Funding was at the forefront of a Senedd Election hustings in Caerphilly, which was run by the Welsh headteachers’ union.
The National Association for Head Teachers Cymru (NAHT Cymru) ran an hour-long husting featuring four of the six Caerphilly Senedd election candidates – Steve Aicheler of the Liberal Democrats, Steven Mayfield of the Conservatives, Delyth Jewell the Plaid Cymru candidate and Hefin David of the Labour Party.
While all six candidates were invited to participate Stephen Jones of Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party and Tim Price of Reform UK did not attend.
What did the NAHT Cymru president say were the union’s priorities?
The union has outlined five key priorities for education, which includes wellbeing, curriculum reform, funding, additional learning needs (ALN) and accountability.
Introducing the hustings, NAHT Cymru president Kerina Hanson said wellbeing and funding are top priorities.
She said: “It’s been a very confusing year, it’s been a very difficult year.”
Ms Hanson said that some staff are still frightened about going to school and there had been so many changes.
“There’s not one aspect of my job that is not changing, curriculum, assessment, accountability frameworks, the job descriptions of school leaders, ALN bill, that has huge implication,” she said.
“It needs funding.”
What did the candidates say in their opening statements?
Almost all the candidates mentioned the need for increased funding, in particular to support ALN teaching.
Conservative Party candidate Steven Mayfield was the first to set out his views on education.
Mr Mayfield said that the pandemic was not the single cause of education problems in Wales but “the last 12 months have been really difficult for teachers”.
A lack of funding was a “key driver” and “teachers and young people deserve better”.
Labour candidate Hefin David opened by talking about his experiences as a parent in the pandemic and the contributions schools have made.
He recognised the union’s concerns over the preparation for the new curriculum and said, “some schools are more prepared than others”.
Mr David also talked about funding for ALN and referred to his own experiences as a parent of a child with autism.
Liberal Democrat candidate Steven Aicheler emphasised the need for funding for education and the importance of wellbeing among teachers and pupils.
He said: “We’ll put recovery first and we’ll put education front and centre in that recovery.”
The final candidate to put forward an opening statement was Delyth Jewell of Plaid Cymru.
She emphasised how difficult the past year has been.
Ms Jewell said that the new curriculum needs resoureces to back it up and “now isn’t the time for increased pressured”.
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What did the candidates say on the union’s call to pause school inspections for a year?
All four candidates backed the calls from NAHT Cymru to pause school inspections for a year.
Mr David said that Labour were silent on this in their party manifesto but the “best way to move forward to listen to the workforce” and “it should be the first thing on the agenda”.
Mr Aicheler of the Lib Dems said the system “isn’t fit for purpose” and “we need look at the inspection system”. He agreed that inspections needed to be suspended for a year.
Plaid’s Ms Jewell said: “We do need to have at least a 12-month suspension without that added pressure.”
While Conservative candidate Mr Mayfield said: “There’s a time and a place for the inspections but it’s not now.”
What were the candidate’s views over the funding of education improvement services in Wales?
The union has called for a review of the ‘middle tier’ in education, which is the school improvement consortia – in Gwent this is the Education Achievement Service.
NAHT Cymru want a review “in order to scrutinise and ensure that this layer of the education system provides a robust mechanism for school improvement that could not be provided elsewhere within the system and crucially, that it demonstrates the impact it has specifically on learners.”
All four candidates called for a review.
Mr Aicheler said the current model “doesn’t seem to be particularly effective” and “we need to review the consortia model.” He backed a review for education funding.
Ms Jewell agreed with the need for a review.
She said: “We want to fight for fairer funding.
“We need to streamline the way the middle tier operates.”
Mr Mayfield said, “let’s review it” and that “everybody agrees there’s a number of things that aren’t working”.
According to Mr David, the middle tier has been “patchy across Wales” and that a review is needed.
He said: “The education achievement service has been very responsive to me when I’ve raised concerns.”
What did candidates say should happen in schools as part of the Covid recovery?
Ms Jewell said it was important that young people are encouraged to talk about their experiences in the pandemic.
She said: “In the curriculum there needs to be more discussion about mental health.”
Mr Mayfield said the key was listening to the professionals.
He said teachers and pupils have to be happy and mental wellbeing is “key in all this”.
Mr David said that the word catch-up shouldn’t be used because “it’s a different experience, we are dealing with a world that is changing and has changed considerably”.
“We need to look at the qualifications as well,” he said.
Mr Aicheler called for a focus on health and wellbeing.
He said: “The Lib Dems are committed to FSM during the school holidays (permanently).”