01 November 2018
The Welsh Government targets resources through the Pupil Development Grant (PDG) at tackling the negative link between pupils’ disadvantaged circumstances and their attainment in school. Between 2014 and 2017, the Welsh Government also provided additional challenge and support to certain underperforming schools through its Schools Challenge Cymru programme.
Assembly Members will debate the effectiveness of this approach in Plenary on Wednesday 7 November 2018 when they consider the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s (CYPE) inquiry report, On the Money? Targeted funding to improve educational outcomes (PDF 1.91MB) and the Welsh Government’s response (PDF 745KB).
The Committee’s inquiry and recommendations
The Committee found general support for the principle of targeted funding but made 31 recommendations, aimed at making the most of the investment in the PDG and taking forward school improvement following Schools Challenge Cymru.
The Welsh Government has accepted 24 recommendations, including 4 en bloc. A further three are accepted in principle while four are rejected.
Targeting and effective use of the PDG
The PDG provides schools with an additional £1,150 per year for each pupil eligible for free school meals (eFSM). The Committee found that the PDG was, in the main, only being targeted at low achieving eFSM pupils or was being used to address low attainment across the board. As WISERD, who evaluated the PDG for the Welsh Government, commented ‘this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the conceptual basis of the policy’, which is to support all eFSM pupils to reach their potential. This includes more able and talented eFSM pupils who could achieve even higher were it not for deprivation. The Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams, wrote to schools during the Committee’s inquiry to remind them of this.
The Committee also heard from Estyn (PDF 383KB) that two thirds of schools use the PDG effectively. £94 million is invested annually in the PDG and the Committee therefore recommended that the Welsh Government ensure that the four regional education consortia are proactive in maximising impact and value for this money.
Which eFSM pupils are eligible? An ‘Ever 2’ PDG?
Three of the rejected recommendations relate to how the number of eFSM pupils is calculated to allocate the PDG:
- From 2018-19, the Welsh Government expects schools to target the PDG at pupils eFSM in either of the previous two years, although it funds schools only on the basis of the latest year’s eFSM headcount . This contrasts with the position in England where schools’ allocations of the ‘Ever 6’ Pupil Premium is based on the number of pupils eFSM at any point in the past six years. The Committee highlighted that the PDG is therefore effectively ‘Ever 2’ only in terms of which pupils can be targeted, not in terms of the amount of money given to schools. The Committee recommended the Welsh Government addresses this.
- The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government consider a range of eFSM eligibility timeframes for targeting the PDG, for example pupils who have been eFSM in the last two, three, four or five years.
- The Committee was also concerned that the Welsh Government’s decision to fix schools’ 2018-19 and 2019-20 PDG allocations according to their eFSM headcount in 2016 would disadvantage schools who had a higher eFSM level in 2017 or 2018. Recognising the Welsh Government’s rationale that 2016 eFSM headcounts were generally higher, the Committee recommended the higher of the 2016 figure or the latest available be used.
eFSM pupils’ attainment
Up to 2016
The gap in the attainment of eFSM pupils and non eFSM pupils narrowed between 2010 and 2016: from 34.3 to 17.4 percentage points for the Level 2 threshold (5 or more A*-C GCSEs or the vocational equivalent) and from 33.9 to 31.2 percentage points for the Level 2 threshold inclusive (including Mathematics and English/Welsh).
However, as this trend began prior to the introduction of the PDG in 2012-13, together with Estyn’s evidence that ‘there has not been a major step-change’, the Committee questioned whether there has been enough progress given the scale of the Welsh Government’s investment in the PDG. (For further data and commentary on the eFSM / non eFSM attainment gap over time, see chapter 7 of the Committee’s report (PDF 1.91MB) and chapter 2 of our publication, Key Stage 4 Attainment Data.)
2017 and 2018
The Welsh Government made changes to Key Stage 4 performance measures in 2017, in order to address excessive entries for vocational qualifications and prevent schools from ‘gaming the system’ as the Cabinet Secretary and her officials have previously alluded (PDF 353KB) to.
The Welsh Government has emphasised that the changes mean that 2017 Key Stage 4 attainment data is not comparable to previous years. However, the gap between eFSM and non eFSM pupils’ attainment widened between 2016 and 2017 (from 17.4 to 32.2 percentage points for the Level 2 threshold and from 31.2 to 32.4 percentage points for the Level 2 threshold inclusive). The Cabinet Secretary accepted that eFSM pupils proved ‘less resilient’ to the changes than their peers.
The Committee was concerned that the 2017 eFSM cohort was ‘unfairly and adversely impacted’ by the changes to Key Stage 4 performance measures. It recommended that the Welsh Government ‘urgently investigate’ and ‘learn and apply lessons from this at the earliest opportunity’, asking how risks to the 2018 cohort were mitigated, given interim replacement performance measures will not be used until summer 2019. Provisional 2018 Key Stage 4 attainment data shows that the eFSM / non eFSM attainment gap is almost exactly the same as in 2017 and therefore remains wider than 2016 and before, at least on the terms on which it is now measured.
The Welsh Government responded to four of the Committee’s recommendations (PDF 745KB) on eFSM pupils’ attainment en bloc and said it will provide an evidence paper to the Committee in the New Year after the verified 2018 GCSE results are published in December.
The PDG for Looked after and adopted children
The Welsh Government provides the four regional educational consortia with PDG funds to support the educational outcomes of Looked After Children and adopted children. The Committee detected ‘comparatively little emphasis’ on this aspect of the PDG which until recently has been ‘relatively unstrategic’. It recommended that the Welsh Government give due consideration to the ICF Consulting evaluation (to be published this autumn) to ensure a strategic and effective approach.
The Committee highlighted that, following progress up to 2016 in narrowing the gap between their attainment and their peers, as with eFSM pupils, Looked After Children were disproportionately affected by the changes to Key Stage 4 performance measures and the gap has since re-widened. (For more information on this, see section 8.2 of the Committee’s report (PDF 1.91MB).
Although the Welsh Government expects consortia to also target the PDG at adopted children, the £1,150 per head is only allocated on the basis on the numbers of Looked After Children. There are currently around 4,000 Looked After Children in Wales. Estimates, including from Adoption UK Cymru (PDF 242KB), indicate there are an additional 3,000-3,500 adopted children of school-age.
The Committee expressed concern about this for two reasons. Either the PDG is not reaching the 3,000–3,500 adopted children it is intended to benefit or, if it is, then it is being diluted by nearly 50% per eligible child. The Committee contrasted this to the position in England where the UK Government funds the Pupil Premium on the basis of £2,300 per Looked After Child and adopted child.
The Welsh Government has accepted in principle the Committee’s recommendation that it works with parents to identify adopted children so they can receive PDG support. However, it has rejected the recommendation that the PDG be funded per Looked After Child and adopted child due to what it says is a lack of data, although it will keep this under review.
Schools Challenge Cymru
Around £40 million was spent on Schools Challenge Cymru between September 2014 and July 2017, with 39 schools receiving a combination of targeted funding, advice, challenge and support. The Committee found that the progress of participating schools was ‘variable’ and concluded that the level of engagement of the regional consortium and changes to a school’s senior leadership were crucial factors to the level of success. (For further data and commentary, see chapter 10 of the Committee’s report and chapter 3 of our publication, Key Stage 4 Attainment Data.)
The Committee was critical of the Welsh Government’s decision to discontinue Schools Challenge Cymru before the evaluation it commissioned had been completed. The Welsh Government maintained that the programme was always to be ‘time-limited’ and was actually extended from two to three years. However, the Welsh Government’s Schools Challenge Cymru Champion at that time, Professor Mel Ainscow, told the Committee that, in his view, ‘it clearly was evident that once’ Kirsty Williams became Cabinet Secretary, the programme was ‘certainly not at the centre of the agenda’ and was ‘sidelined’, such that the ‘third year rather faded out’.
The Cabinet Secretary told the Committee that Schools Challenge Cymru ‘served its purpose’, in supporting specific schools whilst building up the regional consortia’s capacity for school improvement whilst they were in their ‘relative infancy’. The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government closely monitors and evaluates how regional consortia provide challenge and support to schools requiring improvement and remains vigilant to any potential loss of momentum in schools involved in Schools Challenge Cymru.
Wider issues of school funding
The inquiry highlighted some wider funding issues; firstly, the sufficiency of school budgets. For some school leaders (PDF 267KB), targeted funding such as the PDG is ‘masking the inadequacy’ of and ‘filling gaps’ in core budgets. This has, in part, led the CYPE Committee to launch a policy inquiry into school funding.
Secondly, as the Committee noted in its report (section 13.2), the ending of Schools Challenge Cymru has seen the loss of £15 million annually from the Welsh Government’s Education budget. The Committee concluded this potentially calls into question the Welsh Government’s Programme for Government commitment to provide an additional £100 million to raise school standards during this Assembly (2016-2021).
How to follow the debate
The debate by Assembly Members is scheduled for Wednesday 7 November 2018. The Plenary session will be broadcast on Senedd TV and a transcript will be available on the Assembly’s Record of Proceedings.
Article by Michael Dauncey, National Assembly for Wales Research Service