COUNCILS across Wales could see drastic changes to their education budgets as money used to improve education is handed to regional bodies instead, the Argus can reveal.
Gwent’s model to improve education, after three out of five education departments were landed in special measures, is to be copied across Wales by three other existing regional “consortia”.
In a draft report seen by the Argus and sent to all 22 Welsh councils, Welsh Government ministers said the Gwent region’s Education Achievement Service (EAS) is the fastest acting in its efforts to drag up standards.
The report, which will be subject to consultations and final ministerial decisions, says local authorities have been “reluctant” to give consortia the authority to identify and tackle issues regionally, so the minister for education Huw Lewis AM is transferring funding from the Revenue Support Grant 2014-15 to consortia and will link this money to an outcome agreement.
“This model…will essentially ring fence education budgets for school improvement in the short and medium term,” the report states.
“Under these proposals, from April 2014, local authorities would be expected to fund consortia in line with the requirements of the national model.
“Upon satisfactory evidence of compliance, funding would be released to local authorities, six monthly in arrears.”
Each consortium will submit a three-year plan to Welsh Government by February 2014, and will be expected to “provide high quality services which will be commissioned by local authorities”.
Local authorities will “move immediately away” from direct delivery of school improvement services and towards holding the consortium to account, providing areas of focus.
All Gwent schools are now monitored by the EAS, which was set up by Monmouthshire, Torfaen, Newport, Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly, as well as by Estyn.
A statement released by both Newport and Blaenau Gwent councils said: “The south east Wales model was seen by the five authorities involved as an innovative step change in the support for schools and school performance. The EAS has been operating for one academic year and the evidence indicates it is fulfilling expectations.”
The Welsh Government has just finished a 12-week consultation period into a separate report, written by former Tony Blair advisor Robert Hill, in which Mr Hill recommended cutting the number of local authority education services by a third by April 2014, and for school improvement to be handed over to regional bodies in partnership with schools.
The head of the EAS, Steve Davies, told the Argus in July that despite a government push to merge education departments across Wales, he believes local services in Gwent will not be eradicated entirely.