In late November 2018, the governors of Crickhowell High School in Powys called a meeting with parents to explain and discuss the funding crisis at the school. And so the Level the Playing Field group was formed.
At first our aim was simply to raise our voices on behalf of our children's school—to protest to Powys County Council about the underfunding of the school which at that time was c.£300 less per pupil than any other secondary school in Wales.
As the campaign progressed, so we became much better informed about the structure of school funding in Wales. We learned that while Welsh government sets education policy in Wales, local authorities decide, via their own funding formula, how that money is delegated to schools. That's 22 different ways to decide which school gets what.
And we got thinking. Is anyone checking what works? Is anyone comparing how one authority manages their schools funding with another? Is anyone checking whether the local authorities are compliant with the regulations that govern this funding?
Our journey started in Powys and our first analyses of local authority funding started there too, with our paper Powys School Funding: An analysis of the 2019 funding formula. Since then we've brought together data from all over Wales. We downloaded figures from the Welsh Government Statistics site. We collected information from My Local School and downloaded the school support categories lists. We also submitted Freedom of Information Requests to each local authority asking for their formula, their budget allocation calculations, their pupil number projections and their budget outturn (surplus/deficit) figures.1
And that brings us to this website.
This is our attempt to take that data and make it easier to understand. It's also our attempt to compare different authorities with each other. Which authorities are managing to keep their schools out of deficit? Which authorities have the most surplus places? Which authorities have to provide the greatest level of support to their schools?
We're also trying to understand the different funding formulae and how they work. And this is harder than it looks as many authorities simply don't have a written description of the rationale behind the numbers. There is no standard format for anything in local authority school funding.
This is a work in progress. We've made a start and you will find here a section for each local authority, looking at everything from school finance, school population trends, support categories to Estyn's inspections and how schools with high rates of Free School Meals takeup fare.
We will use this blog to explore some of our questions in more detail, and to look at individual authorities in more depth.
If you have comments please do contact us. We'd love to hear feedback whether you're working in education, in a council or the Welsh Assembly, you're a parent, a journalist or an Estyn inspector!
One more thing...
We're all volunteers. All the data was taken from official sources, and the analysis was carried out by a volunteer data scientist. If we've made mistakes, or misinterpreted data, then tell us. If you can think of areas we could investigate, then let us know.
This site was created without funding, in spare time. And it was created by English speakers. We would love the site to be in Welsh too. If you can help us make this happen, then please get in touch.