Teaching union anger over funding gap data withdrawal

Leighton Andrews
Image caption Education Minister Leighton Andrews says he does not agree with the decision

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) has criticised a decision to stop producing figures showing the funding gap between school pupils in Wales and England.

Since devolution, the gap in per-pupil spend by councils is reported by the Welsh government's statistics unit.

The decision has been defended by chief statistician Kate Chamberlain.

But the Welsh education minister is "profoundly disappointed" and is exploring options to make comparisons.

A spokesperson for the chief statistician said the growth of academy schools in England meant could not make consistent comparisons.

Annual reports have shown the funding gap between local education authorities in Wales and England to have grown over the years.

In January 2011, it was revealed that councils in Wales spent an average £604 less on each pupil compared to councils in England.

Dr Philip Dixon, director of ATL Cymru, said: "I am astonished both by the content of the announcement but also by the cavalier way in which it has been made.

"No one looks forward to this annual account of under spending on our children but at least we've always admired the honesty it displays."

He added: "The Statistics Unit needs to reconsider this decision urgently.

"It would be far better to publish the information with a health warning about comparisons, pointing out the difficulties involved in doing so, than to be perceived as conveniently suppressing key information.

"This announcement also puts the [Education] Minister [Leighton Andrews] in an invidious position as he has pledged repeatedly to reduce the funding gap, and we will now not be able to see how his hard work is paying off."

'Aware of interest'

A spokesperson for the chief statistician said she was responsible for the decision and the situation will be kept under review.

"The Chief Statistician has concluded that we are unable to publish the 'Local Authority Budgeted Expenditure on Schools 2011-12: Wales and England Comparison' bulletin this year due to the current changing education policy landscape in England and the large numbers of schools moving to academy status in-year and therefore out of local government control," the spokesperson added.

"The Chief Statistician is aware of the interest in this comparison but her statisticians have been unable to identify an approach to creating a consistent comparison for 2011-12 budgets.

The National Union of Teachers has called on the Welsh government to publish figures for Wales, even if comparisons with England could not be made.

The union's Wales secretary David Evans said: "We are extremely disappointed these figures will not now be published.

"The Welsh government could have at least published details of pupil funding in Wales without comparison.

"There is a systematic under funding of education in Wales which is having a detrimental impact on the ability of teachers to help children reach their potentials."

Mr Evans added that he would be writing to Mr Andrews and First Minister Carwyn Jones to express his union's disappointment.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have also criticised the move.

A spokesperson for Education Minister Leighton Andrews said if it was true that the information relating to per-pupil and year-on-year spending in schools was no longer available in England, it was a "quite incredible admission" from the UK Government that they have no way of tracking their spending on academies.

The minister would press for all available data to be released so useful comparisons can continue and remained "committed to absolute transparency".

The spokesperson added: "Whilst accepting this is a matter for the chief statistician to decide, the minister is profoundly disappointed with the decision and has made clear that he does not agree with it.

"He is now actively exploring other options to obtain the necessary data to make the comparisons between the two education systems public in a similar format to previous years."

The spokesperson said the Welsh government has promised to protect schools budgets by 1% above the rate of change in the Welsh budget.

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