Welsh Government Responds to Jane Hutt AM on Vale of Glamorgan Schools Funding Issue

The Cabinet Secretary for Education has responded to my request for information on schools funding in the context of points raised in letters circulated to parents from the Leader of the Vale of Glamorgan Council and the Chair of the Authority’s Schools Budget Forum.  Scroll down for the text of her letter.

26th February 2018

Dear Jane,

Thank you for your letter dated 15 February that requests information on schools funding in the context of points raised in letters from the Leader of the Vale of Glamorgan and the Chair of the Authority’s Schools Budget Forum.

As you know, the Welsh Government has a long-standing commitment to school funding and despite the UK Government’s continued austerity programme and real terms reductions to the Wales budget, we have taken action to safeguard Local Government and schools.

There is no doubt that this is a challenging time. This means being clear about facts and information is more important than ever. The Welsh Government does not fund schools directly. Each Local Authority in Wales is responsible for determining how much funding is allocated to its schools and each Local Authority is expected to engage with its schools on budget matters through the Budget Forum.

The Welsh Government provides the legislative framework within which Local Authorities set their budgets for schools through the School Funding Wales Regulations 2010. The Welsh Government does not publish guidance on how Local Authorities set their budgets.

The main funding that the Welsh Government makes available to Local Authorities is through the Local Government Settlement, which is unhypothecated. Local Authorities set their spending priorities for the services they provide, taking consideration of local needs and all of the resources available to them. How much an Authority sets aside for school budgets is a matter for the Authority to determine.

It is important to note, that the spending per pupil figures referenced in the letters from the Vale of Glamorgan reflect the spending decisions that the Council has taken in setting its budgets for schools as part of the overall budget decisions made by the Authority.

With regards to how the Welsh Government funds Local Authorities, the core revenue funding we provide is distributed according to relative need, using a formula which takes account of a wealth of information on the demographic, physical, economic and social characteristics of authorities. This funding formula has been developed in consultation with Local Government through the Distribution Sub Group (DSG), a technical working group whose members include Welsh Government officials, senior Local Government officers from across Wales, the WLGA and independent experts to ensure fair treatment of the factors.

The formula is kept under a continual programme of review and improvement overseen by the DSG. The Group produces an annual report for consideration by the Finance Sub Group of the Partnership Council for Wales. The Finance Sub Group agrees the work programme for considering formula changes each year and any changes arising from it. The Local Government representatives on the Finance Sub Group collectively represent all twenty-two Local Authorities in Wales, including the Vale of Glamorgan.

The DSG has considered separate elements of the schools formulae on a number of occasions in recent years, including the pupil numbers, free school meals and sparsity elements. In addition, the DSG is currently investigating alternative methodologies, beginning with the schools element of the formula, with a view to better reflecting Authorities’ relative need to spend on these services.

The formula is updated each year to take account of the latest data for key indicators including population, pupil numbers, benefit claimants and pupils’ eligibility to receive free school meals. The Welsh Government has, through these arrangements, presented Local Authorities with proposals to update the 1991 Census data. This proposal was not pursued.

Specifically in relation to the main deprivation indicators used within the schools part of the Settlement formula, these are based on free school meal eligibility. The Vale of Glamorgan’s absolute value of these indicators is comparable with the middle-placed authority in Wales. However, when looking at the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals, the Vale of Glamorgan has some of the lowest rates of the twenty-two authorities. In addition to this, the Vale of Glamorgan ranks sixth lowest in the main sparsity elements used in the schools part of the formula to allow for the limited ability of sparsely populated Authorities to benefit from economies of scale. There is no guarantee that updating these indicators will result in more funding for any one authority.

Allocations under the Pupil Development Grant (PDG) are determined through eligibility for free school meals. In 2017-18 schools receive £1,150 for each child aged 5-15 eligible for free school meals (as reported in the January 2016 Census). A further allocation of £600 is made per eligible child aged 3-4 in the Foundation Phase, in maintained and non-maintained settings. In 2017-18 the Vale of
Glamorgan schools are receiving more than £2.88 million through the PDG which equates to more than 2,700 learners supported. The Vale is also benefitting from the £1.5 million PDG allocation for Looked After Children made available regionally to the Central South Consortium.

In respect of capital funding under the first wave of the 21st Century Schools and Education Programme (2014-2019), the Vale of Glamorgan has approval for five school projects with a total capital investment value of over £32 million, supported by £14 million funding from Welsh Government.

It may be useful to note that I have made available an additional £36 million over this term to ensure all Authorities can reduce class sizes, employ more teachers, and raise standards. To date the Vale of Glamorgan has failed to successfully bid for this money.

Schools in the Vale of Glamorgan currently have over £2 million in reserves as at 31 March 2018 and I have urged all Authorities to ensure they and their schools are making the most effective use of the funding available.

Yours sincerely

Kirsty Williams AC/AM Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Addysg Cabinet Secretary for Education

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