Wales politics

Boost for poorest pupils in draft budget

Pupils Image copyright PA

It is easy to see the influence of the Liberal Democrat Education Secretary Kirsty Williams in Tuesday's draft budget with a doubling of the pupil deprivation grant for the youngest and poorest learners.

The £4.5m boost for deprived children in the Foundation Phase was a key Lib Dem manifesto pledge.

Sources close to the education secretary say today's Budget represents a 3.5% rise, but that figure is hotly disputed by the Welsh Conservatives who say education faces cuts.

The big cut of the day came in the form of the scrapping of the Schools Challenge Cymru scheme.

Working with 40 secondary schools in some of Wales' most disadvantaged communities, the project had a budget of £20m and was aimed at improving results and the life chances of some of the country's poorest pupils.

Schemes in London and Manchester reported significant improvements in exam results over five years. But Kirsty Williams was not thought to be fan of the scheme and so its scrapping came as little surprise to some head teachers.

Expert help

Maureen Harris, head teacher of Bishop Hedley Catholic High School in Merthyr Tydfil said the £320,000 her school had received over the two years of the project had been used to support projects including staff training and development and ICT and science projects.

Although she was disappointed by the end of the scheme, Mrs Harris says she was grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of it.

"We had access to experts including Professor Mel Ainscow (who led the initiative) and many of the schools who took part did improve," she said.

"Of course we're disappointed that the scheme has come to an end."

Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford said the plans heralded "the biggest education reform package since the 1940's".

The head teachers' union the NAHT was cautious about what today's budget would mean for school finances and the all-important bottom line.

Rob Williams from the union said: "These reforms are against the backdrop of school budgets under pressure. Our members are struggling, they're losing staff and we're still talking about raising standards."

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