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Wales puts its health first

Education initiatives in Wales could be jeopardised by a smaller-than-expected budget rise next year, a union leader has warned.

Figures from the draft Assembly budget for 20045 show a 5.5 per cent increase for education instead of the 9 per cent unions expected. Health, social justice and economic development will all get nearly 9 per cent.

Free school breakfasts, a play-based foundation stage for three to seven-year-olds, piloting of the new Welsh bac and a more varied 14-to-19 curriculum are among key reforms planned this year.

Heledd Hayes, education officer for the National Union of Teachers in Wales, said: "This draft budget is a disappointment. We understand that priorities have to be set, but the assembly has said education is key to all their aims."

Rex Williams, senior regional official of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers in Wales, said education now seemed a "poor relation".

An assembly spokeswoman said there had been a 63 per cent increase in the education budget since 19992000. She said the grant included pound;33 million to fund workload reforms.

Gareth Matthewson, national president of the National Association of Head Teachers and a Cardiff head, said: "The workload agreement needs to be funded properly otherwise heads will dig into other parts of their budgets."

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