west*wales*news*review

West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

Impossible Cuts: Carmarthenshire’s Schools Told to Slash Budgets

Are We Seeing the End of Effective State Education?

Time to speak up, loudly, if you want to protect education in Carmarthenshire’s state schools.

New proposals out for consultation appear to suggest that by 2019, the average annual cost per pupil across all the county’s schools could fall from about £4,060 to £3,362 – a cut of 17.2%.

What sort of education would this provide, when independent schools charge vastly more? Llandovery College’s day fees range from about £8,625 in Reception to £16,800 in Year 13. At St Michael’s, Llanelli, parents of Reception children pay about £4,962 and for parents of Year 13 students the annual cost is around £11,890. Before any extras.

How on earth are children in state-maintained  schools supposed to experience a broad and deep education when the amounts spent on them would be so paltry?

The county council’s executive board is consulting on a colossal cut in the budgets delegated to schools, which run their own finances. Schools are being asked to slash £18.28 million from their budgets over the three years to 2018-19, more than half of the £36.23 million total savings which the council is seeking.

Losing £18.28 million would be a 13.85% cut, from £109.844 million in 2015-16 to about £94.634 million by 2018-19. If schools also had to shoulder staff redundancy costs, at current estimates this would increase the cut to 14.4% — and it is more than possible that, given such huge savings to achieve, many more staff would be made redundant.

At the same time, numbers of pupils are expected to rise. Welsh Government forecasts indicate that between 2015 and 2019 the number of children aged between 0 and 15 in the county will rise by 3.3%. If this is accurately reflected in the numbers in maintained schools, the 27,055 pupils in January 2015 would increase to 27,948.

The proposals take account of future inflation, but only to a modest extent. The council expects general inflation to be 0.6% in 2016-17, 1.4% in 2017-18 and 1.8% in 2018-19. It is assumed that electricity and gas will rise by 3.0% a year, and that fuel costs will fall 12.5% in 2016-17 before rising by 3.0% in each of the two subsequent years. Pay inflation is calculated as 1.0% a year.

By even suggesting such a draconian cut in schools’ budgets, the county council seems to be implying that head teachers and their staffs are profligate spenders, but parents of my acquaintance know this is not true.

How can schools provide a better education with much less money per pupil? They can’t. Not even a monolingual education — and Carmarthenshire is a bilingual county, requiring teachers to be proficient in Welsh and English as well as in their specialist subjects.

Soon that could be, Carmarthenshire was a bilingual county.

Carmarthenshire was a county offering a good education.

It won’t be in future, unless school budgets are protected.

PDR

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