Time is running out to solve the funding crisis facing Wales' schools says shadow minister for education, Sian Gwenllian.
Headteachers across the country are warning that the serious funding crisis facing schools will have wide-ranging consequences: larger class sizes, fewer teachers, school buildings falling into disrepair, reduction in support for additional learning needs, cuts to pastoral services including teaching assistants and support staff in general, outdated computer equipment, fewer after school activities.
The teaching unions tell us that we’re losing hundreds of our most experienced teachers and middle leaders who have opted for early retirement.
We’ve been told this before in recent times. School budgets have been under pressure for many years.
Now we are being told this more urgently, more forcefully that before. Most schools have gone from being relatively stable to a position where every possible saving has now been made.
The teaching unions warn that the lack of finance will hinder the Welsh Government’s agenda reform and the key aims of their educational implementation plan, including school improvement, the new curriculum and professional education for teachers.
In other words, in a changing, reforming environment, with a falling resource, schools being asked to do so much more with so much less.
The concerns are echoed in recent statistics: £324 less is spent in real terms per pupil as compared to nine years ago; almost 50% of secondary schools in Wales are in deficit; a reduction of 1,416 or 5.6% in teacher numbers
Some schools are lacking in funds to the extent that one headmaster has to deal with rats in school because the money simply isn’t there for an expert. Another has to check oil prices to get the best deal to save money.
There's no doubt about it - the profession is under a great deal of pressure. As a consequence the education of our children and young people will suffer. We know that the problem starts with the Conservatives in London and their ideological attempt to undermine our public services through their austerity policies. However, just pointing the figure of blame at Westminster as is the case with the current Labour Government in Cardiff is not good enough. They must take action and find a way forward.
We know the quantum of money available for school budgets is not enough to keep our schools effective and to implement improvements. We simply need more funding for our schools but we also need to challenge how the education budget is used. Is there enough of that funding going to our schools? There are already huge discrepancies across Wales in terms of how local authorities fund their schools. There is a lack of transparency and confusion. I look forward to further discussions in the Children, Young People and Education Committee around this particular element.
We need to listen to what the profession is telling us.
There are some who are asking whether the consortia are absorbing too much of the funds or whether there is duplication of services across the various layers involved in the education system.
At the moment, there are so many layers within the system—the schools themselves and their management teams, the governors, the local authorities, Estyn, the consortia and the education department at the Welsh Government. This inevitably leads to duplication – which is a waste of money that’s needed on the front line. A co-ordinated strategy of support to schools is needed to raise standards and it could also create savings needed to prevent schools from loosing some of its most experienced teachers as a consequence of cuts.
There is also a concern that funding provided through grants can vary from year to year and create uncertainty and create a patchy approach that doesn't reflect the local priorities on all occasions; that there’s a bureaucratic burden and that far too large a proportion of them is used for tracking and monitoring and so on.
Our teachers and the staff in our schools are incredible for their ongoing commitment to the increasingly difficult task of teaching our pupils. They work under very specific limitations in terms of a lack of resource and funding. Labour cannot bury their heads in the sand whilst our schools are suffering and our young people are being let down. Urgent action is needed.