More money will reach our classrooms. Source: pixnio
Education and Skills

It’s time to give schools the tools they need

Two weeks ago my Welsh Conservative Shadow Cabinet colleague Russell George MS wrote about how by creating more jobs we can help people to work their way out of the poverty trap writes Suzy Davies MS.

He continued by saying that a Welsh Conservative Government would create an environment that encourages businesses to come to Wales, to grow in Wales and create jobs for local people. He also explained that more businesses, more jobs leads to more money coming in in tax to fund our public services.

As the Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Education and Skills, it won’t shock you that I’ll be at the front of the queue wanting that extra money for schools.

And by schools, I really do mean schools. I do not mean the overly complicated and convoluted process by which schools are funded in Wales which sees only 83% of the education budget actually reaching schools. That will change under a Welsh Conservative Government.

A quick tangent… I don’t think I have time to go into detail but if you want to learn about hypothecated and un-hypothecated funding along with Regional Consortia taking a chunk, there’s a diagram here.

We all know that the people who know how to teach our young people and how to get the best out of them are teachers themselves. They are the ones that see them day in, day out and understand what they need. This isn’t particularly revolutionary – especially compared to Paul Davies’ wider devolution revolution when we form a Government next year – but the role of the Welsh Government is to give schools the tools they need to teach and let them get on with it. I certainly don’t, but you don’t take your car to a garage and then tell the mechanic how to fix it.

A first-class education is the single most powerful stimulus to enable our pupils to reach their full potential and to unleash Wales’ potential. Education underpins everything which a Welsh Conservative Government wants to achieve. We can only attract the best companies if we have a highly skilled and creative workforce. We can only be the home of innovation if young people have the knowledge and the ingenuity to capitalise on their clever ideas.

While we should be aiming for more than 29% of Welsh 18-year olds getting the grades to go to university, we should also be raising the status of other routes to excellence. You probably know someone who would have flourished if they’d got the grades to get into university. You also probably know someone who would have been much happier and climbing a different ladder if they hadn’t felt compelled to believe that a traditional university route was the only way to get on.

Schools need to have the confidence to promote other routes to excellence. We need our young people to be aspirational to drive them to succeed in life and to have faith in being ambitious despite knock backs on the way. That is why a Welsh Conservative Government will equip our pupils with an array of dynamic skills as well as lifting up the schooling experience.

Scandalously more than two decades of Welsh Labour-led rule has shamefully let down generations of our young people, here in Wales.

It is shameful that the results in last year’s GCSEs in Wales were the same level as the results in 2007 and that the funding for schools hadn’t changed much either – the well reported PISA results speak for themselves. We are all looking at closing the achievement gap for children from poorer backgrounds – quite rightly. Welsh Conservatives won’t be taking their eye off that ball. However, who has noticed the yawning gap between young people in Wales who’ve had a luckier start in life and their peers in the rest of the UK? Reducing the achievement gap between our young people is no claim at all if it’s at the cost of holding someone back because they happen to be the child of someone moderately prosperous.

This is not the fault of our young people or the talented and dedicated teaching workforce in Wales. They have really given it their all, doing more with less for more years than I care to remember. Let me be clear the fault lands squarely at the foot of Welsh Government

But what I find bizarre is that the Welsh Government picks and chooses when to listen to our teachers and when to not. Take the recent decision on going back to school in July – a clear example of when the Welsh Government should be leading. And when many school leaders, governors and staff were prepared to offer a fourth week, Welsh Government wouldn’t back them against union and council pressure to do the contrary.

The same with wearing masks in schools – if there’s a decision the Welsh Government doesn’t want to take, it’s fine for schools to choose despite not having a Chief Scientific Officer to hand.

But when it comes to our children’s education, our school leaders don’t apparently know how to run schools – according to the Welsh Government.

Looking again at that 83% of education funding that reaches schools, what does this actually mean in practice? Well it means that, year on year, each and every young person in Wales has up to £200 less spent on them per year compared with students in England – and £800 less compared to Scotland.

That effect accumulates. And the inequality is exacerbated by a Welsh Government funding formula which is out of date and no-one in Welsh Government has the guts to take on and reform. It’s further exacerbated by each local authority’s own choices about how it deploys funding it ostensibly receives for schools.

All this mess when in fact, we should be spending 20% more than on students in England due to the devolution settlement but somehow the money disappears through that convoluted system I mentioned earlier.

My colleagues have been warned that they need to be prepared for me to fight for every penny of Welsh Government funding next year. My devolution revolution in education has more aspiration in what I want to achieve in our first year than in the last 10 years of tired Welsh Labour-led Governments combined.

We will deliver the right conditions to empower our young people, who can then work to secure bright futures for themselves through innovative options such as degree apprenticeships.

We will take action to fund schools directly and end the continued under-spending by successive Welsh Labour-led Governments.

We will grant greater spending control to those who know best – our teachers, parents and governors.

And to balance that greater freedom, we will have clearer but supportive new work for Estyn and new lines of accountability so everyone knows where they stand.

We will ensure that physical activity is as fundamental as science, maths and a modern foreign language so that our young people can learn how to be healthy as well, working to end the obesity crisis. We will help our young people understand that bilingualism is a global norm and that we are lucky to be the one UK nation that can offer this agility and cultural welcome to the rest of the world

And we will ensure that pupils have the opportunity to focus on courses that get them to where they want to go – even if that means scrapping the Welsh Baccalaureate.

We must raise standards and expectations in education to a whole new level if we are to create a Wales for the future and this vital goal will only be achieved under a Welsh Conservative Government, led by Paul Davies, whose sole aim will be to deliver a relevant, challenging and inclusive education system that ensures the world is your oyster, whatever your aptitudes, and that our young people achieve more than they ever thought possible.

Suzy Davies MS is the Shadow Minister for Education, Skills and the Welsh Language.