Fears of cuts after First Minister gives nod to unevidenced £42m smaller classroom policy

The First Minister  confirmed that an extra £42million would have to be found in the Government budget to fund its reduced classroom size policy – the implementation of which is central to the agreement between his Government and Lib Dem Kirsty Williams AM.

Crucially, the £42million sum would fall on top of the £100million already earmarked for extra school spending, suggesting that this would lead to cuts elsewhere.

The move flouts the advice Professor David Reynolds, a Government adviser, who said that reducing infant classroom sizes was not cost-effective and that no evidence existed to support its efficacy in achieving better results.

Labour leader Carwyn Jones has previously gone on record as saying that “every new commitment in the new administration will have to be paid for by a cutback somewhere else,” so this latest admission leaves a big question mark as to where in the budget the extra £42million will be drawn from and what public spending will be cut as a consequence.

The Welsh Conservative Leader also pressed Carwyn Jones on what funding was available to mitigate against the increased pressure that reducing classroom sizes would have on education infrastructure.

The First Minister would not commit to a figure but pointed instead to the work of his 21st Century Schools Programme, which to date has built just 25 schools.

Speaking outside the Assembly Chamber, Leader of the Welsh Conservatives Andrew R T Davies said:

“There is a mountain of evidence that reducing class sizes is not on its own a sufficient policy lever to improve the performance of education systems – not least from the First Minister’s own education adviser.

“With such serious questions to answer over such a policy, the First Minister must give an answer as to why he has decided to push ahead with it for the sake of pacifying a member of the opposition, who it is now clear comes with a £42million price tag.

“There is now huge uncertainty over where in the budget these extra millions will be taken from and what public services we can expect to be cut.

“Parents, teachers and governors will also be hugely concerned by the lack of clarity offered today over what funding there would be available to mitigate against the impact of reducing class sizes on buildings and school infrastructure.

“For the sake of transparency and to allay the worries of concerned members of the public, the First Minister and his Cabinet Secretary for Education must bring forward a detailed strategy for implementation of the reduced class size policy, making plain how they intend to combat the increased pressure this policy will undoubtedly have on school buildings and teacher recruitment.”
The policy of reducing classroom sizes to 25 pupils was a key manifesto pledge for the Liberal Democrats and the promise of its implementation was instrumental in former leader Kirsty Williams’ decision to join the First Minister’s Cabinet as Cabinet Secretary for Education.

In 2012, the OECD said that reducing class sizes is a “less efficient measure than increasing the quality of teachers”. Welsh Conservatives have previous called for a transformation in the delivery of teacher training and for a renewed emphasis on continued professional development in a bid to restore teaching excellence in Wales.

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Team @ AberdareOnline

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