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Wales may be creating a distinctive tailored approach to education but it will not become isolated or inward thinki...
Wales may be creating a distinctive tailored approach to education but it will not become isolated or inward thinking - was the message from Jane Davidson, minister for education and lifelong learning to the National Association of Head Teachers' annual conference in Cardiff on Saturday.

The minister told delegates that in developing policies for Wales we would look for and learn from best practice where ever we find it, in England, across the European Union, and far beyond.

The minister said: 'A small country like ours allows us to work in close partnership with each other. This is often our great strength. I pay tribute to the commitment that head teachers put into achieving the very best for your schools and am confident we can continue to work together to get the best possible learning opportunities for all our children to tackle the challenges head on, to establish Wales as a truly Learning Country.

'Our goals are: to give every child a flying start; put the needs of learners first; raise standards across the board; support practitioners; provide a more rounded and flexible curriculum; enhance social inclusion and remove barriers to learning. In short, to create a skilled nation with opportunity for all - based on the best policies for Wales'.

The minister outlined the areas where the Assembly Government was creating a distinctive Welsh approach to secure its vision of the school of the future:

-Establishing a new Foundation Phase for 3-7 year olds. Pilots will be starting in September.

-Providing primary school pupils with the opportunity to have a free, healthy breakfast at school each day. The first pilots will begin in September.

-We have abolished secondary school performance tables and testing at Key Stage 1 and we are awaiting the final report following the review of assessment at Key Stage 2 and 3. The interim report contains a number of exciting and well judged proposals which will be considered.

- Working together w ith all parties we are implementing the National Agreement on tackling workload. We have provided LEAs in Wales with£33m to support implementation of the workload agreement in Wales and will be rolling out training in practical tools and techniques that will further support implementation of the agreement in schools.

-We are developing ways to raise standards and widen opportunities for 14-19 year olds through our Learning Pathways 14-19 agenda. Every learner will have a tailored learning pathway to meet their particular needs, aptitudes and learning styles with learning coaches to assist them.

-In parallel with the 14-19 plans we are continuing with the Welsh Baccalaureate pilots. UCAS has recognised the Welsh Bac core as an individual qualification in its own right with the same tariff as an A grade at A level.

-We will shortly be publishing our final guidance on Inclusive Education. Providing practical examples of ways to ensure an inclusive education for all children and young people, especially those who are at greater risk of facing barriers to learning and participation.

The minister also addressed the issue of funding for schools:

'Funding is a matter of great concern to all head teachers at this time of year, in Wales and England. As minister I do all I possibly can to get the maximum amount of resources to pursue our radical learning agenda.

'The Assembly Government funds schools in Wales to a greater extent through the local government settlement. The funding announced by the chancellor on 17 March referred to direct funding for schools in England. These are the uprated amounts for existing funding through standards fund and formula capital allocations - there is no new money involved and therefore no consequential for the Assembly's block.

'Where there is consequential funding for the assembly - and under the Budget announcements there will be some for 2006-07 - this goes into the assembly's block and the Assembly makes its own d ecisions as to how the funding should be used. Decisions for Wales, made in Wales, addressing needs in Wales.

'The real question is how well the arrangements we have in Wales for funding schools have worked. We are committed to decisions on funding local services being the responsibility of individual local authorities. They are accountable to their electorates and, from the end of last year, to their school budget forums.

'For 2003-04 local authorities in Wales increased their budgets for schools by 9.9% and delegated budgets went up by 10% on average. Budgeted per pupil spend - including direct grants - was on a par with England :£3,668 in Wales compared with£3,697 in England or£3,604 if London with its high costs is excluded.

'We will be publishing the figures for Wales for 2004-05 in July and the comparative information later in the financial year. But assembly support for the local government revenue settlement increased by 5% - double the rate of inflation, resulting in an increase of 5% or more for the 5th year running. The funding included the identified£33m for the costs of the workload agreement.

'The NAHT Wales raised the issue of funding for teachers' pay at their meeting with me last week. I confirmed that local authority funding had taken teachers pay fully into account and that although funding at a local level is the responsibility of local authorities I expected them to behave responsibly across Wales. Local authorities have a contractible obligation to fund teachers' pay appropriately.

'Schools in some parts of Wales, where authorities are comparatively low spenders, look with some envy at schools across the border or in the neighbouring Welsh authority. But those differences are largely a reflection of local circumstances or arise from local democratic decisions and local authorities must justify their spend to their electorate.

'I am committed to improving transparency regarding decisions on funding, and we have alread y come along way since the assembly was established in 1999. We have for the first time this year published the formula for support given to individual authorities. This information and the creation of local school budget forums will help in making local authorities accountable for their decisions.

'Looking to the future I have agreed with my colleague the minister for finance and local government, that the teacher unions in Wales should have the opportunity to feed their views on school funding pressures into the spending review in progress on the Assembly budget for 2005-06. I outlined what was proposed to the unions, including NAHT, when I met them at the beginning of this week. I am pleased that the union representatives went away from the meeting determined to have a full input to the spending review process. We will listen carefully to what you have to say.

'In Wales as in England we rely on heads to share our vision and to bring it to life. I look forward to continuing the positive relationship with the association.'

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