North Wales Assembly Member Mark Isherwood grilled the First Minister this week over his Government’s decision to cut a £700,000 grant which helps thousands of poorer families buy school uniforms in Wales.
Speaking in the Assembly Chamber, Mr Isherwood (pictured) blasted the plans and urged the First Minister to protect the funding.
Following fierce criticism of the proposal, Carwyn Jones has said the Welsh Government is “looking to introduce an improved grant that suits families' needs better”, but Mr Isherwood said parents need assurances that they will still receive the funding.
Speaking in the Assembly Chamber, he said: “After this announcement was made, the Welsh Government said that the cost of uniforms had reduced. The Bevan Foundation called this a mealy-mouthed justification for a cut that will save a small sum.
“A headteacher in Bangor said uniform is a way of avoiding social stigma because pupils all look the same. He blasted what he called the ‘bonfire of the grants’ affecting some of the most vulnerable school children.
“A Conservative Bridgend Councillor described the move as heartless and said it would hit the poorest families the hardest. You were just asked clearly whether you would protect the funding, so can I ask you, yes or no, even if you won't answer whether you'll protect the funding, will all year 7 pupils in receipt of free school meals still be eligible for a school uniform grant?”
The First Minister replied: “What we're looking to do is to do that and beyond. Our commitment to the most disadvantaged pupils is there for all to see. We've increased it to £93.7 million through the PDG (Pupil Development Grant) spend. We are looking at not just school uniform items, but possibly the cost of school trips, stationery, extra curricular activities, school photographs, cost of equipment or resources”.
Mr Isherwood added: “This is more uncertainty than ‘u-turn’ by a Welsh Government caught on the hop and a First Minister seeking to retrieve believability from blunder. In referring instead to his Government’s Pupil Development Grant, which is supposed to tackle the impact of disadvantage on educational outcomes, he omitted to mention the statement by education watchdog Estyn that using the Pupil Development Grant to support disadvantaged pupils was ‘rarely a central aspect’ of schools’ plans."