Announcing the mechanism for distribution of these additional resources to local authorities Jane Davidson, minister for education and lifelong learning said:
'We will shortly be issuing revised guidance to LEAs which emphasises that they must take into account the role of the school in the local community before bringing forward any proposal to close a rural school. I will be looking for evidence that imaginative alternatives to closure have been fully explored and that any such proposal does not lead to unreasonably long journeys to school. My prime consideration will be whether the proposal is in the best interests of all pupils in the area. Our decisions must be focussed primarily on education issues to maintain and improve standards.
'I felt there was a need to help stimulate and support new and alternative ways of schools working together and with the local community. The Partnership Agreement undertook to develop a rural schools policy which encouraged options such as federation, IT networking and other methods of supporting smaller schools. £2m additional funding is being made available to support this. It will be used to support working together through informal association or collaboration, clustering, federation or IT working; helping with initiatives to increase the community use of school buildings for lifelong learning or non educational uses and providing administrative support in schools, particularly where the Headteacher also has a significant classroom teaching workload.
'Funding must be used to directly benefit schools. And fairly broad criteria of acceptable uses of the funding will enable local authorities to be flexible in responding to specific circumstances of real needs and to support innovative proposals.
'A further£1.2m is also being allocated to LEAs to support improvements to the information that is available on pupils in Wales. Information on pupils' achievements and needs is a vital plank in our work to improve attainment in Wales. Better information will enable the impact and performance of education initiatives to be properly measured - supporting teachers and local education authorities in driving up standards and helping to ensure that the needs of the pupils are met. For the very first time it will be possible to target more effectively the needs of specific groups of children such as ethnic minorities.
'To achieve this we have embarked on a four year project to develop pupil information systems, working in partnership with key organisations, including the WLGA, LEAs, schools, teachers unions, ACCAC, Estyn, Welsh Language Board. The pilot last year was well received by local authorities and we now will be moving towards pupil-based systems with more accurate information available.
'The replacement of the existing statistical returns with the new pupil level annual school census will also contribute to lighter administrative burdens on schools and LEAs since information will be collected only once and follow each pupil throughout their school career.
'The additional money being made available today will enable local authorities to support schools with additional hardware, software and training. With all schools having in place the hardware, the software and trained staff to collect, hold and transfer electronically the agreed data at pupil level by May 2003. Further resources in April 2003 will help this to be achieved.
'I hope that as a result of the additional funding to support new ways of working we will begin to see innovative practices emerging that will make a real difference to the effective organisation of education provision, particularly in rural areas. They aim to drive up standards of education for all pupils in Wales.'