Councils plan to skimp on education spending. Nicola Porter reports
More than half of Wales's 22 councils are planning to claw back money intended for education in 2006-7 to use for other services. Heads were critical of the plans, and also of the proportion of cash retained by local education authorities for central services.
But councils say falling pupil numbers and ageing populations mean their spending priorities have to change. Twelve LEAs will spend less on education in 2006-7 than their "indicator-based assessment" (IBA) from the Assembly government.
The figures emerged just weeks after a damning report into school funding said every authority should spend at their IBA level, pending the introduction of a minimum common basic funding requirement covering school staffing, accommodation and equipment.
In the report, Assembly members said they wanted Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, to report regularly on councils that do not spend up to the IBA. She has yet to respond, and the government says IBAs should not be used for determining authorities'
expenditure on particular services.
William Graham, Conservative chair of the cross-party school funding committee, said: "We came up with our recommendations to help heads who told us they are struggling to make ends meet. Some told us pupils had to share one book between two and that's not acceptable."
Total spending on education locally will be up 4.6 per cent in 2006-7, although spending on all local council services is up 7 per cent. And, overall, councils are planning to spend pound;7.8 million more than their total IBAs on education. Schools can expect a gross average of pound;4,487 per pupil, less pound;1,061 retained by LEAs for centrally-provided services and admin.
But in 12 LEAs education spending will be down against IBA, including in Monmouthshire (down pound;2.5m or 4.8 per cent), Torfaen (down pound;2.4m), Anglesey (pound;1.7m) and Gwynedd (pound;2.7m).
Authorities spending well above their IBA include Carmarthenshire (up Pounds 5.9m or 5.1 per cent), Cardiff (up pound;6.1m), Neath Port Talbot (Pounds 2.4m) and Rhondda Cynon Taf (pound;4.2m).
A spokesperson for Monmouthshire county council said: "IBAs are not ring-fenced and are one measure only of educational spend. The increase in educational spending overall as a percentage in Monmouthshire was close to the Welsh average for 2006-7."
And Chris Llewelyn, director of lifelong learning at the Welsh Local Government Association, said: "The authorities that did not meet the IBA were not far off. Falling pupil numbers and an ageing population mean more money will go into services for older people in the coming years."
But Brian Rowlands, secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, said: "Local authorities should be meeting the IBA or above," he said.
And Anna Brychan, director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, said: "We're disappointed so many LEAs haven't spent up to IBA, given the huge challenges facing schools."