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Cllr Mike Powell's case to Cabinet against nursery education cuts

October 21, 2013 10:17 PM

Summary of the points put forward by Welsh Liberal Democrat Councillor Mike Powell at the Cabinet meeting where it was decided by the Labour administration to go to consultation on cutting back nursery education provision:

The Council's Corporate Plan which was agreed in July this year states that following the budget consultation process

"Over 90% of respondents indicated that 'Education' and 'Children and family centred services' should be either high or medium priority."

If the proposals to cut back on early years education and youth provision do go ahead then it will demonstrate that the RCT Labour administration has now decided to ignore that feedback upon which it says its budget was based.

Amongst the action points in the plan the following stand out in relation to the cuts proposed-

"Increase engagement between schools, parents, families, and the communities they serve, recognising the powerful influence to be gained through working together to improve the life chances for our children and young people"

and

"Continue to invest in education facilities throughout the County Borough to raise educational standards and support."

One of the critical improvement actions - CA07 for those who remember - reads

Contribute towards improving educational outcomes for children in poverty by commissioning new support services through the 'Family First' Programme (R1)

Way forward - Develop and agree service specification for new support services that contribute to: - Improving language and communication skills of targeted pupils aged 3 to 7.

So in July the Director of Education, presumably with the full knowledge and support of the Cabinet Member for Education, was talking about improving educational outcomes and referring specifically to pupils from age 3, and now three months later this report presented in the name of the Director of Finance is dismissive about the effectiveness of educating pupils at that age.

Indeed it would seem that the proposals contained in the officer's report approved by the Labour Cabinet are in direct contravention to the stated aims of the Council. How then can they be justified?

One statement in particular strikes a jarring note. On page 4:

"There does not appear to be any evidence to show that our current arrangements are having a positive impact upon attainment levels."

Does not appear to be? Is there or isn't there? And where is the evidence that it isn't having an effect? Why have RCT education department not come up with this astounding 'fact' before now, especially given the Estyn report that said educational provision in RCT was merely adequate? And why - if in their opinion it is not producing results - haven't they done something about it? Have they been throwing taxpayers money away for years?

Many of us are sick to death of hearing of targets and attainment levels and banding - what matters is children. RCT is an area of high deprivation and whilst schools should certainly not be regarded as just providing free child care, then it must not be forgotten that many parents will plan their working hours around school hours. A drop to a provision of only 3 hours a day will have a huge knock on effect for many who will not be able to afford childcare and even if they can will find it impossible to move their children from school to a private provider part way through the day.

Yes, the provision in RCT is more generous than elsewhere in Wales, and the Council has to tighten its belt and look at what it can and cannot deliver in the longer term. But you cannot enter into what is essentially a contract with parents and pupils to provide full time education for under 5s and then rip that up with so little notice.

The Cabinet's own Labour colleague the Minister for Local Government said RCT's reaction to the budget settlement was knee jerk and over the top. The First Minister said that Councils had been given plenty of warning and time to prepare. Indeed it has been one of the favourite lines of the Labour party that more cuts were going to be necessary. Why then have these easy targets been seemingly plucked out of the air with such apparent haste?