Terms of reference
School funding has become a highly topical policy issue in Wales and the rest of the UK in recent years. Concerns have been raised about the level of school spending per pupil, differences across local authorities and whether funding levels are sufficient to meet the needs of pupils in different parts of the country.
Such concerns led the Senedd Children, Young People and Education Committee to launch an inquiry into school funding in Wales. This inquiry resulted in a range of recommendations (external link), including:
“That the Welsh Government commission an urgent review of how much funding is required to fund schools sufficiently in Wales, particularly given the level of reform currently being undertaken. The review should: Consider, as its basis, what the basic minimum cost is of running a school and educating a child in Wales, before allocating additional resources required for other factors such as deprivation and sparsity and local circumstances; and provide an estimate of the current funding gap between the amount currently spent on schools and the amount required to deliver on all that is required of them – including the considerable reform agenda.”
The Welsh Government agreed that “a review of this nature has merit". (external link)
Luke Sibieta, an independent consultant and expert on school funding, has been commissioned to assist the Welsh Government best respond to this recommendation.
Kirsty Williams, AM, Minister for Education announced on 24th October that:
“The leading education economist Luke Sibieta will take forward an analysis of how total spending, and spending on different categories of inputs, varies across schools in specific circumstances in Wales.
This will include, but not be limited to, how spending varies with levels of deprivation, rurality and growth in Welsh medium education. This empirical analysis would account for the differences in levels and methods of central spending across local authorities, and will help provide for informed decision making on levels of funding for schools and pupils in different circumstances across the country."
Establishing a minimum level of funding required by schools in Wales is not a simple task. There is no average school as schools differ significantly in terms of factors likely to influence their costs: schools with more experienced teachers face higher salary costs; rural schools with smaller class sizes will have higher costs; physical and environmental factors will influence maintenance and energy costs; some councils provide more services for schools directly.
Schools also spend a large share of money on other staff such as Teaching Assistants, support staff and others. It is hard to separate out how much of this spend represents a core offer and how much represents ‘additional’ spending on deprivation or additional needs. Establishing minimum funding levels is also difficult without a clear understanding of how and why schools in different circumstances spend their funding.
This review will undertake new analysis of how total spending and spending on different categories of inputs varies across schools in specific circumstances in Wales. This would include how spending and need varies with levels of deprivation, rurality and medium of school. This would account for the differences in levels and methods of central spending across councils in Wales.
It would also assess likely future growth in costs for schools in different circumstances under different plausible assumptions. The findings could then be used by policymakers to help determine whether schools and pupils in different circumstances have sufficient levels of funding, now and in the future.
We will engage with a range of stakeholders over the course of the project to ensure the work benefits from their expert feedback and the focus of the final report reflects their initial expectations.
Our main stakeholders will include policymakers within the Welsh Government, such as those working on finance, local government funding and schools. This will ensure the work benefits from their expertise and is well-focused on their current needs. We will also seek to engage key external stakeholders, including (but not limited to) local authorities (through the Welsh Local Government Association) and education unions. Engagement with local authorities and unions will ensure the work reflects the complexities of the current funding system, accounts for current pressures and is highly relevant to their current needs, particularly in terms of the distribution of local government funding and what data is collected through Section 52 return. We will also meet with representatives and leaders from schools, regional consortia and ‘middle tier’.
We will engage these stakeholders through a range of activities. First, we will hold an initial project meeting in mid-December, where Sibieta will present an overview of the project and aims. If feasible, this may include some emerging findings. We will invite policymakers from within the Welsh Government and external stakeholders (local authorities and unions). The aim of this meeting will be to establish clear expectations of what will be covered in the work and adjust the scope of the work if this is likely to be useful/feasible.
We will hold a second emerging findings meeting for stakeholders within the Welsh Government in mid-February. The aim of this meeting will be to get feedback on emerging findings from all stages of work. Once a draft report is complete, we will hold a further meeting with internal and external stakeholders in April 2020 to ensure the findings are most relevant to stakeholders’ key pressures and priorities. This will cover the main aspects of the draft report, though this might be not shared in full at this stage.
Over the course of the project, we will further engage with stakeholders through smaller meetings and email correspondence. At the start of the project, we will engage with colleagues in the Welsh Government to ensure all required data/statistics are assembled appropriately, request any additional data and make suggestions for additional items that could be valuable to collect in the future. We have made time in order to discuss the findings with the minister and her advisors.
We will also seek to hold meetings with policymakers from a range of policy domains to benefit from their particular expertise. Finally, we will meet with colleagues from local authorities (through WLGA) and unions over the course of the project to ensure we fully understand their key priorities.
Summary of additional work
There is significant public debate on both the level and distribution of funding across schools in Wales. The question of whether schools have sufficient funding lies at the heart of this debate and the recommendations of the 2019 school funding inquiry by the Senedd Committee for Children, Young People and Education.
To inform this debate, this review will produce a detailed overview of what the current offer looks like for children in Wales. This will include where the money comes from, who spends the money, how it’s changed over time and what pupils get in terms of actual resources for their education. This will include teacher and staff ratios, the average costs of teachers and other staff, and what’s spent on other key areas, such as learning resources and utility bills.
As well as providing a detailed account of what the current average offer looks like, the review will also show how this varies across Wales. This will show that there is no average school in Wales and why it would therefore be infeasible to produce a single, minimum figure for the cost of educating a pupil. Instead, this review will enable policymakers and all stakeholders to reach clear conclusions as to whether the current offer to pupil in Wales meets their expectations. It will also provide a means for policymakers and stakeholders to cost and argue for changes to resources. Furthermore, the review will provide specific estimates of the growth in future school costs under various scenarios for teacher and other staff pay, as well as more general analysis of future resource challenges facing the school sector in Wales.
Education Business Planning and Governance Division
The Education Directorate