Wednesday 3 July 2013

School spending - why our children are getting a bad deal from Labour

Yesterday the subject of planning came up on Taro'r Post, with a lively discussion about the fact that in Wales we have no fewer than 25 local planning authorities (22 councils plus three national parks). In education we make do with just 22 separate authorities, and the likelihood that there will at last be some much-needed reform of local government is growing.

It is often pointed out that spending per pupil in England is now higher than it is in Wales, but those statistics mask the fact that there is considerable variation within Wales on school spending because each local authority has quite a degree of freedom to set its own priorities.

Currently several local authorities are in "special measures" for failing to manage their schools properly. They include Torfaen (Lab) and Monmouthshire (Tory/Lib Dem coalition). Estyn also recommended that Merthyr Tydfil (Lab) be put into special measures earlier this year. Pembrokeshire ("Independent", i.e. mostly Tories in disguise) got into hot water for failures in child protection and is currently being "assisted" by a ministerial board. Estyn also recommended that the county's schools be placed in special measures at the end of 2012.

As this blog has pointed out before, there are also huge variations in performance at GCSE level across the country, although statistics being statistics every council manages to spin something positive about the results, no matter how mediocre.

Spending per pupil is by no means a guarantee of a good education. Some of the academies and free schools in England appear to spend a lot per pupil, but some of them have very strange spending priorities indeed. Several are known to have spent huge sums of money on libel cases, and others pay very generous salaries to senior staff, all of which counts as spending per pupil.

Whatever other problems we have in Wales, we don't have to worry about Tony Blair Born Again Academy or the King Fahd Free School, so a recent Welsh Government Statistical Bulletin on school spending means that we are able to compare apples with apples.

The report shows that the average gross expenditure per pupil in Wales is set to rise by 1.3% in 2013-14 to £5,592, of which on average £4,601 per pupil is delegated by local authorities to schools, with the remaining £992 being retained for central education services.

As usual, these averages mask a huge variation between the different local authorities. Gross expenditure per pupil in the Vale of Glamorgan (Labour/Independent) is more than £400 below the average at £5,129, while Ceredigion (Plaid-led coalition) at the other end of the scale spends nearly £900 more than the Welsh average at £6,489.

Carmarthenshire (Lab-Independent) is only a whisker above the average at £5,676.

Given that Labour controls far more councils than any other party, you would think that the statistics would show Labour controlled councils scattered pretty much across the range, but the 13 councils which spend least on education per pupil are all Labour-run.

Only one Labour council (Blaenau Gwent) makes it into the list of 9 councils which are spending more than the average. Plaid Cymru is the dominant player in just two councils (Gwynedd and Ceredigion), and both make it into the top four, the others being Powys (Independent) and Blaenau Gwent.

Ceredigion does not just spend more on its children, but as we saw last year from last year's GCSE results, it is also performing significantly better than its neighbour to the east. It is also very close to having phased out English-medium primary education.


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