A NEW £36m fund to reduce infant class sizes and raise standards has been announced by Education Secretary Kirsty Williams.
Directed at the front line and starting with the largest class sizes, it will target classes where teaching and learning needs to improve and where there are high levels of deprivation.
The money, consisting of both revenue and capital funding, will be invested over the next four years, up until 2021.
The latest figures show that 7.6% (8,196) of infant pupils in Wales were in classes of over 30.
Kirsty Williams said: “Our national mission is to raise standards and extend opportunities for all our young people.
“Time and time again parents and teachers tell me that they are concerned about class sizes. We have listened to these concerns, looked at the international evidence, and are today announcing a new £36m fund to address infant class sizes.
“There is a positive connection between smaller classes and attainment, particularly for pupils from poorer backgrounds. This is most significant for younger children, which is why we are targeting this investment at infant class sizes.
“This announcement, linked to our other reforms, will create the space for teachers to teach and for pupils to learn.”
Jess Turner, UNISON Cymru organiser for schools, said: “Classroom-based support staff really welcome this news. Smaller classes reduce workload and give support workers more time with pupils and this more personalised support helps to tackle inequalities. UNISON would like Welsh Government to go much further and also apply additional funding to junior and secondary schools too. The evidence around class size shows they need to be reduced very significantly to make a real difference to student attainment.
“It’s essential teaching assistants are properly deployed in the classroom and never used as cheap stop-gap replacements for teachers.”
“While we welcome this statement, it’s important to put it in context. When one considers that the money will be paid out over a five year period, it is not a vast amount; it is, however, most certainly a small step in the right direction,” said Ywain Myfyr, Policy Officer with UCAC.
“We hope that in helping to reduce class sizes this money will go some way towards reducing teachers’ workload and improving standards of attainment, especially for pupils living in areas of social deprivation,” he added.
“The introduction of the Foundation Stage was a visionary step but it was not properly funded from the outset. It is essential that we ensure that no child in the Foundation Phase in Wales is educated in a class which exceeds the legal limit in terms of size. It is now important that this money is shared carefully to ensure fairness.”
“We now call on the Welsh Government to go one step further and make classes of under 25 statutory for all age groups and to plan for a general reduction in class sizes for the benefit of pupils and the education workforce in general in Wales. We believe that this would match the principles expressed in this morning’s statement.”
NUT Cymru Secretary David Evans said: “This announcement is very welcome news. Kirsty Williams and the Welsh Government should be congratulated for responding to the concerns of parents and the teaching profession who see unmanageable class sizes as one of the most concerning issues they face. For too long, this problem has been ignored. Putting it on the agenda has been a major campaign for the NUT and we are grateful there has been a positive reaction from the Cabinet Secretary for Education.
“Naturally, we will have to monitor exactly how this money is utilised. What we do not want to see is local authorities using it to fill holes in their budgets. The Welsh Government are absolutely right to demand that any and all business cases show explicitly how they will contribute to reducing class sizes. It will be crucial that local authorities are not only clear about how they are going to use this funding, but also that they are accountable at the point of implementation.
“If this funding is put to good use it could have a profound impact on an issue that is at the very top of the agenda for teachers, which is why it absolutely must find its way to the front line.”
The Welsh Conservatives’ education spokesperson gave a less enthusiastic reception to the Education Secretary’s announcement.
Questioning how the policy can feasibly be implemented in the face of Wales’ teacher recruitment crisis, Darren Millar AM said: “The scant evidence base for this policy is well documented with a Welsh Government adviser having publicly spoken out against the idea of its implementation back in June.
“Conversely, there is growing evidence of Wales’ worsening teacher recruitment crisis, and so it remains unclear how this policy can be made to work; smaller class sizes mean more classrooms, which in turn demands more teachers – of which our country is in woefully short supply.
“Today’s announcement is little more than a multimillion pound sop to the remaining Welsh Liberal Democrat and will not be the silver bullet to solving the education crisis facing Welsh schools.”