Funding dilemma due to 'mistrust'

13th June 2008 at 01:00
Tackling cash problems in Wales's schools is being held back by a "lack of trust and openness"
Tackling cash problems in Wales's schools is being held back by a "lack of trust and openness".

David Hopkins, director of education and leisure in Caerphilly, spoke on behalf of the Association of Directors of Education in Wales (ADEW) to teachers at the All-Wales Meeting of the NUT in Cardiff last weekend.

He said it was staggering that schools, local government and officials "could not get their act together" to address serious cash- flow problems, along with the funding fog, that were affecting children's life chances.

He claimed the funding gap per pupil between Wales and England was widening, despite conflicting evidence, adding that comparative figures appeared rosier because England's data did not include cash injected into specialist schools and academies that are independent but publicly funded.

However, his ADEW colleague, Karl Napierella, director of education in Neath Port Talbot, told teachers it was hard to justify pumping more money into education services when schools sat on pound;68 million in reserves last year.

Local government representatives at the city's Marriott Hotel, were keen to justify their roles as a "turf war" grows over who should pass on money to schools - the government or the "golden thread" local authority.

But there was consensus at the meeting that there is not enough education funding to meet a flurry of new Assembly government schemes emerging in both primary and secondary schools (see page 4).

Calls are increasing for part national funding of schools, with complaints from teachers growing that not enough cash is reaching the frontline via local authorities to buy basics such as books and PCs.

The NUT Cymru is so worried about shortfalls it has called in a financial consultant to investigate accusations of underfunding.

John Atkins, an independent financial consultant, said Wales is probably doing better than believed out of the Barnett Formula, the vehicle for sending cash from Westminster to the government per head of population.

He also said variations in education spending across Wales's 22 local authorities were not that great. But he also signalled that the current bidding culture for grant funding could put Welsh classrooms at a disadvantage.

The consultant estimates the cost of all authorities spending near the Indicator Base Assessment (IBA) - the amount recommended by the Assembly government - amounts to pound;66m, or 1.42 per cent.

But an overhaul of the present funding system was ruled out by Dr Chris Llewellyn, director of lifelong learning at the Welsh Local Government Association, who said it was flawed but the best available.

Kirsty Williams, education spokeswoman for the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said her party would address shortfalls in education by ending "gimmicks", such as the free school breakfasts.

"I know I have been accused of taking the toast out of children's mouths, but I believe we should fund the basics," she said.

Alun Cairns, her Tory equivalent, said he hoped educationists in Wales would not dismiss Private Finance Initiatives, citing Scotland as an example, where private finance was seeing one new school built every week.

Education minister Jane Hutt said she had come into post during economically challenging times, admitting she was having trouble pitching for more central funding.

Heads present claimed even a 0.4 per cent variation on the IBA could mean the recruitment of two new members of staff.

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