intention to "ramp up" spending.

Teachers' representatives have accepted the former barrister's educational overtures, taking them as a sign that he will give priority to schools during his time in charge.

"I'm very pleased with his commitment to closing the funding gap, it wasn't that long ago that the Welsh Assembly was denying there was one," said Anna Brychan, director of the NAHT Cymru.

"This is something we welcome wholeheartedly and we are looking forward to supporting him."

Rex Phillips, NASUWT Wales organiser, said he would be "holding" the new first minister to his pledge.

The union has been lobbying Assembly members over the funding gap. In some areas the amount spent per pupil is pound;496 less than in the highest funded English authorities.

"We think a 1 per cent rise will go some way to closing the gap," Mr Phillips said.

Married with two children, Mr Jones has been praised for his support and knowledge of further education colleges as well as schools.

But the fluent Welsh speaker, who is due to succeed Rhodri Morgan as First Minister, has also been challenged to reform school organisation as well as promising extra funding.

Gareth Jones, secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, said: "We are entering a new era of austerity, everyone accepts that. If spending increases in one area it has to reduce in another.

"A priority should be reforming the delegation of budgets to schools. Headteachers in Wales get a significantly lower amount transferred for them to spend directly than their colleagues in England and much more is spent on administration and governance."

The focus on investment came as the General Teaching Council for Wales had its funding from the Welsh Assembly for professional development cut by pound;5 million a year.

Gary Brace, the council's chief executive, described the cuts as a "significant blow" that will make it more difficult to educate the next generation of teachers.

"When it created a specific fund for the professional development of teachers in 2000, Wales was leading the way in the UK as a beacon of best practice," he said.

"By cutting this budget, the Welsh Assembly government has taken a backwards step."

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