Education Minister rules out changing school funding formula

(Title Image: via Senedd TV)

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes the current indicator-based assessment (IBA) formula which calculates how much funding each council notionally needs to spend on its schools and recognises the lack of transparency in the IBA formula and local authority school funding decisions.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to develop an understandable means of evaluating and communicating the effectiveness of all streams of school funding, in particular, their impact on the attainment, staff support school standards and delivery against the objectives of wider Welsh Government policy.

“Regionalisation by stealth”

Shadow Education Minister, Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West), warned that councils were no longer willing to blame austerity for school underfunding. Parents and school leaders were beginning to see what she describes as unfairness in funding between different schools in the same county.

“….there is a risk here that the policy objectives cannot be met because schools are underfunded by a local authority diversion of funds and failure to delegate, combined with direct funding, which misses out some schools altogether. As I said, it’s too easy to pin this on the UK Government. The specific risks arise from what happens between the calculation of the IBA and what schools actually get from councils….”
– Shadow Education Minister, Suzy Davies AM

The Shadow Minister went on to say that for the 2018-19 financial year, schools were allocated £2.24billion, but only received £2.16billion – a gap of £80million; where did it go? Local councils were top-slicing funding to go towards regional consortia and this was “regionalisation by stealth”.

Conservative leader, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.), said Pembrokeshire had the greatest proportion of schools in need of high level support, with 10.7% of the council’s primary schools in the “Red” category. Headteachers had cut everything to the bone and were now turning to staff redundancies, while the regional consortia retain £40million which doesn’t even make it to the schools – this was unacceptable.

Mohammad Asghar AM (Con, South Wales East) called for a completely new funding formula, while Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) blamed Labour’s perceived mismanagement of the health service:

“We (Conservatives) kept a growing economy with record employment rates and investment in public services. But what happened here in the Assembly was quite clear, the (Welsh) Government has bailed out health boards time and time again….and yet education and other key public services suffered because of that. It’s quite clear, the three-year budget rule that was brought in by the First Minister when he was Finance Minister was to balance the budgets, and yet, each time, education has suffered at the hands of the inexperience and incompetence….in some of the health boards in managing their own budget pressures.”
– Andrew RT Davies AM

Austerity Agenda

Never one to turn down the opportunity for a spot of Tory-bashing, Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn) said UK Government austerity has resulted in a £1billion cut to the Welsh block grant. While the Welsh Government doesn’t fund schools directly (it’s done by local authorities), by and large, school funding has been protected. The Conservatives proposed a 12% cut to education spending over the Fourth Assembly in their 2011 alternative budget.

Plaid Cymru agreed there was a lack of transparency with the funding formula. Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) was disappointed the Welsh Government thought everything was fine and their amendments to the motion did nothing to help the situation.

Be careful what you wish for

Replying to the debate, Education Minister, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), said all education initiatives – such as the pupil deprivation grant – were subject to independent review and are audited annually. She accused the Conservatives of having no alternative plan:

“(The Conservatives) talk about a lack of transparency, yet I note that the motion fails to put forward any solutions or what they would do differently. And, in fact, from the contributions from some of the Conservative Members here today, there seems to be a disagreement on how they approach this subject. Suzy Davies doesn’t want me to spend money on professional learning for teachers, but Andrew RT Davies recognises that that’s really valuable spending.”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams

The school funding formula is agreed by a sub-group made up of council representatives, including those from rural authorities. It’s updated every year. While accepting the funding formula was confusing, they’ve always been like that. The Minister urged caution when calling for a new school funding formula as a new formula introduced in England caused “chaos”.

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