Save Hardship Funding in Wales

Speech prepared for Save Hardship Funding motion for the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ 2015 Autumn Conference.

Conference,

The purpose of this motion is to say clearly that the Welsh Liberal Democrats want to ensure that everyone can not only gain access to University, but are supported to succeed in University, too.

As a party we agree that access to higher education should not be determined by your ability to pay, we can’t deliver a truly accessible Higher Education system when academic success is all too often determined by your bank balance.

The Welsh Labour Government has made widening access to disadvantaged groups and student success and learning gain priorities, but at the same time is pulling the carpet from under the feet of the most vulnerable students in Wales – allowing Universities to pick and choose who’s more disadvantaged.

The Welsh Labour Government has cut the £2.1m Financial Contingency Fund – a fund that provides Universities with funding to support the most vulnerable – a small budget for the Government, but a lifeline for students in Wales.

NUS Wales’ study, Pound in Your Pocket, found that more than 50% of students regularly worried about meeting basic living costs, which they felt affected their studies. This will have an even greater impact on students from low socio-economic backgrounds and BME students who typically are awarded fewer ‘good degrees’ (2:1 and 1st degrees) than their white counterparts

We also know that most students struggle to pay their rent with the maintenance loans on offer. Maintenance loans have stayed the same at a time when the the cost of living has gone up and financial support like the Disabled Students’ Allowance has been cut.

And now the Tories want to replace grants with loans for the most vulnerable in England, too!

The future of higher education funding in Wales (and England) is uncertain and we should be reiterating at this key point in the discussion that we want to ensure that Higher Education is accessible to all and that everyone should be supported to succeed at University, not just get through the doors.

We also need to remind everyone of Assembly’s promise during the 2011 elections that this fund would be protected – let’s make sure that that promise is kept. Please support this motion.

Education in Wales needs more than ‘structural change’

A  reorganisation of school services in Wales is “unlikely” before the end of the Assembly term, according to Education Minister Huw Lewis, with regional consortia currently recommended as the best way forward.

Education in Wales however needs more than structural change to address the fact that a Labour-led Welsh Government since 1999 has failed young people in Wales as school standards have fallen year on year.

In an assessment of Welsh schools by the OECD Wales came 36th for science, 41st for reading and 43rd for maths in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) study.

The results were a serious, yet not unexpected blow for the Welsh Government, with another target set by the Welsh Government that is unlikely to be met. Teenagers were revealed to have scored lower in reading, maths and science than their contemporaries in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

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So whilst the structure or organisation of education in Wales is highly important, structure is unlikely to boost Pisa scores, teacher morale, or the attainment gap between Wales and the rest of the UK.

The Welsh Labour Government cannot expect a structural reorganisation to act as a magic silver bullet to solve all our problems. As with the school banding system, one solution was expected to improve standards in schools across Wales, yet year on year a fixed number of schools will appear in each band, a crude and simplistic means to improving standards across Welsh schools, a process that has so far failed to do so.

Welsh Liberal Democrats have echoed Estyn’s calls for a system that track’s an individual pupil’s progress, a far more effective way to raise standards, which would also identify children who were not achieving their potential. Schools would therefore be monitored on the basis of their individual targets, rather than government-set targets, which create a far-removed system from local education.

Whilst the Hill Review discusses improving classroom teaching and learning, improving school leadership, the Welsh Government seems hung on regional consortia and the organisation of services.

Education Minister Huw Lewis said,

“We’ve made a clear commitment to drive up standards and performance across the board in Wales.

“Local authorities have a crucial part to play in this, but I’m becoming increasingly concerned about their commitment to consortia working. We’ve given them plenty of time to get their act together but today I am taking action to put in place a national model of regional working. I am minded to support this via a transfer out of the 2014-15 RSG settlement and we are pursuing this through the usual consultative process.

“By doing this we can ensure the consortia operating in Wales will have access to the funding they need to deliver our ambitious school improvement agenda.”

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Whilst regional consortia will provide schools with the funding required and supportive regional collaboration, more must be done to look at individual student attainment, and equipping pupils with the skills that they need to get on in life.

Even Plaid Cymru are hooked on the idea of accountability and organisation of services,

“This is cherry-picking from the recommendations that the Minister’s friends in Welsh Local Government can live with and a complete volte face on the previous Minister’s attitude.

“The delivery of education services in Wales will continue to be a mess, unless other issues around governance, accountability, data sharing, targets, structures and appointments are sorted out first.”

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Welsh Liberal Democrats are championing the debate on supporting pupils, rather than government or organisations, to achieve their best. Through the Pupil Premium, or Pupil Deprivation Grant, we are beginning to break the link between attainment and poverty, and calling for a review of the school banding system to establish a system which supports individual pupils’ progress and individual schools in meeting their own targets, a progressive and far more supportive system to not only boost standards in Wales but to give children the best possible start in life to achieve their best.

Use it, or lose it.

Welsh Education Minister Huw Lewis has issued a strong reminder to Local Authorities that the pupil deprivation grant, a major education grant, must be used for its intended purposes.

Since 2011, the Welsh Labour Government has required support from opposition parties to ensure the passing of the Budget in the Assembly. Two years ago Welsh Liberal Democrats agreed to support a budget that met Welsh Liberal Democrat aims, being giving our children the best start in life, and beginning to break the link between attainment and poverty.

Our flagship policy as already introduced in England, the Pupil Premium (or Pupil Deprivation Grant) would give schools a sum of £450 for each pupil on free school meals.

Opposition parties, including the Welsh Liberal Democrats, again refused to back the Labour Government’s budget without further investment into key priorities. As a result of the 2013 budget negotiations, the grant will rise to £918 per pupil on free schools meals.

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Concerns have been expressed that the money may be seen by some schools and indeed by some education authorities, as an additional fund to be used to meet local priorities. Education Minister Huw Lewis has recently asserted that the PDG (Pupil Deprivation Grant) must be used for its core purposes, to support pupils and to tackle the link between poor attainment and poverty.

Cllr Rhys Taylor said,

“The Welsh Liberal Democrats have been consistent in calling for more support for Wales’ poorest children, including tacking the link between attainment and poverty.

We can be in no doubt that this extra money for schools would not exist if it were not for the Welsh Liberal Democrats. Our recent schools survey showed how students from poorer backgrounds are benefiting from this important Welsh Liberal Democrat policy.

Alan Milburn, a former Labour UK cabinet minister, recently published a report showing that pupils eligible for free school meals in England are 50% more likely to obtain five good GCSEs than their counterparts in Wales. That is wholly unacceptable and  the Welsh Liberal Democrats are ensuring that poorer students in Wales are now getting the extra support that they need.

Arfon Liberal Democrats are urging Gwynedd LEA to ensure that Pupil Deprivation Grant funding is used for its intended purpose. ”

 

Gwynedd received £904,050 of the £32.4m grant in 2013-14 (2009 Free School Meals Pupils), and is estimated to receive £1,947,996 of the £71.8m available in 2014/15. Some example funding outcomes of the PDG;

Ysgol Glancegin received £27,900 in 2013-14 and will receive £57,834 in 2014/15.

Ysgol Cae Top received £10,350 in 2013-14 and will receive £22,032 in 2014/15.

Ysgol Gynradd Hirael received £16,650 in 2013-14 and will receive £33,996 in 2014/15.

Ysgol Gynradd Llanllechid received £12,600 in 2013-14 and will receive 24 £22,032 in 2014/15.

 

Welsh Government at a loss on Education says Rhys Taylor

It seems to be a reoccurring theme that the Welsh Government doesn’t have real solutions to the problems within our education system. The most recent of these action plans on education is fixed penalties for parents whose children continually truant.

Welsh Education Minister Leighton Andrews held a consultation period from November 2012 to February 2013. During that consultation there was a total of just 53 responses, including only 12 of the 22 Welsh local authorities, only  16 schools and 12 parents/carers. Of those 53, only just over half – 55% – agreed with the penalty notice option.

In any other consultation, particularly where the responsibility of managing such a system comes down to local authorities, 12 of the 22 Welsh local authorities is hardly a mandate to pile on the pressure, in addition to what LAs are currently facing with budget cuts and service reform.

Issuing fixed penalties to parents first assumes that the parents are aware of their child truanting – which in the majority of scenarios, isn’t the case. This policy does nothing to tackle the root cause of truancy, it is yet another quick fix, another blame passing policy by the Welsh Government to avoid facing reality.

Aled Roberts, Welsh Liberal Democrats North Wales AM said, “Whilst parents must take responsibility for their children’s behaviour and fulfill their obligation to ensure they attend school, a community-wide approach involving parents, police and local welfare officers would be much more effective than theses punitive measures being implemented by the Education Minister.”

We must engage with the children, not the local authorities. Persisent truancy suggests an underlying cause factor in the child not wanting to attend school. The answers are therefore with our children, not our bureaucratic system.

Additionally, evidence shows that children who are more likely to truant are from low socio-economic backgrounds – therefore families face additional economic hardship which will further impact on living standards and attainment. For younger children this could result in developmental complications, attainment and behavioural problems as a result of poor standards of living.

In the majority of cases this will do nothing to address the number of hours a child spends in the classroom. This is a truly unimaginative and counterproductive approach to tackling truancy