Page last updated at 13:10 GMT, Thursday, 22 May 2008 14:10 UK

Early learning start could change

There are fears the Foundation Phase will not be properly funded

The launch of a flagship early learning education scheme for children in Wales could be scaled back amid concerns over funding.

Education Minister Jane Hutt signalled that the roll-out of the Foundation Phase could be targeted at some of the very youngest children.

She was giving evidence to AMs on the Welsh assembly finance committee.

Some head teachers believe schools will not be properly funded to implement the project due to start in September.

The Foundation Phase emphasises the importance of learning through play for children aged three to seven and requires a teacher pupil ratio of one to eight.

Ms Hutt told AMs discussions were underway with education professionals.

They were considering as one possible option rolling out the programme using the one to eight ratio for some of the youngest children first.

Education Minister Jane Hutt
There isn't a 'one size fits all' in terms of early years settings and arrangements
Education Minister Jane Hutt

She told the committee there had been discussions "to consider whether we should be targeting the youngest first".

"There isn't a 'one size fits all' in terms of early years settings and arrangements," she said.

"That's certainly where we're having a mature and open and transparent discussion with professionals round the table as how we should most effectively target and deliver on the one-to-eight [ratio]."

The Foundation Phase is operating as a pilot project in some schools now and a roll out in schools across Wales is planned for September.

Ms Hutt has stated before that 107m of funding would be used for the project over three years.

But the directors of education in Wales believe only 41m of this is new money.

A total of 5m in extra funding has been made available, but local authorities and head teachers in Wales say much more will be needed.

They dispute figures over salary levels that will need to be paid to extra staff to teach the foundation phase.

Iwan Guy of the National Association of Head Teachers told the committee he was very worried there would be a legal requirement to provide foundation phase education when it had not been properly funded.

"We raised concerns as far back as five years ago... that this would be a very expensive initiative," he said.

He warned AMs that there was a risk of failing the children of Wales.

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