BBC BLOGS - Betsan's Blog
« Previous | Main | Next »

Rough and tumble

Betsan Powys | 12:55 UK time, Thursday, 22 May 2008

On Tuesday my daughter and her four year old schoolfriends got to travel on a Cardiff bus.

They learned how to buy a ticket (after learning how to ask Mum and Dad for a £1 to take to school), what a bus-stop looks like and even how to wash the bus. She got a sticker for effort for this final bit and I'm told it was, without doubt, the highlight of her week.

I don't know whether this has anything to do with the new drive towards learning through play and outdoor activities but watching this morning's Finance Committee scrutiny of the Education Minister - good stuff - it's becoming clear that agreeing on adequate funding for the so-called Foundation Phase programme is anything but child's play.

History lesson first.

The Assembly Government offered funding of £30m.

Headteachers and local authorities shouted from the yard that it wasn't enough. A few weeks ago Jane Hutt conceded they were right and came up with an extra £5million to spent on the pilot schemes.

But the shouting in the schoolyard hasn't stopped and as became clear this morning, neither has the namecalling.

Let's recap: the government came up with a budget of £30million. This was understood by local authoroties to be on top of the £10million that was already being spent on pilot schemes.

Maths: £30m + £10m = £40m

But now it seems Jane Hutt's £30m is just that - £30m:

£10m (spent on pilot schemes)
£5m (extra money announced but ring-fenced to the pilot schemes)
£15m (new money - a specific grant announced through the settlement).

And whether you count bean bags in the yard, line the children up on the wall or sit at your desk with a biro, that looks like a shortfall of £10m to local authorities and headteachers.

Playing productively means a low pupil to teacher ratio and 1 teacher to 8 pupils doesn't come cheap.

This morning Maesteg headteacher Sue O'Halloran told the Finance Committe she needed to recruit four new members of staff from September to deliver the scheme. She'd been given under £20,000 to spend. You do the maths.

Another headteacher said his school needed £30,000 to create an outdoor play area required by the Foundation Phase curriculum. They've been given no extra money which must mean the PTA is drowning in raffle tickets and cheese and wine evenings.

The Association of Directors of Education had got their calculators out. WAG says the estimated cost fo each member of staff working on the Foundation Phase is just over £15,100. It should, claim Directors of Education, be more like £18,200 given the job they'll be required to do and therefore, an extra £3000 schools wil have to find for every staff member involved in the scheme.

Labour members of the committee wouldn't have it.

They turned their fire on the WLGA, accusing local authorities of failing to provide enough date for the government to make proper decisions on funding. They ganged up with Jane in the corner and it was metaphor time in the playground.

WLGA Chief Executive Steve Thomas came up with "smokescreen".

David Hopkins of the Association of Directors of Education went for the unusual and colourful - "you're being fed red herrings".

They meant it and could, they said, prove it. Not only had all the data that had been asked for been provided repeatedly by local education authorities. But locked in a drawer somewhere (and they're not telling where so there) are verbatim notes of a conversation with a senior official in the Education Department where the £30m on top of the £10m had been agreed. They even named names.

So did the Education Minister hold her (play) ground?

It doesn't sound like it.

She told the Finance Committee that it might be worth considering "whether we should be targetting the youngest first" - in other words she proposed it might be time not to stick to the proposed timetable.

What's our line? We've gone for "11th hour scaling down of radical plans to overhaul early years learning".

What's yours?


or register to comment.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.