Wales gets its Barnett boost as O’Dowd’s decision on common funding formula is ‘reversed’…

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So, here’s John O’Dowd trying to explain why the money he threatened to take away from schools will no longer be taken away. He explains that he knew all along that he had an extra set of contingency cash of up to £15.8 million to fill the hole his proposals make.

There were 15,000 responses to the proposed changes. Afterwards Sheila Davidson called it political playacting:

The fact remains that an awful lot of school resources went into responding. It seems to me that the one thing that the Minister says is the best thing about this was the engagement. Well, why have such a negative engagement?

Why not actually put £15 million into the schools – if that metric of free school meals is the best one, I think that’s probably questionable – why not just give it out and then not have the resources of the schools that have had to submit plans the worry of contingencies and then have to think that this is going to happen again.

Happening again, because Mr O’Dowd’s fix derives from dipping to his contingency  for this budgetary year. He will have to start pitching for real money next year.

Interestingly 77% of the respondents to his own consultation disagree with the use of free school meals as a useful marker of poverty. The switch in England to universally free meals means it will become a regional oddity in the UK. It also means a bump in the block grant, which his Executive colleagues already have their beady eyes on.

In contrast with Northern Ireland, Wales now knows just how much extra is coming its way via Barnett:

Aled Roberts (North Wales): How much in total revenue and capital funding will the Welsh Government receive over the next two years 2014-2016 as a result of Barnett consequentials from the UK Government’s policy on free school meals for all infants? (WAQ66402)

The Minister for Finance (Jane Hutt): The revenue and capital funding being received by the Welsh Government over the next two years; 2014/15 and 2015/16, as a result of Barnett consequentials from the UK Government’s Autumn Statement is as follows:

Financial Year  2014/15  £m 2015/16  £m 
Revenue 66.7 74.1 
Capital 9.8 41.1 

These numbers comprise a number of positive and negative consequentials and those relating to the UK Government’s policy on free school meals for infants are:

Financial Year  2014/15  £m 2015/16  £m 
Revenue 25.8 36.5 
Capital 4.0 0.0 

Retaining free school meals the Minister might hope will give him enough wriggle room to do something constructive and targeted with that money (when someone in the Assembly gets round to asking Simon Hamilton just how much?). But failure to adjust the common funding formula also strengthens the hands of Executive colleagues (in health or social services say) who are also eager for their own funding boosts.

A missed opportunity, perhaps?

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  • http://www.stratagem-ni.com Quintin Oliver

    I was musing last week on this very topic – better collaboration Between Wales and NI, especially in light of the ‘Scottish Question’:

    http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/call-welsh-northern-ireland-governments-6692978

  • Chris Donnelly

    Mick
    I’m glad you started this thread as this is certainly a topic worth highlighting and focusing on.

    Those 77% of respondents did not declare their opposition to FSM as a marker of poverty, but rather to funding being influenced in a direct manner by poverty.

    And as well they did not as the evidence is overwhelming.

    Unfortunately, the evidence is also overwhelming as to the likely educational prospects for a child on FSM as opposed to one not on FSM- I believe the latest figures show that just 33% of FSME pupils secure 5 GCSEs as opposed to 66% of non-FSME pupils.

    There is not a single alternative being proposed by those opposing Sir Robert Salisbury’s recommendations either regarding how to identify relative poverty nor how to deal with educational underachievement and low attainment in schools and society.

    This was yet another classic case of our middle-classes rebelling, proving their ability to make the most noise in the process (’tis the same in most political entities after all.) That is a lesson worth highlighting.

    Ultimately, the Salisbury/O’Dowd proposals are likely to be implemented, albeit in a watered down form cushioning the budget loss for those schools with the highest concentration of affluent pupils.

    As I’ve stated before, on its own, extra funds will not prove the decisive factor in narrowing the achievement gap. The ETI’s verdict on a number of our schools serving some of the most deprived communities (as defined rightly by FSM figures) was less than reassuring, to say the least, suggesting that what is needed is some thinking outside of the box to ensure that the highest calibre of school leaders and teachers are incentivised to work in the schools most in need of the type of value added provided by strong and effective school leaders.

    But that’s for another day….

  • socaire

    Didn’t John O’Dowd say something along the lines of 4000 responses being ‘lobby letters’ and 2000 others coming from a school of 400 pupils?

  • Coll Ciotach

    This is a stupid policy. If I was an under achieving pupil at a school which has few free school dinners my schools funds are going to be restricted and I would be doubly disadvantaged. SF made a bollocks on this. It is hugely unfair and is education policy by ideologues in action. Keep the state out of schools. You cannot trust politicians not to allow their agendas get in the way of what is good for the child.

  • Mick Fealty

    CHris,

    I’d be inclined to accept FSM as a ‘good enough’ standard. But it’s missing the point somewhat.

    The minister has wasted a lot of his party’s political capital on fights they cannot win. So the coalition needed to make robust and workable intervention sufficient to force the DUP’s hand is simply not there for them.

    In the republic, they don’t use fsm either, rather they push resources at whole schools through the DEIS programme.

    What’s missing is a robust focus on policy interventions actually aimed at working. Here the intervention was slight and focused on inputs rather than changing outcomes.