What does it cost to educate a child in Wales – Episode 2

Martin Price argues the current Welsh Government funding formula for schools is inequitable.

Dr Martin Price is Chair of the Vale of Glamorgan School Governors Association, Vice Chair of Governors at St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School, Barry and Governor at St Illtyd’s Catholic High School in Cardiff. He is a partner in Consultancy.coop LLP which provides services to charities and social enterprises in Wales.

Over two years ago I wrote a piece on the inequity of funding of schools in Wales with particular reference to the Vale of Glamorgan, which has been twenty-second out of twenty two on its expenditure per pupil per annum for the past twenty years.  At that point, the gap between top and bottom was 22 per cent.  Now it is 27 per cent.

The Council Politicians, Officers, Headteachers and Governors have gone public with letters to all parents in a campaign aimed at getting Welsh Government to reveal the murky mechanics of how local authority funds for education are allocated between local authorities.  

This dramatic graph published by Welsh Government shows the inequity very effectively.  The school I am a Governor of would have half a million pounds more every year if it were located four miles away in Cardiff

Source: Welsh Government: Local Authority Budgeted Expenditure on Schools  SB 32/2017

What the graph does not show is that the Vale has allocated £3 million more than Welsh Government has allocated to it under their funding formula.  Several of the local authorities higher up the spending table are actually spending less than Welsh Government say they should but are still outspending the Vale on a per pupil per annum basis.

The reasons for this are buried in the formula Welsh Government use to allocate funds between authorities.  If you ask them the basis, you will be referred to a document called the Green Book, which is available for you to download.  This gives you the breakdown of the numbers under various headings, but not the calculations behind them.   A cynic would say that this is transparency in name only.  The formula has been tinkered with, but not been comprehensively reviewed since 2001.

There is talk of complicated regression models underlying the figures.  As a Chartered Statistician, I recognise a smokescreen when I see one.

What can be gleaned from the Green Book are some very obvious anomalies.  For example, some parts are based on the 1991 census data.  Perhaps it has passed Welsh Government by that there were censuses in 2001 and 2011, and that the make-up and location of the Welsh population has changed over twenty-seven years.

The Vale of Glamorgan Education Budget Forum has worked with the Council to produce and publicise the methods by which it allocates funds to individual schools.  There has been a healthy debate, winners and losers, but everyone knows where they stand.   

It is time for Welsh Government to come clean and demonstrate that its funding formula is fair and defensible, regularly reviewed and fit for purpose.  It would be a good start if they made public how they do it now.

Meanwhile, children in the Vale struggle on with larger classes  and fewer textbooks.

All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

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