No Regrets as Wales' Education Pioneer Surveys Her Legacy; She Presided over the Birth to Two of Wales' Biggest-Ever Education Initiatives, Yet Her Record of Achievement Remains the Subject of Much Debate. Concluding His Interview with Jane Davidson, Western Mail Education Correspondent Gareth Evans Asks the Former Education Minister about Funding, the Future and Her Regrets in Charge of the Nation's Schools

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* HE evidence points to a system in turmoil and the hunt for answers is by no means over. Welsh education can and must do better.

Our basic skills are among the worst in the developed world and raising standards represents a significant all-Wales challenge.

Funding is a contentious issue. Those on the ground argue the case for more money as the foremost solution to poor performance.

Extra resources, they protest, would better equip school staff for the assault on attainment. Others, meanwhile, see funding as a smokescreen.

Countries such as New Zealand spend considerably less on education yet perform better, while, closer to home, authorities such as Blaenau Gwent splash out the most for what appears to be very little return.

Nevertheless, the correlation between funding and performance is regularly touted by critics who point to a growing spend shortfall between pupils in Wales and England.

The supporting figures do nothing to appease their concerns. Pupils across the border now receive pounds 604 more a year - up from pounds 31 in 2000.

Ms Davidson said the funding debate was prevalent during her time as minister, but maintained there was no evidence to suggest that spending on education went down.

"My focus in terms of funding was outcomes and the Foundation Phase required additional funding - so I think you'll find that in early years' education, Wales funds better," she said.

"The NUT [National Union of Teachers] commissioned a funding report when I was minister and I think what their research identified was the fact that we funded better in primary education and worse in secondary education.

"The report came before the Foundation Phase so when we launched the Foundation Phase, we put more investment into primary education."

Ms Davidson said it was difficult to draw comparisons when different councils were employing different funding formulas.

"The funding issue while I was minister was generally about the fact that the counties in Wales that funded most funded more than their counterparts across the border - but the councils in Wales that funded least, funded less," she said.

"The funding debate was always a moving target because it depended which sector you were dealing with. Interestingly enough, there were never representations from the further education sector about funding in comparison to England - but there were representations from secondary schools and from higher education."

When asked if the fledgling Welsh Government "put all its eggs in one basket" when it came to funding, Ms Davidson says: "We certainly wanted to make sure that we funded early years effectively.

"The big issue while I was minister was not actually the levels of funding so much as whether or not the local authorities passed that money on to the schools; so I did quite a lot of work with the unions and with the local authorities to try and get them to pass more money on."

Ms Davidson said she made some inroads but pointed out that the drive to push more funding to the frontline was still "live".

Education Minister Leighton Andrews believes regional partnership working is crucial and has called on Welsh councils to reallocate an extra pounds 20m into schools.

"There are some real advantages to having education as a local authority service but people will always make comparisons," said Ms Davidson.

"A funding formula has to take certain things into account and the level to which the different elements are funded will often depend on local circumstances, so you will always get an element of variation. I think the difficulty is that most of the debates about funding were way after me."

Five years have passed since Ms Davidson stood down from education to assume charge of what she described as the "biggest portfolio in the Cabinet" at the time.

As a key figure in Rhodri Morgan's Labour Government, Ms Davidson was given responsibility for the environment, sustainability and rural matters in 2007. …