Liberal Democrats claim to be 'party of education' FORWALEs.
WELSH Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams has prompted a strong reaction from opponents after claiming the Lib Dems are the only party that will protect education spending, She said her priorities going into the Assembly election would be to cut class sizes, increase funding for the Welsh Pupil Premium and protect the education budget.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats have said they would establish an Infant Class Size Reduction Grant, with funding prioritised towards the largest classes. The party has also pledged to increase the Early Years Pupil Premium to reach PS1,000 per child on free school meals.
Ms Williams said: "We are the only party that has said we will protect education spending. If you value the importance of education then we are the party for you. We have listened to parents' concerns, which is why we will cut class sizes so that teachers have the time to teach every child to the best of their ability.
"The last five years have shown that we are the party of education - we're the only party to prioritise education in budget negotiations, which has delivered over PS282m for our schools through our Pupil Premium.
"We recognise that education is vitally important to ensure everyone has a fair start in life and so that we have a well-skilled economy. That is why we will ring-fence spending on education, both for schools and higher education."
Ms Williams said the PS100m extra promised by Welsh Labour was for schools alone whereas the Lib Dems were guanteeing to protect the education budget as a whole.
She was speaking at Adamsdown Primary School in Cardiff, an innercity school that has children who speak 27 different first languages.
Acting headteacher Emma Thomas spoke of the pressures staff were under because of the high turnover of pupils, many of whom could speak little or no English when they arrived at the school.
In a staff-room meeting, teachers told Ms Williams they were frustrated by having to deal with a succession of new initiatives and wanted stability.
Labour and Plaid Cymru took issue with the Lib Dem claim to have made the greatest financial commitment to education.
Welsh Labour Education Minister Huw Lewis said: "It's an 'F' for fail on the Lib Dem maths - they are not the only party committed to protecting education spending. Welsh Labour will build on the protection we put in place for the last five years and will increase funding for our schools by PS100m in the next Assembly.
"The truth is, you can't trust the Lib Dems when it comes to education.
It was their party in government with the Tories at Westminster that trebled tuition fees for English students in 2010, despite promising not to leaving them PS22,000 worseoff than students here in Wales. "They were also the party that scrapped the vital Education Maintenance Allowance that supported young people to stay in education. Again, Welsh Labour stopped this happening here in Wales.
"Politics is about credibility and at this election, and on this issue, the Liberal Democrats have none."
Plaid Cymru Shadow Education Minister Simon Thomas said: "Plaid Cymru will target educational spending at where it gets the most impact. The best way to equalise a child's life chances is to give them education from as early as possible.
"That's why Plaid Cymru will give universal access to education for all children from the age of three.
According to the experts, quality of teaching, and not classroom sizes, make the biggest difference to educational outcomes, so Plaid Cymru will reward teachers who develop expertise in their field through a pay boost of up to 10%.
"During the last Assembly, through budget agreements with the Labour Party, Plaid Cymru delivered PS40m extra for apprenticeships and PS35m for the pupil deprivation grant.
"This shows clearly where our priorities lie, in making more opportunities available for young people and improving their life chances. Plaid Cymru's plans for the next Assembly will free up resources to the classroom by cutting down on bureaucracy and red tape.
"This is a desperate attempt by the party responsible for cuts in the Welsh budget through their coalition with the Conservatives to make themselves relevant in this election."
Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams during a visit to Adamsdown Primary School in Cardiff yesterday