Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Around the UK: Wales

The possible consequences of economic austerity, accompanied by a sharp drop in student numbers, equate to a potent cocktail of uncertainly in Wales, says Gareth Jones.

Great uncertainty in the education sector, especially in funding and school reorganisation, was one of the themes of the ASCL Cymru annual conference in December.

Funding for continuing professional development in Wales for 2010-11 has already been decimated, leaving school leaders uncertain how to fund the training needed to successfully implement the ambitious curriculum development policies of the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG).

Funding forecasts - according to sources within local authorities who should have all the facts - are that from 2011-14 education funding in Wales could be reduced by between 15 to 25 per cent in real terms.

In a debate in the Senedd in December, the then-first minister forecast that some 20 out of 220 secondary schools would close in consequence of the Transformation Agenda which the WAG is vigorously pursuing.

All LEAs have been required to submit plans, within tight deadlines and subject to strict criteria, for the reorganisation of 16-19 education and surplus school places.

However, since then, a new first minister has been elected and a new ministerial team appointed for education and lifelong learning. Skills has moved from Education to become part of the Economy and Transport portfolio.

Election promises did include a very welcome commitment to closing the gap in funding with England and for an efficiency drive regarding the costs of governance of education services in Wales.

Fulfilling the latter without creating unemployment is something of a Gordian Knot. This has created more uncertainty as to the future policy direction and priorities of the WAG, given that there is no political will to face the challenge of another reorganisation of local government at this time.

A hot topic for the first minister will be the demands for an early referendum on further devolution of legal powers to the National Assembly.

On the starting blocks, currently, are legislative competence orders with regard to transport and school governance. The evidence sessions have involved discussion as to whether pay and conditions of service should be a devolved matter or not. All parties, apart from the one Wales' based union, are in opposition but there are conflicts emerging with the present situation.

Behaviour code

Wales has passed a Learner Travel Measure, which has created a national Behaviour Code which is to apply to all forms of transport to and from schools, including walking and travelling in a parent's car.

The legislation and the accompanying statutory guidance require headteachers to enforce the code. As ASCL's legal specialist Richard Bird has pointed out, this may create different conditions of service for headteachers in Wales, who must intervene in incidents offsite, and heads in England who have the option to intervene.

There is a concern that, in these days of litigation, there is potential for a headteacher to face personal claims for damages arising from his/her perceived failure to enforce the code.

That possibility has brought another uncertainty into sharp focus. Would the headteacher receive effective support and advice from the employer, which, for most of Wales, is the LEA?

An increasing number of LEAs have disbanded their specialist education services in favour of a corporate approach, with a subsequent deterioration in the quality of support provided to school leaders and governors.

On several occasions, the procedural advice given by the LEA has been wrong and only the intervention of the ASCL regional officer, Stephen Parry, has prevented maladministration.

Thus, gaining action on this particular uncertainty is a high priority for ASCL Cymru officers as we start a new year.

Gareth Jones is secretary of ASCL Cymru

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