Covid-19 pandemic will have ‘profound implications’ for school budgets in Wales

Classroom. Picture by the Welsh Government.

The Covid-19 pandemic will have “profound implications” for school resources and spending and will lead to “massive strains on public finances” in Wales.

That is one of the findings of an independent report into school spending in Wales by leading education economist Luke Sibieta published today.

The review was commissioned in October 2019 by Education Minister Kirsty Williams to offer analysis and recommendations as to how the school funding system could be adapted.

It was commissioned and mostly undertaken before the Covid-19 outbreak but acknowledges the impact it will have on funding.

“When this work was commissioned in October last year nobody could have known about the unprecedented strain the coronavirus pandemic would have on public sector budgets,” Education Minister Kirsty Williams said.

“I am fully aware of the real pressures that Local Authorities and schools are now facing as a consequence of the pandemic – such challenges make it even more important that a considered review of the school funding system has been undertaken to ensure it is well-placed to assist policymakers as we move forward.

“The Welsh Government is doing everything it can to ensure Wales’s public services have all the resources they need to respond to, and mitigate the impact of, the crisis.”

 

Rural

The key conclusions from the report include that the spending per learner in Wales has fallen 6% in real terms.

The Welsh Government said that tis change “largely tracks falls in the block grant and has been accompanied by slight rises in class sizes”.

The report also finds that similar schools experience different levels of funding, and there is a large difference in spending across similar areas.

In the short-run, schools costs are likely to grow if policymakers in Wales introduce starting salaries of £30,000 in order to be on a par with England, the report says.

It also notes that demographic change is likely to increase the comparatively high cost of running small schools in rural areas.

The report makes a number of recommendations to help address these challenges, including:

  • Spending decisions should be based on empirical evidence, including higher levels of deprivation funding for schools.
  • Simpler and more consistent school funding formulae across local authorities would reduce differences in funding per learner across similar schools.
  • Consistent and transparent data should be published in order to allow for effective scrutiny.
  • The Welsh Government should produce rolling multi-year assessments of the likely future growth in school costs.

“Now, more than ever, we need to understand the funding decisions made across Wales to secure equity and excellence for our learners,” Kirsty Williams said.

“The publication of this report is therefore very timely as it provides evidence to enable policymakers to make informed decisions when considering funding for schools across Wales, continuing our overall aim of improving school standards and reducing inequalities.”

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