United front on funding

11th May 2007 at 01:00
Unions unanimously call for education spending review as new government is formed

EVERY EDUCATION union has this week backed calls for a high-level review into how Wales is funded so that schools no longer "miss out".

They claim to be representing 40,000 teachers and heads who want to see more cash at the chalkface and more per pupil. Hoping to influence government coalition talks at the Assembly, they want the Barnett formula - the mechanism used to decide levels of public spending in Wales - to be top of the new government's agenda.

The National Association of Head Teachers was the first to call for an inquiry, along with representatives from transport and health. As TES Cymru went to press, discussions were still in process between the political parties about who will form the next government of Wales.

Labour remains the biggest party in the Assembly, with 26 out of the 60 seats after the election. But with no majority, it is being forced to consider deals with other parties, including the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru.

Anna Brychan, director of NAHT Cymru, said a review of the Barnett formula was essential.

"It is vital when growth in spending is going to be considerably smaller over the next term, while schools will be facing huge new challenges which have to be resourced," she said.

Five other teaching unions - the NUT Cymru, the Association of School and College Leaders, the NASUWT, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, and Welsh-medium body UCAC - now also want the new government to look into the issue as a priority.

It has long been debated whether a shortage of funds in schools is down to the Barnett formula or the way funding is passed on via local authorities.

On April 27, TES Cymru reported how rapid education measures in 14-19 learning, a result of new powers handed to the newly elected government by Westminster, will be met with the slowest spending increases since devolution.

Philip Dixon, director of the ATL in Wales, said funding was one of the main priorities for the next government as it underpinned the success of other policies, such as the Welsh baccalaureate, the foundation phase and the 14-19 agenda.

One issue which he hopes will be addressed by the new government is the state of school buildings. "If by 2011 we have one single school which is not fit for purpose, then whoever the next education minister is will have failed," he said.

Geraint Davies, of the NASUWT, said Wales needed "more and fairer funding" for its schools.

"In terms of education the priority has to be funding," he said. "It has been an issue since day one of the Assembly in 1999.

"It has not been solved and it is not going away."

Mr Davies called on the next government to implement the 27 recommendations made by a cross-party committee of Assembly members on the school funding committee last year as a starting point.

"We have a dedicated workforce in place but they need funding to deliver,"

he added.

Gareth Jones, of the ASCL, said more clarity of information was needed about school funding.

Plaid Cymru is expected to demand a high price for any deal it may be asked to make with Labour, one which could possibly include a review of the Barnett formula.

This could also be a possibility if a deal is brokered with the Lib Dems, who would support the Welsh bac but would want to see their pledge of smaller class sizes come to fruition.

If Labour decides to join forces, it could influence the appointment of a new education minister from one of the other parties.

Mr Dixon, of ATL Cymru, said Labour must now seek some form of coalition arrangement rather than go it alone, as has been suggested by some senior politicians, or face an unstable government.

"If Labour tries to rule as a minority, it will be a recipe for disaster,"

he said.

"We would have a weak government trying to get policies through and then power would be exercised without responsibility."

UCAC also firmly believes that it is now time to take an extensive and objective view of the way Wales is funded. Along with the other major teaching unions, it is calling for an independent commission to review the formula.

Gruff Hughes, general secretary, said: "We are told on the one hand that Wales is receiving every penny it is entitled to under the Barnett formula, yet on the other we are told that we could be losing out on up to pound;800 million a year, according to one source.

"The uncertainty starts here, at the core of the funding."

Leader, page 26

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