What does it cost to educate a child in Wales?

Martin Price explores the variation in funding for schools.

As part of the Welsh Budget announcement, Huw Lewis, the Minister for Education announced of a 1% commitment to extra spending on education, which “means that schools in Wales will benefit from almost £40m extra in the next year, with the majority being allocated through local authorities for the delivery of core schools provision.”  Of course, with various inflationary effects and the impact of incremental salary drift and the changes to employers National Insurance contributions this represents a real cut in funding, variously estimated at 3 or 4%.

Comparisons with England are not helpful.  Welsh Government statisticians gave up the attempt to compare in 2012, when the Academy programme got into full swing.  The consensus is that more money is spent there, but whether that leads to better educational outcomes overall is impossible to tell.

However, there is a wide variation in funding for schools in Wales, because although there are National pay scales and terms of conditions for staff, a National Curriculum and a National inspection framework, we have Local determination of funding.

The average expenditure per pupil per annum for the current financial year in Wales is £5,526, but this masks a huge variation depending on where the child has the fortune or misfortune to live. This chart shows the variation of that expenditure per pupil per annum in each local authority area in Wales.











This means that a child in Ceredigion gets £800 more than the average and a child in the Vale of Glamorgan more than £400 less.  The percentage variation is a difference of 22% – Ceredigion 14% more, Vale of Glamorgan 8% less than the average.

As a Governor of a school in the Vale, I have a particular interest here.  For St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School in Barry, which has about 800 pupils, its budget would be increased by £313,600 per annum if it were moved three miles away into Cardiff.  That means an extra ten teachers.  If it went to the Welsh average, it would have even more – £354,400.  If it were in Ceredigion it would have a whopping £636,800 more each year.

The Vale of Glamorgan has been 22nd out of 22 for the last twenty years.

How has this happened? 

Unsurprisingly, Vale of Glamorgan Heads and Chairs of Government have been exercised over this issue for years.  Every year, we meet the Leader of the Council and Senior Officers to plead our case for more money.   This is a depressing meeting, but it is not rancorous, because the Vale of Glamorgan Council, as it has for the past three years, spends more money on Education than the Welsh Government recommends that it should.  It allocates more than the Indicator Based Assessment (IBA).  The Vale has also traditionally allocated more money to schools directly and less to central administration. The issue is about the size of the cake, not how it is distributed.  The School, the officers and the Councillors are all on the same side.

The reasons seem to be locked in the arcane way in which the Welsh Government allocates its money to local authorities for all the activities they have to do.  It is hidden in plain view in a succession of Bills and Measures and was originally designed to allow for deprivation, rurality, urbanisation, affluence, Welsh language demography and so on.  It is all incorporated in what I imagine is a humungous spreadsheet in Cathays Park which is so complex that no-one quite knows how it actually works, and which it is dangerous to tinker with too much in case it collapses under its own weight.

Of course the Vale could increase Council Tax to raise more funds, but that is relatively small in comparison to the Welsh Government money and is effectively capped by Welsh Government and politically sensitive when elections are in the offing.  Because council tax was frozen for a period twenty years ago by short-sighted politicians, even adding 4 or 5% a year to Council Tax means the Vale can never catch up.

Then there is the Pupil Deprivation Grant which rightly goes to schools based on deprivation.  However, this is allocated on the number of pupils getting free school meals – a proxy for poverty which takes no account of the working poor.  A family on Tax Credits is not eligible for free school meals. So the Vale is further penalised for being apparently wealthy because it has fewer free school meals pupils.

Why does this matter? 

I have looked at the Vale in some detail because I know it quite well, but the inequity applies throughout Wales.  Is a 22% variation really defensible?

The interesting thing about the table above is that expenditure appears to have little or no impact on outcomes.  Of course Ceredigion gets what it pays for.  It is the only Local authority graded Excellent by Estyn.  However, second place Blaenau Gwent has been is Special Measures for some years.

Educational results at all levels bear no relation to funding.  The Vale spends least, but is in the top three or four for most measures at all levels from Foundation Phase to A-level performance.

You could argue that the Vale of Glamorgan is actually the most efficient education system in Wales.  It produces some of the best results at all levels with fewer resources.  It is managed well at school level with no large deficits or unused reserves, unlike some schools in the rest of Wales.  Everybody else is clearly wasting money.

The reality is that schools in the Vale have fewer teachers and pay them less.  There are fewer posts of responsibility, teachers do more for less.   Buildings are in poorer condition, except where the Welsh Government’s 21st Century Schools investment has started to have an effect.  IT systems are older.  Books are shared.  Parents are expected to contribute more.

Of course the Vale is one of the most prosperous areas in Wales and you could argue that resources should be spent elsewhere where the need is greater.  I suggest you tell that to the children of the Gibbonsdown Estate or Castleland in Barry who deserve better than this.

What should it cost to education a child in Wales? 

No-one has ever worked it out.

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 Chair of Governors 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.

13 thoughts on “What does it cost to educate a child in Wales?

  1. A subject close to my heart as the school where I am a governor moves towards compulsory redundancies after a period of “losing” and not replacing teachers. This year our allocation of funding per pupil has gone down, the school 300 yards away has had an increase.

    Because I “watch” various LA’s funding formulae I am fascinated by how each area of Wales has allocated their funds, I’ll give you a taste of the “headings” for funding in Cardiff:-

    AWPU (1)
    SRB’s (2)
    SEN Formula – CNE (3)
    SEN Formula – Other (4)
    SEN Formula – Lump Sum (5)
    SPLD (6)
    Long Term Supply – PTR (7)
    Performance Management – PTR (8)
    Teachers Workload Agreement – PTR (9)
    Key Stage 2 (10)
    Special Grant Allocation (11)
    Pupil Mobility (12)
    Welsh Medium – Pupil No (13)
    Splite Site – Per Pupil (14)
    DCELLS (15)
    Repairs & Maintenance (17)
    Cleaning (18)
    Energy (19)
    Grounds Maintenance (20)
    Rates (21)
    No / little playing fields (22)
    Flying Start Initiative Hotel Costs (23)
    Split Site – Per School (25)
    Small Schools Lump Sum (26)
    Welsh Medium – Lump Sum (27)
    Welsh Medium – Late Arrival Unit (28)
    Curriculum Protection (29)
    Infant Class – Lump Sum (30)
    Protection for Schools with Falling Pupil No’s (31)
    Protection for schools amalgamating (32)
    Teachers Threshold (33)
    Protected Salaries – Lump Sum (34)
    Performance Management – Lump Sum (35)
    Teachers Workload Agreement – Lump Sum (36)
    PSS Teams (37)
    Stage 3/4 Behaviour (38)
    Breakfast Initiative (39)
    Free School Meals (40)
    Delegated Council Services (41)
    Music Development Fund (42)
    Education Attendance Officers (43)

    Do you get it? No, I thought not. Each LA has different priorities and different histories. In the case of Cardiff I once Asked them why they allocated extra money (£21,000) in Welsh Medium supplement to a school with 8 pupils. I also asked why they were allocating an extra £35,000 because the teacher (who had an assistant) had to act as Headteacher when this micro school actually shared a Head with another school. In all each of those pupils was allocated just short of £20,000 per annum.

    The answer was that it was a historic anomaly inherited from a previous LA. Two year of letter writing got some change but Cardiff still gives nearly £700,000 in extra cash to affluent Welsh medium schools. Vale of Glamorgan gives £4,136 in Welsh medium supplement to each of its schools (2013) to pay for photocopying and translation. Denbighshire shares out nearly £1 million in Welsh medium specific funding.

    Do Cardiff Welsh medium schools do better than VoG Welsh medium schools? Not by my reckoning.

  2. “This means that a child in Ceredigion gets £800 more than the average and a child in the Vale of Glamorgan more than £400 less.”

    I’m not sure the child gets any more or less at the end of the day. I would imagine that the high costs of educating children in Ceredeigion is because it is a very large county with a low population, which means that there are so many villages in rural locations that require their own schools. They’re currently closing many primary schools in the area where I live in order to build a 3-19 Super School that will no doubt save money in the long run.

  3. Normally school results follow closely the socio-economic characteristics of the catchment area. If Welsh school results do not correlate closely with catchment area it suggests the funding formula is compensating to some extent for the socio-economic differences. The compensation is evidently incomplete since Blaenau Gwent remains near the bottom despite getting more money. How much compensation does Martin Price think is appropriate? On what basis does he conclude that 22 per cent is too big a variation? Is the funding formula public? Evidently it should be.

  4. A good article and an issue worth highlighting but it’s missing another important issue which is disparity between funds allocated by LEA’s to Welsh Medium (WM) / English Medium (EM) schools.

    In most cases WM schools receive considerably more moneys per pupil than the EM schools and this trend continues whilst ignoring the evidence that WM education is inferior to EM education when compared like for like and using Welsh Government’s statistics.

    Also, it’s now evident that children from non-Welsh speaking homes are damaged academically if they are educated in WM schools.

    Is this fair, sustainable or reasonable? In my view time for Freedom of Choice where parents must have the sole right to chose WM or EM education for their children. Leaving matters as they are now is nothing other than a blatant form of Social Engineering that will never work and will inflict even more damage on our children!

  5. Mr Protic you make me laugh, you’re like a dog with a bone and you never allow the facts to get in the way of making a point. In this case the facts simply don’t stack-up. The funding formulas are incredibly complex and very hard to make much sense of them, but in general old buildings, with less pupils and high levels of pupils on FSM or special needs will tend to get higher funding per pupil. Also if they fail, then they get more money to play with. If there are instances of WM schools getting above average funding, it’s probably in places where they have been given rejected old buildings to work out of, but I don’t actually know of places where WM schools get more funds per pupil than an English medium equivalent.

    I live in a village, with 35% welsh speakers and a similar number in the neighbouring village and both villages have English medium primary schools and one of them has been in and out of special measures in the last few years.

    In fact you’ll be very pleased to hear that these historically Welsh speaking villages are now very much English speaking and the schools (or lack of WM education) has probably contributed very nicely to the decline of the language over the last thirty years or so. Has this improved school attainment levels and are the kids now cleverer than before – well many of them can now speak one less language, which I suppose you would view as a win..

    Incidentally the neaarest WM primary gets the lowest funding per pupil in the LA and its an old building, but despite the limited resources still manages to get a green traffiic light rating. The only WM secondary school in the LA – historically one of the best in Wales also gets the lowest funding per pupil in the LA for a secondary school.

    I don’t know how the funding is calculated, but where I am you will no doubt be delighted to hear that there is absolutely no preference whatsoever in favour of funding for WM schools and if you looked simplistically at the figures you would see that it is probably very much the opposite.

  6. AledF Don’t have time to deal with hearsay – Disclose the LEA you are referring too and only then we can have a constructive debate. For my part I only deal with the facts and stand by my earlier statement!

  7. Just to add some context to the debate on WM/EM funding. There is not a single rule that says WM schools will get more money per pupil and nor is it true that in every LA WM schools get preferential treatment.

    The only way that I could analyse what happens in each LA was to ask “how much money would each of your WM schools get if they were designated EM?” Some LA’s answered “exactly the same; we do not pay a Welsh medium weighting or supplement.” Some like VoG pay a modest amount that can have no material difference and some share out between £500,000 and £1 million in Welsh medium weighting or supplement or additional overheads costs. So Jacques, not quite true. Aled not quite true either and this is the whole point of the article. The WG does allow each LA to delegate a percentage of money under a range of headings and sometimes the government itself allocates extra funding under separate headings…the pupil deprivation grant and funding for schools with a number of ethnic minority pupils as well as sixth form funding specifically for schools who deliver A levels through Welsh are examples.

    Frankly It’s a mess but it is true that extra funding is rarely the reason for good performance in a school and lack of funding rarely an excuse for bad performance.

  8. For my part I only deal with the facts

    Please instead of parroting your anti-Welsh rhetoric provide some facts that Welsh Medium education is so much worse for everyone

  9. @ J Protic

    “…it’s now evident that children from non-Welsh speaking homes are damaged academically if they are educated in WM schools.”

    Which report or academic paper are you referring to?

  10. R Bryn Jones – Plenty of info on the IWA pages alone and all from Welsh Government’s data (FOI) which anyone can analyse but Welsh Media including Wesh academia are doing a huge disservice to Welsh people by shutting down debate and censoring anything that exposes failure of imposed Welsh Medium Education, but some things can’t be hidden:

    Try these for starters: http://wales.gov.uk/about/foi/responses/dl2014/sept14/atisn8775/?lang=en

    That shows disadvantage by language at home amongst pupils assessed in Welsh KS2 2014.


    2013 GCSE stats by medium of school and various subjects/measures. Apply excel protocols to produce your own comparison graphs.

    Also See J. Jones’ comment on: http://www.clickonwales.org/2015/09/education-a-report-card/#comments

  11. J.Jones

    I was simply trying to refute the claim by Mr Protic that WM schools get some sort of preferential treatment and nothing I said was factually inaccurate. I agree with your feedback that there is no evidence of any difference at all between WM and EM funding across the board and wanted to illustrate the point, by stating that in my LEA as it happens, the lowest funding per pupil in primary and secondary does go to two WM schools. That is a fact, but I’m not using that fact to state that WM education is being disfavoured over EM – it is probably an anachronism of the bizarre funding calculations, but what it does illustrate is that there is certainly no preferential treatment given to WM education in my particular LEA.

    Mr Protic wanted me to say which LEA I was referring to and I’m happy to do that, but I’m not having a go at the LEA and I didn’t want the debate to single out individual schools etc, but in my LEA, which is NPT, it is a fact that the schools in the primary and secondary sector which happen to have the lowest funding per pupil are both WM schools and despite that neither of these schools are bad schools by any stretch of the imagination. Neither is NPT an example of a bad authority for education, quite the opposite in fact.

    It would be fair to say that NPT is doing a lot of things very well and has stand out schools across the board, although inevitably there will always be instances of bad schools as well, but I will state my opinion that NPT is not as ambitious as I “personally” would like in terms of WM education. Also as an authority, which has supervision of the upper Swansea Valley then I think it should be. This is an atypical authority where a lot of welsh speaking parents send their children to EM primary and secondary schools, simply because the nearest or best local schools happens to be EM – a lot of welsh speaking households in the villages around Pontardawe and Ystalyfera send their children to EM primaries or secondaries like Cwmtawe, which is EM, simply because it is an excellent school located right in the centre of Pontardawe.

    There is also the general perception that Ystalyfera has been allowed to be run down for many years, by squeezing it’s funding while plans were being developed for the reorganisation of the WM capacity in the LEA. So as an example of an LEA, I think NPT does a good job and has excellent secondary schools – Dwr-y-felin, Cadoxton, Ystalyfera and Cwmtawe are stand out schools. The LEA is trying to satisfy demand for WM education, by reorganising capacity in the North and south of the authority and these plans are actually live, with building work ongoing etc, but if it was genuinely ambitious for WM education then rather than consolidation and reorganisation, without actually increasing capacity, then it would be looking to expansion of provision. There would be no local opposition to doing this and in many areas this would be much more in tune with the local communities and the linguistic sensibilities of these areas.

    A new housing development on the outskirts of Pontardawe, lists in its marketing literature three EM primary schools and Cwmtawe, with absolutely no mention of Ystalyfera or any WM primaries, which inevitably will guide parents who move to the area to only consider EM options and distort the linguistic balance of the area even further. This mirrors what has already happened in places like Godre Graig on the outskirts of Ystalyfera, where the language has virtually disappeared in a very short period of time.

    Ultimately and probably in a relatively short period of time, places like the upper Swansea Valley will become deserts of Welsh speaking and they don’t have to be, because in many areas currently there is still a majority of people who have some skills in Welsh and fluent welsh speakers, where Welsh is the language of the home are typically over 30% in many of the villages. There isn’t an apathy towards the language from people who speak it, far from it, but circumstances and making the choice of WM education the least convenient of the two options are dictating the future direction. Is allowing this decline to happen going to benefit the valley for future generations – I personally don’t see how it is, but I certainly think it helps to change the identity of the valley and in my mind that creates uncertainties around how the communities will develop in the future.

    So Mr Protic, I think that your ambitions will come to fruit in areas such as these, but I don’t happen to agree that this is a good thing. There is a significant difference of personal opinions here I suppose and maybe you would like to open a festival in the Swansea valley one day celebrating the day that everyone became an English speaking monoglot. I also believe that the future of the language is highly dependent on the actions of the LEA (and they can’t hide from that), both in planning and education provision – decisions that are made by the LEA in these areas will ultimately make or help to reinforce the break of the language. I do think that the language will be allowed to die in this area, because ultimately it is not going to be a vote loser either way – unlike the size of the wheelie bins and I guess maybe that’s what it all boils down to at the end of the day. Sad really that a piece of grey plastic with wheels is of much more importance politically than a key element that has helped to encompass the soul of many communities for so long. We are constantly striving to become a lot less than we ever were and somehow we always manage to call it progress?

  12. J Jones,

    Just a quick point of correction – I didn’t mean to distort your words. You did mention that some authorities may allocate additional more funds for WM education, particularly funding for sixth forms through the medium of Welsh, so I do accept that it could very well be wrong for me to assert that there may not be any preference shown anywhere in Wales. Personally I don’t see that as a problem, but I know that in some areas and to some people that may be contentious.

    I also think that there is another side to school funding that hardly ever gets publicised, which is the parental and community support for the schools. There is a grey funding area – ranging from high levels of private tuition in the most affluent areas, to an inability to raise much finance from parents in the most disadvantaged areas for general school activities or additional items. I think in many ways there is an unofficial income tax levied and deployed for education, which is helps to balance out any disparities in government funding.

    This debate started with the Vale of Glamorgan and two of the schools in the Vale of Glamorgan which may be viewed as the best in terms of simplistically looking at absolute attainment, on the face of it appear to have less funding per pupil. In reality there is probably much higher levels of funds allocated to each pupil if you add on the hifdden parental contributions to a private element of their education. This may run counter to our fabled socialist sensibilities here in Wales, but it can’t really be denied that it happens.

  13. Aled. NPT provides no additional funding for its WM secondary schools and from £800 to £1,300 extra to each of its WM primary schools. This is a negligible amount.

    When you say that a school (WM or EM) has a low funding per pupil the most likely reason for this is always that it has fewer pupils eligible for free school meals and is space efficient (usually larger school population).

    Small schools and schools with many empty spaces are costly and this is reflected in funding per pupil.

    NPT has been the outstanding LEA for several years having managed to significantly raise standards amongst deprived pupils, the holy grail of education.

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