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Graham: Improvements needed in Welsh school buildings

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales.

"It is universally accepted that when young people are taught in well-designed buildings, with modern facilities and equipment, together with safe play areas for individual and team exercises, learning opportunities are enhanced, and, equally important, teachers can reach their full potential.

We recognise that there is general disbelief in the Assembly Government's claim that the current backlog in school repairs will be cleared by 2010. We note that throughout the United Kingdom this matter receives substantial funding.

Last month in Westminster, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills announced that schools across England will benefit from a share of more than £1 billion to improve classroom buildings and facilities for sport, science, technology, languages and music, special educational needs provision, as well as extended schools facilities.

The money was allocated as a targeted capital fund to allow LEAs to meet their most immediate local school building needs.

I hope today that the Minister can confirm how much of this money will be allocated to Wales, and whether it will be used to directly fund the improvement of schools facilities throughout Wales.

It appears that the UK Minister understands the requirement for additional funding to address this problem. Is the Assembly administration confident that all authorities in Wales receive significant Assembly support for the improvement of school buildings and associated facilities?

We know that, at the beginning of this academic year, schools in Wales faced a repairs backlog of more than £785 million, with some councils claiming that they can only afford to undertake essential safety work. We note that a degree of adaptations and additions were required to enable schools to comply with disability access laws.

We need to address this backlog, and ensure that our children are taught in well-designed buildings, with modern facilities and equipment. We hope that there will be no more headlines such as 'Single Burst Pipe Forces Secondary School with more than 750 Pupils to Close'.

There remains cross-party recognition of the educational benefits to pupils and teachers of well-designed schools. We need to be fully aware of the total costs of meeting this priority, to allow us to know how it can be funded.

This is why the Conservative group will support the Liberal Democrat motion today, in instructing the Minister to commission a full assessment of the school repair and maintenance backlog, and to bring that assessment to the Education and Lifelong Learning Committee by the end of this academic year. Information in that report on the incidence of vandalism would also be helpful.

There are several perceived disadvantages to smaller schools in urban and rural areas. Such schools are said to be too expensive. Is this because fixed costs appear to be higher, such as teacher salary costs per pupil?

It is said that teachers are isolated and lack opportunities for professional development; teachers do work in a different environment. What are the effects of classes that are vertically grouped, with mixed ages, as well as mixed ability?

It is said that pupils lack adequate peer group interaction, yet studies indicate that children in small schools develop friendship patterns that are more extensive in terms of age and gender.

It is said that such schools are unable to deliver an appropriate curriculum, and therefore the pupils' educational performance is lower than that of their peers in larger schools.

However, small schools are more innovative, with more examples of experimentation, coupled with strong curriculum planning and organisation, and greater ease in monitoring pupils, because all the teachers know the pupils. We need to address all these issues and consult widely to establish which of these factors enhance or hinder the ability of all our children to realise their potential in full.

The local school is more than bricks and mortar; in many areas it is the heart of the community. The local school is often the focal point of a community development plan, integral to attracting new people to the area and to trying to attain sustainability.

If we recognise this fact, we need to make use of funding from a wider budget than that directed simply at education. Other Assembly portfolios can benefit directly from maintaining smaller schools within developing communities, and there is a probability that the achievement of many of their long-term aims may be dependent upon having a school at the heart of the community.

One of the barriers to wealth creation in Britain today is the fact that we are not doing enough to nurture the skills and talent of our people. The purpose of education is to bring out people's potential; at its highest level, it is both a spiritual and intellectual adventure, but it has economic consequences.

So much potential is wasted by the Government here and in Westminster. There is a devastating lack of vigour in primary and secondary education, and we have an examination system in which universities and employers have less and less confidence.

There is a complete absence, after eight years, of any kind of coherent strategy for vocational education. Universities are held back by a centralised bureaucracy that tells them how much they can spend, what they should teach, and now, even, whom they should admit. Our universities need more resources and less Government action and I would welcome the Minister's assurance on that today."

"Mae pawb yn derbyn pan gaiff pobl ifanc eu dysgu mewn adeiladau sydd wedi eu dylunio'n dda, gyda chyfleusterau a chyfarpar modern, ynghyd â llefydd chwarae saff ar gyfer ymarferion i unigolion a thimau, bod y cyfleoedd dysgu'n well, ac, i'r un graddau, gall yr athrawon gyrraedd eu potensial yn llawn.

Yr ydym yn cydnabod bod diffyg cred yn honiad Llywodraeth y Cynulliad y bydd yr ôl-groniad yn atgyweiriadau'r ysgolion wedi ei glirio erbyn 2010. Nodwn fod y mater hwn yn cael cyllid sylweddol ar draws y Deyrnas Unedig.

Y mis diwethaf yn San Steffan, cyhoeddodd yr Ysgrifennydd Gwladol dros Addysg a Sgiliau y bydd ysgolion Lloegr yn elwa o gyfran o ragor na £1 biliwn i wella adeiladau ystafelloedd dosbarth a chyfleusterau chwaraeon, gwyddoniaeth, technoleg, ieithoedd a cherddoriaeth, y ddarpariaeth anghenion addysg arbennig, ynghyd â chyfleusterau estynedig i'r ysgolion.

Dyrannwyd yr arian ar ffurf cronfa gyfalaf sydd wedi ei thargedu i ganiatáu i awdurdodau addysg lleol gyflawni eu hanghenion mwyaf uniongyrchol o ran adeiladau eu hysgolion lleol.

Gobeithiaf heddiw y gall y Gweinidog gadarnhau faint o'r arian hwn a gaiff ei ddyrannu i Gymru, ac a fydd yn cael ei ddefnyddio'n uniongyrchol i wella cyfleusterau'r ysgolion ar draws Cymru.

Ymddengys fod Gweinidog y Deyrnas Unedig yn deall yr angen am gyllid ychwanegol i unioni'r broblem hon. A yw gweinyddiaeth y Cynulliad yn hyderus bod pob awdurdod yng Nghymru yn cael cefnogaeth sylweddol gan y Cynulliad ar gyfer gwella adeiladau'r ysgolion a'r cyfleusterau cysylltiedig?

Gwyddom, ar ddechrau'r flwyddyn academaidd hon, fod ysgolion Cymru'n wynebu ôl-groniad atgyweiriadau o ragor na £785 miliwn, a bod rhai cynghorau'n honni na allant fforddio gwneud ond gwaith diogelwch hanfodol. Nodwn fod angen peth gwaith addasu ac ychwanegu i alluogi ysgolion i gydymffurfio â'r cyfreithiau sy'n ymwneud â mynediad i'r anabl.

Rhaid inni roi sylw i'r ôl-groniad hwn, a sicrhau y caiff ein plant eu dysgu mewn adeiladau sydd wedi eu dylunio'n dda, gyda chyfleusterau a chyfarpar modern. Gobeithiwn na welwn ni benawdau megis 'Un Bibell yn Torri gan Orfodi Ysgol Uwchradd sydd â rhagor na 750 o Ddisgyblion i gau'.

Mae'r pleidiau oll yn cydnabod bod manteision addysgol i ddisgyblion ac athrawon mewn ysgolion sydd wedi eu dylunio'n dda. Mae angen inni fod yn gwbl ymwybodol o'r holl gostau o gyflawni'r flaenoriaeth hon, fel y medrwn wybod sut y gellir ei chyllido.

Dyna pam y bydd grwp y Ceidwadwyr yn cefnogi cynnig y Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol heddiw, gan gyfarwyddo'r Gweinidog i gomisiynu asesiad llawn o ôl-groniad atgyweiriadau a chynnal a chadw'r ysgolion, a dod â'r asesiad hwnnw ger bron y Pwyllgor Addysg a Dysgu Gydol Oes erbyn diwedd y flwyddyn academaidd hon.

Byddai'n ddefnyddiol petai'r adroddiad hwnnw'n cynnwys gwybodaeth am gyfraddau fandaliaeth hefyd.

Mae tybiaeth bod nifer o anfanteision i ysgolion bach mewn ardaloedd trefol a gwledig. Dywedir bod ysgolion o'r fath yn rhy ddrud. A yw hyn oherwydd bod y costau sefydlog i'w gweld yn uwch, megis costau cyflogau'r athrawon fesul disgybl? Dywedir bod yr athrawon yn ynysig ac nad oes ganddynt gyfleoedd o ran datblygiad proffesiynol; mae'r athrawon yn gweithio mewn amgylchedd gwahanol.

Beth yw effeithiau dosbarthiadau sydd wedi eu grwpio'n fertigol, a'r oedrannau'n gymysg, ynghyd â gallu cymysg? Dywedir na chaiff disgyblion ddigon o gyfle i ymwneud â chyfoedion, ond dengys astudiaethau fod plant mewn ysgolion bach yn datblygu patrymau cyfeillgarwch mwy helaeth o ran oed a rhyw.

Dywedir na all ysgolion o'r fath ddarparu cwricwlwm priodol, a bod perfformiad addysgol y disgyblion felly'n is nag eiddo eu cyfoedion mewn ysgolion mwy o faint. Fodd bynnag, mae ysgolion bach yn fwy arloesol, ac mae ynddynt fwy o enghreifftiau o arbrofi, ac mae'r cwricwlwm wedi ei gynllunio a'i drefnu'n gadarn, ac mae'n haws monitro'r plant, am fod pob un o'r athrawon yn adnabod y disgyblion. Mae angen inni roi sylw i'r materion hyn oll ac ymgynghori'n helaeth i bennu pa rai o'r ffactorau hyn sy'n gwella neu'n rhwystro gallu pob un o'n plant i gyflawni eu potensial yn llawn.

Mae'r ysgol leol yn fwy na brics a morter yn unig; mewn nifer o ardaloedd hi yw calon y gymuned. Yn aml yr ysgol leol yw canolbwynt cynllun datblygu'r gymuned, ac mae'n hanfodol o ran denu pobl newydd i'r ardal a cheisio ymgyrraedd at gynaliadwyedd.

O gydnabod y ffaith hon, bydd angen inni fedru defnyddio cyllid o gyllideb ehangach na'r un a gyfeirir at addysg yn unig. Gallai portffolios eraill y Cynulliad elwa'n uniongyrchol o gynnal yr ysgolion llai mewn cymunedau sy'n datblygu, ac mae'n debygol bod cyflawni llawer o'u nodau hirdymor yn dibynnu ar fodolaeth ysgol yng nghalon y gymuned.

Un rhwystr i ffyniant ym Mhrydain heddiw yw'r ffaith nad ydym yn gwneud digon i feithrin sgiliau a thalent ein pobl. Pwrpas addysg yw cyflawni potensial ein pobl; ar y lefel uchaf un, y mae'n antur ysbrydol a deallusol, ond mae iddi ganlyniadau economaidd.

Mae'r Llywodraeth hon a Llywodraeth San Steffan yn gwastraffu cymaint o botensial. Mae diffyg egni aruthrol mewn addysg gynradd ac uwchradd, ac mae gennym system arholi y mae hyder y prifysgolion a'r cyflogwyr ynddi'n lleihau'n feunyddiol. Ar ôl wyth mlynedd nid oes strategaeth gydlynol ar gyfer addysg alwedigaethol.

Caiff y prifysgolion eu rhwystro gan fiwrocratiaeth ganolog sy'n dweud wrthynt faint y cânt ei wario, yr hyn y dylent ei ddysgu, ac yn awr, hyd yn oed, pwy y dylent eu derbyn. Mae angen rhagor o adnoddau ar ein prifysgolion a llai o weithredu gan y Llywodraeth a hoffwn gael sicrwydd gan y Gweinidog am hynny heddiw."

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