Time to pay the piper

21st May 2004 at 01:00
Preview of the National Exhibition and Conference, Cardiff International Arena, May 27-28

At this time of year, the drive to improve standards in schools throughout Wales takes a back seat as headteachers and governing bodies grapple with the complexities and consequences of the annual budget.

This is also a time of worry for many teachers, as the spectre of redundancy hangs over far too many schools in Wales. The situation is worsened by a never-ending cycle of blame and denial over responsibility for a perceived reduction in investment.

Jane Davidson, the minister for education and lifelong learning, will remind critics and supporters alike that the spend during 2003-4 was pound;3,668 per pupil, which on a like-for-like basis was higher than in England (excluding London).

Local authorities, on the other hand, say the money is not available to them and that budgetary reductions have to be passed down to the schools.

Such a situation does no one any credit and must not be allowed to continue.

There has to be far greater transparency within the system. One step in the right direction would be to introduce a common funding formula across Wales, eradicating the increasing number of anomalies that are blighting the system. Even allowing for the added demands faced by rural authorities, is there any justification for a spending range that, during 2003-4, saw Ceredigion spend an average of pound;4,358 per pupil while Flintshire could only muster pound;3,343?

The difficulties faced by schools are compounded by the way local authorities have adopted different policies. While some fully fund the cost of Upper Pay Spine 3 progression, others only meet half of it, or, in the case of one authority, just one-third. That is totally unacceptable.

A few months ago, the Welsh Assembly announced an extra pound;33 million to help fund the national workload agreement. Unfortunately, a number of schools are using this money to secure teachers' jobs. That is also unacceptable.

Many schools blame redundancies on falling rolls. The fact that numbers are decreasing and will continue to fall over the next few years provides a challenge for the Assembly. Let's use the situation to our advantage: let's deploy teachers to further reduce class sizes and to fully implement the workload agreement.

If we turn a crisis into a challenge, together we can make Wales a true "learning country".

Geraint Davies is secretary, NASUWT Cymru

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