Assembly debate on school funding
This afternoon the National Assembly debated the report following our Committee Inquiry on School Funding in Wales. You can read the report here. Check against the record, but here is my contribution:
Can I start by thanking those who participated in the inquiry, and I thank the Welsh Government for their positive response to our recommendations. Inevitably, there will be some overlap with the contribution of some others.
But for me this inquiry clearly showed that the issue of school funding is not as straight forwards as some would like to suggest.
Even if we start from the premise that we all accept – and we do – that schools need more money, there is certainly no straightforward answer to the simple question – “how much should that be?”. As the Minister said in her response,
“this is hugely complex, multi-layered and dependent on many factors”.
I therefore think that recommendation one of the report is very much framed to provide evidence to help answer that question – and to provide a firmer basis for the discussion about school and education funding in Wales. It is what we did around NHS funding through the Nuffield report, and I think a similar study for education can only be helpful.
During the inquiry, I felt there was considerable misunderstanding about the education and schools system in Wales. Or at least I felt that people were using the system to present layers of mystery – based on complexity.
This included arguments over gross expenditure, per pupil expenditure and the purpose of indicator based assessments.
Some of those debates are very technical – and we heard conflicting arguments as to the importance of data presented.
So I welcome the agreement of the Welsh Government to try and provide a clearer understanding, and greater consistency, in the statistical gathering and reporting.
Now, as we know there are at least four levels of financial decisions in the system
1. UK funding to Wales – and I must agree with my colleague, Hefin David, that despite was Suzy Davies said, we know that this is set against the backdrop of a decade of Tory cuts to Wales,
So for every Welsh Conservative voice in this debate asking for more money for schools – reflect on the manifestos you stood on – and the spending cuts you have imposed on wales.
(darren millar made an intervention –
Dawn Bowden responded:
“I am fed up of standing here listening to Conservative members week after week calling on more spending on public services when they have been responsible for 10 years of austerity. I will take no lessons from them on spending on our services’
2. Welsh government budget decisions including the allocation to local authorities – and the funding directed to delivering national education priorities.
3.local authorities decision on their local priorities – which includes education / school spending, and the local schools funding formula, and finally
4. priorities set by local school leadership for the individual needs within schools.
So, as we know, the way our education system works and in Wales is through:
- national policy and some national grants, like pupil development grant, – a policy which helps to overcome disadvantage,
- regional consortia to help challenge and raise standards – and also shared services that make it more cost effective for local authorities and schools,
- local authority priorities which includes the formula for school spending.
This is all captured nicely in the diagram on page 22 of the report. I commend it to you – as part of understanding of this particular inquiry. it neatly shows us all how money flows around the system.
But that fact leads me to my next point which is that the funding allocated by Welsh Government, and local authorities, needs to support the whole of that education and schools system.
And in times of financial restraints, the reality is that in order to increase funding in any particular part of that system, then decisions are required on who gets more and, therefore, who gets less. – those can be both absolute, and relative, decisions.
A key challenge for the whole system is to respond to the needs in our communities.
So it is right that recommendation two of the report stresses the need for preventative spending and I link that with recommendation four about the importance of a needs-based approach to the allocation of funding.
For me, that includes a high priority on the need to focus on tackling the impact of poverty on the prospects, and the achievements, of our children.
But I also want to echo what Lynne Neagle said about the scale of the education agenda we are currently pursuing in Wales. As we’ve heard, on the near horizon are:
- a new curriculum for Wales,
- the transition to the additional learning needs system,
- encouraging a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing,
- along with the support that teachers and support staff need to deliver all this change.
So education and school funding – within a framework of preventative spending – is a major funding issue for Welsh Government in the decade ahead.
And as a result:
I do hope we are seeing some turn around after years of Tory cuts – so that we can start to improve the funding situation for local authorities, and for schools.
and that the Welsh Government and local authorities are able to deliver an improved understanding on the funding needs of our schools,
but we must also recognise that – even if councils get more money – how much of that money reaches schools, still depends on the priorities of each local council.
finally we should also remember that the results achieved in our schools are not solely linked to the amount of money received.
There is a lot of evidence to show that, even in schools spending the highest sums of money, the attainment levels are often lower than in some schools spending less, and I’m not sure that we got to the bottom of why that is.
And while I agree with recommendation 21, which reminds us that the Welsh Government need to “ensure the money is finding its way to the front line for the purposes intended”, – the debate about school funding should not distract us from the discussion around raising performance – in which school funding is only one factor.