Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Detail and headlines

Yesterday saw a report about an initiative in the Vale of Glamorgan to encourage parents to complain to the Welsh Government about the apparent low level of pupil funding in the county compared to the rest of Wales.  Leaving aside the not-exactly-subtle politics of a Tory-run council complaining about the funding they receive from a Labour government, do they actually have a point?
At a detailed level they have some valid issues, but the danger is that the point is lost in an over-simplistic comparison of totals at a headline level.  They argue, for instance, that “…the formula has not had a total review since 2001 and uses census data from as far back as 1991 to distribute some elements of funding”, and “…the formula allocates funding for pupils with additional learning needs based on factors of poverty rather than the huge amount of information available based on pupil needs”.  Both of those seem to me like reasonable points to make, but I suspect that, in the grand scheme of things, the likely difference in the overall total would be very small. 
The headline complaint is based mainly around a comparison of total allocated broken down by authority, which shows a difference of £1,360 per pupil between the authority with the highest allocation and that with the lowest, the implication being that some children are being short-changed.  However, that misses the point, rather, about the underlying objective of the funding formula being used by the Welsh Government, which isn’t simply about funding schools.  It is also about distributing funding ‘fairly’ around Wales and recognising that differences in wealth and opportunity should be reflected in differences in funding.  Merely equalising spending per pupil – which would be a very easy response to argue for - would serve to reinforce existing advantages resulting from comparative wealth, as well as ignoring the differences in costs faced by different areas based on questions such as rurality.
I’ve argued previously that comparisons between average spend per pupil in Wales and average spend per pupil in England are essentially meaningless because they ignore differences in need and circumstance; the same applies within Wales.  There isn’t a ‘right’ amount per pupil to be spending; and even if there were, the chances of that ‘right’ amount being the same across a country like Wales with wide divergences in geography and population levels would be close to zero.  None of that is intended to defend or support the detail of the existing formula in use; there is always scope for review and revision of any such mathematical calculation to ensure that the premises and assumptions are valid as circumstances change.  The point is, however, that, difficult though it might be, the discussion needs to revolve around the detail of that formula, not simply around its headline outcomes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wish people would complain about the poor educational outcomes we achieve in Wales irrespective of funding. This is the real scandal and, until the last week or so somewhat like the Oxfam business, a subject no-one wishes to tackle because no-one other than the kids will benefit from tackling such.

We really do live in a crazy country. And in crazy times.