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Friday, January 20, 2012

The mystery of disappearing funding gap

When you are being constantly castigated for starving schools of funds, the natural response of any educationally-minded government is to take the sting out of the attack by upping their game.

This is in fact precisely what the Welsh Labour Government have done, with an undertaking to put 1% more into school budgets than the increase in the block grant. This is the second year of that policy and all the signs are that local Councils are playing ball and delivering the extra money direct to schools.

The Welsh Government also have the benefit of the extra £450 that is going directly to schools for every child on free school meals, which was the price extracted by the Welsh Liberal Democrats for supporting their budget.

In theory then the situation should be improving, even if the size of the funding gap remains a huge political embarrassment, and the Education Minister should have nothing to hide in ensuring that the statistics are out there for us to scrutinise, question him on and campaign on.

However, that is not the case, as according to the BBC Government statisticians have decided that they are now unable to draw a fair comparison between England and Wales. A note on the relevant website announces that: This Statistical Bulletin will not be published this year since changes in education policy in England mean it is not possible to produce comparable figures of budgeted expenditure per pupil for England and Wales for this financial year. Further detail will be published in a Statistical Article on January 26 2012.

At best this is political ineptitude of a high order, at worst it is a worrying sign of an opaque government with something to hide. People will no doubt draw their own conclusions as have the Association of Teachers and Lecturers who say: "No one looks forward to this annual account of under spending on our children but at least we've always admired the honesty it displays."

Their Director continues: "The Statistics Unit needs to reconsider this decision urgently.

"It would be far better to publish the information with a health warning about comparisons, pointing out the difficulties involved in doing so, than to be perceived as conveniently suppressing key information.

"This announcement also puts the [Education] Minister [Leighton Andrews] in an invidious position as he has pledged repeatedly to reduce the funding gap, and we will now not be able to see how his hard work is paying off."

The Tories say: “This decision to cover up data on the underfunding of Welsh schools flies in the face of transparency. Even without the latest figures, we know the funding gap between Welsh and English schools has been widening and most recently stood at over £600 per pupil.”

“With well-documented failings in school standards in Wales, parents should be entitled to see the extent to which Labour is underfunding our schools.”

Whilst Welsh Liberal Democrat education spokesman, Aled Roberts said he is “hugely disappointed and surprised. It has been clear pupils in Wales’ schools are not getting the support they clearly need.”

This is one row the Welsh Government do not need and should sort out as soon as possible. If we do not have these figures then we cannot hold Ministers to account on their promises and that is not good for democracy, nor is it good for pupils, parents and teachers who need to know what support they are getting in delivering a top quality education service.
Nice to see you supporting the coalition and quoting both partners on your website. Surely it would make sense for the two parties to unite (at least in constituencies) at the next assembly election so as to properly challenge Labour?
"... pupils, parents and teachers who need to know what support they are getting in delivering a top quality education service..."

Ttop quality?

Have we forgotten PISA and Estyn?

Are we ignoring the fact that Wales has once again failed to get a single university in the top 100 QS university world rankings?

Scotland: 3 (Edinburgh, Glasgow and St. Andrews);

Wales: zip/0/nada/null-set

The gap has clearly widened. If it had narrowed, Labour would have found a way to publish the figures.
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