EXTRA CASH RAISES HOPES; Teachers Welcome Pounds 10k Boost from Education Minister to Help Lowest-Ranked Secondary Schools Improve
Byline: Gareth Evans ; Simon Gaskell
TEACHERS in South Wales last night welcomed a decision to give the nation's lowest-ranked secondary schools more financial support.
Education Minister Leighton Andrews said he had listened to the profession's concerns in making available more money for schools in Bands Four and Five.
A package of pounds 10,000 will be ring-fenced and given to schools deemed by the Welsh Government's new monitoring system as weak relative to others.
But in a keynote speech at the All Nations Centre in Cardiff, Mr Andrews said headteachers would be required to submit action plans before they can gain access to the additional funding.
Banding, which considers a range of school data including exam results, groups the nation's secondaries into one of five bands. It became fully operational in December, though teachers have questioned the mechanisms in place to support schools.
"I have been clear that I want to see standards and performance in education in Wales improve across the board," said Mr Andrews, AM for Rhondda.
"This funding, along with the pupil deprivation grant, should support schools to address underachievement.
"In return for this investment I expect schools and teachers to agree to share their best practice."
There are currently 75 secondary schools in the lowest two bands in Wales, with pounds 750,000 additional funding made available in 2012/13.
In addition to the new funding Mr Andrews also announced the creation of a new "practitioners panel" to advise the Welsh Government on best practice.
The minister said he hoped teachers in Wales would aspire to be members of the panel, which will meet every two months.
Anna Brychan, director of headteachers' union NAHT Cymru, welcomed extra funding for schools.
She said: "The debate about the validity of single banding judgements continues, but at least releasing additional funds gets us part of the way back to what banding should be about - supporting, as well as challenging, schools to improve." Dr Philip Dixon, director of Cardiff-based teaching union ATL Cymru, agreed that the funding boost would "go some way" to addressing a lack of school support.
"Some authorities are still lagging too far behind when it comes to the services and support on offer," he said.
Councillor Eudine Hanagan is cabinet member for education at Rhondda Cynon Taf council, which has 12 schools in the bottom two bands.
She said: "We are committed to maintaining and improving school standards and welcome the opportunity of extra funding and will use it to accelerate the school improvement plans we already have in place.
"The council will continue to work in partnership with the senior management teams and governing bodies of those identified schools, to ensure young people have the best possible opportunities.
"That must remain the sole focus throughout all efforts to improve the performance of a school, with additional funding an added incentive."
But shadow education minister Angela Burns was less impressed and described the cash boost as "a drop in the ocean".
She said: "For all the minister's talk of a package of 'extensive' and 'differentiated' support, this is a crude and simplistic one-off payment, which fails to tailor assistance to the needs of each school. "The schools in Bands Four and Five were assessed as poorlyperforming in any combination of 12 different criteria, so a 'one-size-fits-all' response is unlikely to be ideally suited to the needs of each school."
In a surprise admission, Mr Andrews told delegates the Welsh Government had "made mistakes" in its drive to improve school standards.
He pointed to the failed child assessment profiles, which were scrapped last month amid stinging criticism from the sector, as an example. …