Yet another report on education this week draws attention to the ways in which our education services are failing our children. Yet another wake-up call according to the Minister. I wonder, though, about some of the reaction to the stream of reports highlighting the issues.
It may well be that a reorganisation of the way education is managed will give more strategic leadership to the sector, as well as generating some savings on overheads. But management reorganisations have a habit of diverting attention from the front line whilst they are in progress, as people manoeuvre for new jobs, and the history of reorganisations in the public sector does not exactly paint a clear picture of effective cost reduction.
There also seems to be some misunderstanding of the so-called ‘funding gap’ between English and Welsh schools, and the impact any reorganisation might have on that. Clearly, a reduction in ‘overhead costs’, if it really could be achieved, would potentially free up more cash to go direct to schools; but it would not necessarily have any impact on the funding gap.
As the Welsh Government report which identified the size of the gap pointed out, “Education spend per pupil … is not a measure of 'schools' expenditure per pupil as the only way of making a consistent comparison over time with England is to include adult and youth education expenditure and use overall education spend. The reason for calculating education spend per pupil is therefore solely for the purpose of making a comparison with England.”, and “The figures include expenditure on schools services, LA central costs, mandatory student awards, inter-authority education recoupment, nursery schools and adult and youth education”.
So the costs of 22 education departments are already factored into the comparison, and a re-allocation of funds within the education spend will have no impact on the comparison with England. To reduce the gap means that the total education budget would need to be increased – anyone proposing that in current circumstances needs to spell out which other spending would then be cut to compensate, because there’s certainly not going to be a large pot of extra money available.
I’m still unconvinced about the relationship between ‘spend’ and ‘outcomes’, in any event. Whilst there ought, intuitively, to be a relationship of some sort, it is not a straight line relationship, as pointed out in comments on a previous post. The lowest spend per pupil in Wales is in the Vale of Glamorgan, which achieves some of the best results, and the second highest spend is in Blaenau Gwent, which achieves some of the worst results. That suggests to me that social factors – and particularly relative wealth – are at least as important as determinants as the amount of money being spent. That in turn suggests that whilst reorganising the management and increasing the spend might look like decisive action, the real action needed is much more about tackling the underlying inequalities - and thus has little to do with the education portfolio at all.