Wannabe Labour leaders target school budgets

30th October 2009 at 00:00
Distribution of money, inequalities in the system and child poverty are on candidates' agendas

Two of the three candidates vying to become Wales' next First Minister have promised to reform school budgets if they come to power.

Carwyn Jones and Huw Lewis both said education funding must be shared more equally among schools and councils to give pupils a level playing field, and pledged to tackle inequalities in the system.

Although she did not make the same promise, the third candidate, Edwina Hart, said schools need to work more closely together, sharing resources and programmes, and not in isolation.

The trio, who are competing to replace Rhodri Morgan as leader of the Welsh Labour Party, and thus take the top Assembly Government job, have each put education at the top of their campaign agenda.

Edwina Hart, the Health Minister and AM for Ogmore, has the backing of Jane Hutt, the Education Minister, in her leadership bid.

If she comes to power, Ms Hart said she would continue to encourage the kind of progressive ideas in education that have characterised Wales since devolution.

Ms Hart said that tackling child poverty was central to her campaign, and early-years initiatives such as flying start and the foundation phase would be built on.

She also wants to tackle the issue of young people who are Neet (not in education, employment or training) and plans to hold a summit where public organisations, voluntary bodies and private firms would offer experience to young people to help them kick-start their careers.

She said: "Education represents our future, and I want to see an environment where all our young people thrive, regardless of whether they are looking for a vocational or a more academic road to adulthood."

Carwyn Jones, Assembly Member for Bridgend and the Assembly's Counsel General, had a brief stint as education minister after the 2007 Assembly election, before handing over the portfolio to Jane Hutt after the One Wales power-sharing agreement with Plaid Cymru.

During his seven-week tenure, he set out plans to deal with basic skills and the 14-19 learning pathways, themes he plans to focus on if he gets the top job.

He said: "We need to continue to innovate and our 14-19 agenda should offer more work-based learning opportunities. We have to continue our strong skills agenda, to ensure that we compete in the world on knowledge rather than low pay."

Mr Jones will launch his full manifesto next week, saying it is "time to get real" on education.

Early-years investment will be "the absolute priority", and other aims include a fully funded foundation phase, greater support for transition from primary to secondary, a stronger capital fund for school building and turning schools into community hubs.

Huw Lewis, the Assembly Member for Merthyr Tydfil, was unceremoniously dumped from his post as deputy minister for transport and economy after the 2007 power-sharing agreement.

Mr Lewis said he wants Welsh Labour to restate its commitment to learning, and has pledged to set up a publicly managed fund for deprived children.

He also promised to revisit the recommendations of the groundbreaking Bramley Review, which said secondary funding was the key to academic success. The contentious report was shelved by the Assembly government.

Mr Lewis said: "A world-class education for everyone in Wales should not be an aspiration, but a fundamental right. Indeed, genuine opportunity for all must be the mantra that forms the cornerstone of our Welsh home."

Voting in the contest, which is open to Welsh Labour members, local parties, affiliated groups such as trade unions, Assembly Members, MPs and its MEP, is open until November 26. The winner will be announced on December 1.

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