Welsh Government School Regulations clearly show how funding should be allocated to schools and why funding at one school might be different to another. Free school meal rates, additional learning needs, and language medium can all have an impact on funding levels. But the largest factor of all is size.

We’ve spent enough time now looking at all this school data to have some rules of thumb:

  1. The bigger the school, typically the lower the per pupil funding level—there are economies of scale to having larger schools.

  2. The higher the free school meal rate, the higher the per pupil funding level.

  3. Welsh language counts for something in funding though perhaps not much in areas which are almost completely taught in Welsh. 

But allowing for that weighting, we believe that children at similar schools around Wales should be funded at similar levels to each other, regardless of where they live. 

Every local authority has a slightly different character but within each LA there are schools which are very similar to schools in other LAs. Are they getting similar levels of funding?

Quick answer? No. It’s a mess and it’s a mess that means some schools are receiving hundreds of thousands of pounds less than other very similar schools—in some cases, it’s more than a million pounds. 

We’re going to focus on secondary schools for the moment. 

The chart below shows size of school plotted against free school meal rate which is the factor with the greatest variation.The dots represent the schools, coloured according to what level of per pupil funding they get (red=bottom 25% of schools, grey=middle 50%, purple=top 25%). You can hover over the dots to see which school is which, and more detail on the numbers.

If the system worked then the purple dots should generally appear on the left and along the top, the grey in the middle, and the red towards the right hand side. Instead we have a muddle and the red dots appear amongst the smallest schools or those with comparatively high levels of free school meal recipients.

Let’s pull out some examples of the huge inequalities individual schools are experiencing.

Welsh medium schools:

Local authority School Pupils FSM Budget Per pupil
Rhondda Cynon Taf Ysgol Gyfun Rhydywaun 1000 11.4% £4,322,000 £4322
Cardiff Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Plasmawr 1099 6.8% £5,318,000 £4839

The school in Cardiff is larger and has a lower FSM rate, so it should have a lower per pupil funding rate, according to the rules of thumb. But it doesn't because it's in a different local authority. So the school in Cardiff is receiving almost £1M more to teach an additional 99 students. And they are using it to employ an additional 18.8 FTE teachers and support staff—one for every additional five students.

Local authority School Pupils FSM Budget Per pupil
Rhondda Cynon Taf Ysgol Gyfun Cymer Rhondda 747 13.4% £3,422,000 £4608
Torfaen Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw 860 13.4% £4.167,000 £4845

Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw is receiving an extra £6416 per additional pupil (113). Or to put it another way, if it was funded at the same level as the smaller school, it would get £204K less each year, pushing it into deficit (it's worth noting the less-well-funded school has a £599K deficit).

Bilingual schools:

Local authority School Pupils FSM Budget Per pupil
Denbighshire Ysgol Brynhyfryd 1014 6% £5,565,000 £5488
Carmarthenshire Ysgol Gyfun Y Strade 1124 7% £4,815,000 £4284

That's £750,000 more to teach 110 fewer pupils.

English medium schools without sixth forms:

Local authority School Pupils FSM Budget Per pupil
Neath Port Talbot Llangatwg Comprehensive 734 22.4% £3,381,000 £4606
Wrexham Ysgol Clywedog 747 22.3% £3,746,000 £5015

£28,000 for every additional child, 5 extra FTE staff for 13 children.

Local authority School Pupils FSM Budget Per pupil
Carmarthenshire Coedcae School 858 27.3% £3,813,000 £4444
Cardiff St Illtyd's RC High School 868 28.4% £4,307,000 £4962

With only ten more students, but £494,000 more in the budget, St Illtyd's has five FTE staff members more than Coedcae.

English medium schools with sixth forms:

Local authority School Pupils FSM Budget Per pupil
Conwy Eirias High School 1396 12.6% £6,365,000 £4559
Newport St Joseph's R.C.High School 1417 12.6% £5,722,000 £4038

Two high schools at either end of the country—same FSM rate, one has marginally more students but gets over £600,000 less. So the bigger school has 17 fewer teachers and half the number of support staff. 

Local authority School Pupils FSM Budget Per pupil
Cardiff Cathays High School 913 30.3% £5,348,000 £5858
Rhondda Cynon Taf Mountain Ash Comprehensive 937 30.6% £4,220,000 £4504

Two high schools with some of the highest levels of free school meal rates, very similar pupil numbers and a gap of £1.1 million in funding. That's 35.6 more FTE staff (8 more teachers and 28.2 more support staff). 

Local authority School Pupils FSM Budget Per pupil
Monmouthshire King Henry VIII School 951 11.4% £4,658,000 £4898
Powys Crickhowell High School 991 7.2% £3,408,000 £3439

Two schools: the smaller has 40 fewer pupils, 30 more on free school meals and £1.25 million more in its budget. So the smaller school has an additional 33.9 FTE staff members. 

When we say Level the Playing Field Wales is all about fair funding for schools in Wales, this is what we're talking about. The Welsh Government and individual local authorities may give all kinds of reasons why individual schools get more or less money, based on perfectly sensible and fair criteria—like special needs requirements and free school meal rates. But the main reason for the differences in funding levels has nothing to do with those criteria and everything to do with the location of the school.