By Elizabeth Williams, Senior Professional Officer (Wales)
The National Assembly for Wales' Children, Young People and Education Committee is calling on the Welsh Government to carry out an urgent review of school funding.
During its inquiry into School Funding, the Committee heard concerns from headteachers, local government, teaching unions, parents and young people across Wales about the challenges they face as a result of the allocation of education resources.
The committee has now published its report recommending that the Welsh Government urgently review the minimum cost of running a school and educating a child.
The key recommendations in School Funding in Wales (pdf) are, in summary:
Recommendation 1. That the Welsh Government commission an urgent review of how much funding is required to fund schools sufficiently in Wales, particularly given the level of reform currently being undertaken. That review should:
- consider, as its basis, what the basic minimum cost is of running a school and educating a child in Wales, before allocating additional resources required for other factors such as deprivation and sparsity and local circumstances; and
- provide an estimate of the current funding gap between the amount currently spent on schools and the amount required to deliver on all that is required of them – including the considerable reform agenda.
Recommendation 2. That the allocation of spending across the Welsh Government’s budget should be balanced in favour of preventative spend.
Recommendation 3. That the Welsh Government continue to keep under review the cost/rates of payment across maintained and non-maintained settings for childcare, early years education, and the childcare element of Flying Start. Particular attention should be given to increasing the consistency between the hourly rate paid for early years education and childcare and the pilot that has been established in Flintshire should inform this approach.
Recommendation 4. That the Welsh Government consider how the allocation of resources for local authorities can be determined by a needs-based approach, rather than one based on historic methodology.
Recommendation 5. That the Welsh Government monitor more closely the level of priority local authorities give to education in the way they set their budgets, in order to help ensure that process is more transparent and robust and to assure itself that sufficient funding is being provided to enable schools to improve and deliver on its reform agenda.
Recommendation 6. That the Welsh Government publish guidance to clarify the exact purpose of the Indicator Based Assessments (IBAs), including whether or not they are a guide to how much a local authority needs to spend on education to provide a standard level of school services.
Recommendation 7. That the Welsh Government clarify why it publishes local authorities’ expenditure on education directly alongside the Indicator Based Assessments (IBAs) in its annual statistical release, if IBAs are not to be regarded as spending targets.
Recommendation 8. That the Welsh Government work with local authorities to balance how the principles of local decision-making and democratic accountability can be upheld while achieving greater transparency, consistency and fairness in the way schools across different local authorities are funded.
Recommendation 9. That the Welsh Government review the operation of Section 52 budget statements, to ensure that the data submitted by local authorities is comparable and consistent. The Welsh Government should also ensure that Section 52 budget statements are more easily accessible.
Recommendation 10. That the Welsh Government keep under review the balance it strikes between providing hypothecated funding for specific objectives, and the funding it provides local government to finance schools’ core budgets. The Welsh Government should also regularly assess the value for money of allocating such funding.
Recommendation 11. That the Welsh Government put mechanisms in place to ensure that grant funding is provided to schools as early as possible in the financial year.
Recommendation 12. That the Welsh Government provide an update on its work with local authorities to investigate the reasons for the high levels of reserves, and whether those have been adequately tested, and publish any findings from its investigations.
Recommendation 13. That the Welsh Government review the statutory powers available to local authorities under the School Funding (Wales) Regulations 2010 to establish if they are fit for purpose.
Recommendation 14. That the Welsh Government continue to work closely with local authorities to address cases where schools have deficit budgets, particularly where there is no recovery plan in place.
Recommendation 15. That the Welsh Government consider how it can take forward the long-standing aim of providing schools with three-year budgets, in the context of three-year funding settlements for local authorities, in order to enable schools to plan more effectively for the long-term.
Recommendation 16. That the Welsh Government undertake work to communicate and explain clearly the respective roles of local authorities and regional consortia in providing education services, specifically services to schools.
Recommendation 17. That the Welsh Government urgently investigate what the £11 million budgeted by local authorities for school improvement is spent on, compared to the £11 million that local authorities pay the regional consortia for their school improvement services.
Recommendation 18. That the Welsh Government work with local authorities and the consortia to ensure there is no duplication and inefficient use of resources when funding is allocated for school improvement.
Recommendation 19. That the Welsh Government monitor the extent to which local authorities and regional consortia delegate funding directly to schools.
Recommendation 20. That the Welsh Government investigate the effect of schools “buying back” services from local authorities, to ensure that the published delegation rates accurately reflect the level of funding which is genuinely delegated for a school’s core activity.
Recommendation 21. That the Welsh Government closely monitor delegation rates for its own hypothecated education grants to ensure the money is finding its way to the front line, for the purposes intended.
The report’s call for an urgent review of school funding is welcome, as its highlighting of the funding and workload pressures that schools and those who work in them are under. There is indeed ‘not enough money’ in the system.
As the report makes clear, major changes, such as the new Curriculum and the Additional Learning Needs Code, will place additional pressures on an already stretched system.
In our own response to the ALN Code consultation, we raised concerns about insufficient funding, given continuing local authority austerity and insufficient funding in the education system as a whole.