Page last updated at 16:40 GMT, Wednesday, 7 May 2008 17:40 UK

Extra 5m for play learning plan

Children playing
The early years plan will see more outdoors activity

An extra 5m to implement a play-based learning scheme for young children in schools in Wales has been announced.

Education Minister Jane Hutt confirmed the money after meeting local education authorities (LEAs) and teaching unions.

Teachers and LEAs claimed the Foundation Phase, which teaches three-to-seven-year-olds through play, was underfunded by up to 15m.

But the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has described the extra cash as "wholly inadequate".

Ms Hutt said she wanted to "secure this fundamental and far-reaching change in early years education" and was committed to rolling out a programme from September in which one adult supervised eight three-to-five year olds.

She said the money would come from her existing departmental budget, would be ring-fenced for the pilot and early start schools across Wales and would also be available in the summer term in 2009.

They socialise more with children and I think it develops their confidence
Linda Bennett, whose children have learned through the Foundation Phase

A number of schools are currently running a trial of the early years learning programme, and the assembly government plans to implement it nationally in September.

However some headteachers have threatened to boycott the scheme because they say there is not enough money to implement it.

The NAHT said while the extra 5m was appreciated it was "wholly inadequate to ensure a full roll-out of the Foundation Phase in all schools as envisaged" in September.

NAHT Cymru acting director Iwan Guy said pilot schools had proved that "well directed play-based teaching can provide world-class teaching for our youngest pupils".

But he warned that the pilots had also demonstrated that "success depends on the right number of well-trained teachers and learning assistants being available in each class".

Education professionals

The assembly government had previously allocated 107m to the project, which moves away from traditional classroom teaching to learning through play-based and outdoor activities.

It requires a much higher ratio of staff to pupils than usual, at one teacher per eight children.

Teachers in Wales have said the scheme was up to 15m short for the coming academic year.

In March, a report by the Association of Directors of Education in Wales (ADEW) seen by BBC News said only 41m of the 107m promised over three years was new money.

Last week, the assembly's finance committee began to scrutinise the scheme's funding after concerns were expressed by education professionals.

Linda Bennett, from Tywyn, Gwynedd, a mother-of-four who has seen two of her children benefit from the Foundation Phase said she would be disappointed if it was not rolled out across Wales.

"I would be disappointed just from the experience with my children," she said.

"I think they have a happier experience when they go in and play - they learn through that play they can go outside and experiment with all sorts of materials, it's just much more exciting.

"I think it's been very positive for them. They have enjoyed the experience, they have come into a classroom and had lots of opportunities to learn through playing at different stations instead of sitting at a table."

She added: "They socialise more with children, I think, and I think it develops their confidence."

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