Gifted losing out, say heads
Schools' opinions of local authority services are slipping. In a survey by the Audit Commission, 84 per cent of questions in the National School Survey Results 2007 were rated more negatively by headteachers than in 2005.
The greatest grumble by secondary schools was a lack of council support for gifted and talented children. Decreasing influence over council policy and procedure was rated lowest by primary heads.
But growing question marks over the school funding formula, where cash is delivered via local authorities, along with plans to restore crumbling buildings contained as part of asset management plans, dominated concerns overall.
The survey, on behalf of Estyn and the Wales Audit Office, was sent to 1,623 schools in 20 LAs last summer. Almost half responded, with primaries the most positive.
The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) says the results show schools are generally content with services. All but one of the 80 questions received a satisfactory or above.
Some areas, including literacy and healthy eating and lifestyle schemes, scored highly. There were also good ratings for increased funding clarity. The quality of technical support for ICT in schools showed the biggest improvement on 2005 ratings.
But there were marked declines in the perceptions of councils in many other areas, including meeting the needs of ethnic-minority children, communication with schools, support in developing leadership teams and access to Welsh-medium education. There were also variations in the perceptions of schools to the same services. Access to educational psychologists and support for additional learning was the most varied.
John Davies, WLGA lifelong learning spokesperson, said he was pleased that increased clarity of funding information provided by LAs to schools scored highly.
"A lot has been done to improve the clarity and access to financial information following recommendations from the National Assembly School Funding Committee," he said.
But heads this week were less convinced, although they were pleased with services elsewhere.
Steve Marshall, head of Newport's St Julian's Comprehensive, said his concern was lack of funds, not clarity. A comparable school in England would be around pound;300,000 better off a year, he said, adding that his school was in urgent need of repairs - including windows that were almost 70 years old.
"The way money reaches schools must be overhauled," he said.
But the head, who completed the survey, supported Newport council's work on school improvement. The county tops standards in Wales at key stages 1 and 2 and has improved dramatically at KS3.
Chris Howard, head of Lewis Pengam School in Caerphilly, said he could "see through the funding fog" but wanted to know "if there is enough money at the end of it".
SERVICES THAT SLIPPED IN SURVEY
Meeting the needs of ethnic minority pupils - down 8.4 per cent.
Council communication with schools - down 8.1 per cent.
Meeting the needs of pupils with English as an additional language - down 8 per cent.
Securing access to Welsh medium schools - down 6.8 per cent.
Quality of payroll services - down 6.6 per cent.
Strategies for recruitment and retention of the school workforce - down 6.1 per cent.