School funding in Wales

Today our committee report on school funding in Wales is published. You can read a copy here.

Transparency

I found this a very informative piece of scrutiny work and as a committee (Children, Young People and Education) we have now made a series of recommendations to the Welsh Government about changes that we believe could help address some of the concerns we heard, especially around transparency, the distribution and allocation of education and school funding.

Effective spending

However the report is also very clear that the money which is invested in schools and education needs to be spent effectively. There is more to this debate than just the level of funding that reaches any particular school. As our Chair Lynne Neagle AM states:

“The system for funding schools is hugely complex, multi-layered and dependent on many factors. While it would have been easy for us as a Committee to simply recommend additional funding for education and for schools, we absolutely believe that increasing the level of funding alone is not the solution. The funding must also be used effectively”.

Cost of education

One of our principal recommendations is that action is taken to better understand the cost of educating a child in school and that should underpin decisions on how much money is required to fund schools sufficiently .

Additional factors like deprivation and sparsity should be added to the base cost. This approach would also evidence a case for school funding within the overall priorities that underpin any budget process.

Complex process

As the report shows the funding of schools is a complex process. Many of the decisions are shaped by historical trends rather than a needs-based approach. We make also recommendations on how school reserves and deficits should be addressed.

  • How much money is available to the Welsh Government as a whole (largely determined by Westminster)
  • How the Welsh Government divides up its resources and how much it gives to local government as a whole
  • How the Welsh Government divides the local government settlement between each authority;
  • Because the LG settlement is unhypothecated, how much priority each local authority gives to education, and specifically school budgets, amidst funding pressures on other service areas;
  • The extent to which local authorities delegate education funding to schools themselves and how much they retain for centrally provided services;
  • How local authorities divide their funding for schools between schools (they do this using their own formula within the parameters of the School Funding Regulations (Wales) 2010).

I believe there is a shared responsibility around this.

The overall sum put in to the local government settlement is important, but local authorities can also make decisions about local spending through council tax and local service priorities.

However in the report we do note that:

“There has been an overwhelming consensus in the evidence provided during this inquiry that there are insufficient resources being made available to schools. Most stakeholders feel that the primary problem is with the overall size of the pot, rather than how it is divided up. However, concerns have also been raised by a number of stakeholders regarding how the overall quantum is distributed, and these are covered in specific sections in the report”.

Next steps

As always the report will be considered by the Welsh Government and a response will be published in due course, and a debate will be held in the Senedd later this year.

 

My conclusion

The chair of our chair writes:

“If a funding crisis within the education system, and within our schools, is to be avoided, it is vital that those across the sector and in local and national government, urgently work together and deliver for our children and young people. We must ensure that school funding is sufficient, but is also managed effectively and consistently”.

However I take the view that there is no ‘quick fix’ to the issues around funding in schools. Neither is there a clear consensus in Welsh local government about the best way forwards.

The overall level of funding is an important consideration and, like many other areas of public service, we must hope for an end to Tory cuts (austerity) in the near future so the real term cuts in funding can be reversed.

I hope that this committee report helps people reach a clearer understanding about the many issues that are involved with the debate around school funding.

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