Visited two Montgomeryshire Primary Schools today, including my old primary school, hoping to learn something about the 'Foundation Phase'. This is the Assembly Government's revolutionary way of teaching 3-7 year olds - through play, rather than sitting them down at the desk listening to teacher. It all sounded a bit dodgy to me - and Alun Cairns had been telling me about how the whole thing is grossly underfunded. Anyway, I thought I'd go and talk to some of professionals at the chalk face.
Have to admit that I'm persuaded (conditionally). The first School I went to has been a 'pilot', where this new way of teaching has been tried out. The head, who is a good friend of mine, swears by the new system. Too early for measuring outcomes yet, but I respect his judgement. The other School, where I spent six years of my own childhood had real concerns. The Headteacher is enthusiastic about the new way of teaching, but isn't sure that there will be enough money to deliver it. And that is the nub of the issue.
The Assembly Government itself recognises that it needs a teacher to every 8 pupils for it to work, (in the early years) and not enough money has been allocated to fund this. Interestingly, I'm told that the introduction of the Foundation Phase will be mandatory from September, but the pupil/teacher ratio will not be mandatory - suggesting a recognition that the funding is not going to be there. And that's the reason my willingness to welcome the scheme is only 'conditional'. We do not know how successful 'teaching through play' will be if it is not properly funded. This is probably the most significant policy difference that's emerged between Wales and England since devolution. Its a really big deal, and I want to fully understand it. So I've asked my PA to fix up more visits to schools.