Over the past few days, I've heard a number of Conservatives and Lib Dems refer to the gap between the average spend per pupil in Wales compared to England. Their accusations are emotive, and are being used to mask the fact that they themselves have little vision for transforming education in Wales and to deflect from the immoral ConDem government policy regarding tuition fees which will make higher education the domain of the privileged and wealthy once again. In this blog post, I want to set the record straight and hope to persuade you that our vision for education is the right one for Wales. It's a far too important area to play party politics with which is why what we're proposing to do is well thought out and expressed clearly so that everyone knows where we're coming from on this important issue.
Let's start with some facts. Actual expenditure on schools in 2009-10 left a funding gap of £604 per pupil compared to England. However, the following is not an excuse but a genuine reason why those figures aren't entirely true as they don't compare like for like.
Some of the funding gap can be accounted for by costs that are not included in the Welsh education system, such as private finance initiative and other privately financed schemes that exist in England.
Also, in Wales, 75% of the total gross schools budgeted expenditure is delegated to schools, with local authorities holding the rest centrally. In England, that figure is 90%. But here's the problem: some local authorities have exacerbated the gap by being reluctant to ensure money reached the classroom.
The Welsh Assembly Government have already secured commitments to ensure that this unacceptable practice is addressed, and as a result, local authorities have now agreed to increase the amount of money spent by schools themselves to 80% within two years, and 85% within four years. Also, education expenditure in Wales is budgeted to increase by 3.2% in 2010-11.
Ok, so that was a lot of facts, but I hope you see that it's not as black and white as the Conservatives and Lib Dems would have you believe and WAG have been doing something positive to address this issue.
However, what we must remember is that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that funding is the reason for low achievement. In fact, in Wales, in the areas where the gap is largest, we get the best results whereas the worse results come from areas where there is less of a gap!
The truth is that whilst we do need to continue to address the gap, we also now need to come up with ideas to raise the standard of education in Wales and give our children the best possible start in life.
I don't want to sound like a manifesto, but one of our key pledges in this election is that a Plaid government will give our children the best start in life. It is a scandal that 1 in 4 adults in Wales have a reading and writing age of 11 or below. Our aim therefore is to halve illiteracy and innumeracy rates for children leaving primary school in Wales by 2016 and virtually eliminate the problem by 2020.
In contrast to the ConDem government in London, we will continue to oppose the marketisation of education. Instead, we will bear down on poor education standards and address the underfunding of schools by redirecting resources from management and bureaucracy to the classroom and producing guidelines for local authority support services.
Importantly, we will also be providing investment in classroom-based training and mentoring, and give teachers more freedom to innovate and inspire. We will reconfigure support services and administration across local authorities to ensure more money reaches classrooms.
And we won't just stop there. We'd also review school hours and term times to examine whether the current arrangements are best placed to meet the needs of a 21st century education system as well as reviewing the National Curriculum.
Those aren't our only promises, but at least they give you a flavour of all we have to offer. There aren't populist policies just to try and win your votes, but well-though out policies that will truly transform the education system so that it works for our children and delivers the best possible results. I know I'm biased, but the truth is, no other party offers as many innovative and exciting policies in this election.
The pupil premium being proposed by the Lib Dems may sound good, but the truth is that funding for it will mean cuts in other parts of the education budget. And as for the Conservatives, well I can't believe that they're daring to try and make an issue out of this when their plans will cut the education budget even further. In fact, each school will lose out on over £41,000. They have no ideas of any worth that will help tackle the problems within the education system. In fact, I dread to think how much worse our children's education would be under a Conservative Government in Wales.
Labour have to take some responsibility as well, as they have held the Education portfolio for 12 years. Though they have done some good things whilst in coalition with Plaid, such an introducing the Foundation phase, they could have done so much more in terms of tackling illiteracy and raising standards. In fact, I'm disappointed by how few ideas they have in their manifesto that will address the issues discussed above.
So there you have it. My in-depth response to these accusations. Let the other parties play their games if that's all they have to offer. I don't need to try and trick the electorate, but rather simply stick to the facts and take our vision to the electorate in this election. I'm proud of what we're offering, and know it could make a real difference in Wales. If you have any questions about our manifesto and our ideas, I'd be more than happy to answer them so feel free to get in touch.