Play-led foundation funding fears

10th September 2010 at 01:00
Concern that pupil:teacher ratios will not be maintained under new budget

The play-led foundation phase must become the Assembly government's educational "priority" and protected against funding cuts, teaching unions have warned.

The radical policy, which allows children to learn through play and hands- on experience, was rolled out to all five and six-year-olds this week.

It has already proved popular since its introduction to children aged three to five in 2008, and is set to be introduced to all seven-year-olds next year.

The Assembly government has described the foundation phase as its flagship policy, and has so far invested pound;170 million in its development.

But there are concerns that the levels of investment needed to make the scheme a success cannot be sustained. A draft budget will follow the Westminster Government's spending review next month.

The foundation phase policy relies on maintaining pupil teacher ratios of 1:8 for three to five-year-olds and 1:15 for five to seven-year-olds. Teachers' leaders said that any reduction in funding could have a disastrous effect.

David Evans, secretary of NUT Cymru, said: "If the schools start losing the ratios they can kiss goodbye to the foundation phase.

"This is so important - we keep on hearing it's the flagship policy and that's great but let's keep it as the flagship - we don't want it to peter out in years to come.

"The Assembly government has to ensure that it's going to be fully funded; we need that full and proper commitment. This must be the priority."

Iwan Guy, interim director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, said the funding must be protected.

"We are in difficult times, but if funding is cut then it won't achieve its purpose," he said.

"To cut the funding to it now would be detrimental. It must be protected at least until it can be evaluated properly."

[checked turn with Luke and asked for it not to be changed] Dr Phil Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, said: "This is a flagship policy. The government is facing some very difficult choices but it has got to ringfence money for this."

The Assembly government said it has a long-term commitment to the policy and uses a "tried and tested" financial model to calculate the annual budget needed, which is refreshed each year.

Leighton Andrews, the education minister, said the benefits of teaching and learning through the foundation phase are already being seen across Wales.

But, he added: "The pay-off of this radical new way of learning will be long-term and its impact will be felt for many years to come.

"September 2011 will see the foundation phase completely rolled out and then all three to seven-year-olds in Wales will be able to access our flagship early years education policy.

"Introducing the foundation phase was a big step forward for Wales but, as the past two years have shown us, it was a step in the right direction."

Dr Philip Dixon, director of teaching union the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, said: "This is a flagship policy. The government is facing some very difficult choices but it has got to ringfence money for this."

The Assembly government said it has a long-term commitment to the policy and uses a "tried and tested" financial model to calculate the annual budget needed, which is refreshed each year.

Education minister Leighton Andrews said the benefits of teaching and learning via the foundation phase are already evident in Wales.

"Introducing the foundation phase was a big step forward for Wales but, as the past two years have shown us, it was a step in the right direction."

A Welsh Assembly Government spokesperson said: "We do not know what our budget settlement will be beyond the current financial year. In advance of (the UK public spending review) settlement we have been undertaking work on our pressures and priorities to inform spending plans once our budget is known.

"The Assembly Government has determined that its priorities are schools, skills and hospitals. We are committed to sustaining budgets for schools and skills by 1 per cent above the level of change to the Assembly Government's budget as a whole."

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