'We'll give teachers the policies ... and the tools to do the job'

5th September 2008 at 01:00
Education minister Jane Hutt has won over doubters among the education establishment in her first year by being ready to listen. Darren Evans spoke to her about about her plans for this year and put questions from TES Cymru readers

Q: What is being done to get more money to the classroom?

A: There have been recommendations over funding transparency, and I hope people will recognise now that we have made some progress. The key issue has been to ensure we're funding priorities.

In terms of the money that goes directly to schools, via the revenue support grant and via LEAs for 20078, it came to pound; 2.2 billion. This is a record sum. Also, we have funding which doesn't go via local government, but through special grants. This amounted to pound;1.9 billion. My biggest bitch has been to get our priority funding for things like the foundation phase and Flying Start over the last year.

Do you think that having 22 local education authorities is the best way of financing schools?

We have done a great deal since the Assembly came into being to make sure we have a more strategic approach towards the funding relationship between the Assembly and local authorities, and also opportunities for ensuring that funding for our new programmes, like the foundation phase, are ring- fenced. Authorities are working more strategically together. We are working more with regional consortia, whether piloting new programmes or on implementation.

But we are trying to break down the boundaries and share good practice, particularly through the school effectiveness framework for example. We need the Assembly government, schools and LEAs to work together; it's an obvious route to best practice.

Does it concern you that there is a widening gap in policy between Wales and England?

A lot of people over the border are very interested in what we are doing in terms of our policy initiatives. We're very proud of our policies. I call them policy developments, not policy gaps.

I think the Welsh baccalaureate qualification is a prime example of where we are leading the way. We have this wider offer of the Welsh bac, which is dealing with issues in terms of key skills. Young people doing the Welsh bac are independent thinkers, team-workers, good communicators and much more.

Although we've had a rocky few months in terms of funding, I think the foundation phase is really going to put Wales at the forefront of innovation.

GCSE combined science is growing more popular than individual science qualifications. Is that the best way forward?

The combined approach is advised as the way forward. It is up to individual schools to determine their timetabling and subject choice. Having single sciences as an option on a timetable is essentially cost neutral. We are confident that schools make choices for educational rather than resource reasons.

My commitment to the science subjects is an absolute priority.

Music teachers are frustrated by a lack of financial support in Wales compared to England. How do you plan to support music education?

I am very much supportive of music development. Music is part of the curriculum. Even in some of the more disadvantaged communities and schools in Wales it seems to be thriving.

From 1999 to 2005, the Assembly government's music development fund provided support for children and young people to take part in musical activities, with some Pounds 17 million made available to local authorities.

From 200506, funding has been transferred to the local government revenues settlement. This allows local authorities to decide on the level of support they should give to musical activities.

How did officials not figure out that there was not enough money for the implementation of the foundation phase for 3 to 5 year olds until five weeks before the end of term?

We've had a challenging few months as far as the FP is concerned. This is a fundamental change and development in early year's education which required very detailed information about pupil numbers and projections.

Inevitably there were going to be teething troubles in the lead up to the implementation, but we have had a successful pilot.

We have secured more funding for the foundation phase roll-out from September and I think we should now pitch our sights on full roll-out. I've made it my absolute priority to get funding for 200910 and that's where we will all be looking to the draft budget in a few weeks' time.

It's been my daily priority for the last year. We are at the beginning of the roll-out, not the end. I have made the commitment, and on that I will be held to account.

I really want to get the message out that this is a transformation of early education for our children. It deals with so many of the things that come further on in life in terms of the curriculum and tackling socio- economic disadvantage.

If you can invest in those early years and create those confident independent thinkers then so much more that can go wrong later on can be tackled.

Are teachers trusted enough?

We underestimate the dedication and enthusiasm of teachers in Wales. I sought to empower them, and it is about recognising what works and getting the evidence of good practice. That doesn't mean to say you let anybody off the hook in terms of poor practice. I want to stress how much I respect the teaching profession and their representatives. If you empower a teacher, you empower a child.

Is it time to consider the introduction of private finance initiatives to make our schools fit for purpose?

We're committed to 21st-century schools. There are a couple of schools opening this term through the PFI route, but we have secured an extensive public capital programme through the Assembly government. We can learn from our colleagues in the UK government and indeed from Scotland. Over the last four years we've put Pounds 667 million into school buildings, with 1,400 projects.

What is being done to follow-up the National Behaviour and Attendance Review recommendations relating to tackling disruptive pupils?

We are now moving ahead with action plans. One of the most important points of my year was receiving Professor Ken Reid's report. It was excellent. I think Wales is at the forefront for addressing these issues. The action plan is the next step in 2009.

What policies and initiatives can we expect in the new school year?

This is a year of consolidation and implementation. Basically, there won't be new initiatives. I came in ready to implement many of the objectives of the Learning Country. We have had Skills that Work for Wales, the implementation of Flying Start, rolling out the foundation phase and the school effectiveness framework.

I'm not complacent. I am ambitious for our children and young people. We have the policies and now we have to give teachers the tools for the job to get on with it.


Flying Start: A scheme to help pre-school children and their families in designated catchment areas. Money is given in a specific grant to local authorities. Perks include free part-time childcare for two-year-olds, increased health visitor support and parenting courses.

Foundation phase: A play-led curriculum for three- to seven-year-olds based on similar schemes in Denmark and New Zealand. To be introduced nationally in Wales over the next four years.

Learning Country: A policy document mapping out all Assembly government's strategic education lifelong learning and skills plans to 2010. It's in three parts.

Revenue support grant: The amount of money given by the Assembly government to local authorities each year.

School effectiveness framework: An Assembly government attainment-raising programme targeting underperforming schools and teachers by concentrating on raising teaching standards through the national promotion of good practice. It is being piloted from this month.

Skills that Work for Wales: A new strategy for skills and employment under consultation.

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