Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

'John O'Dowd's approach to education isn't uniting our society but hurting many schools to help some'

Education Minister John O'Dowd
Education Minister John O'Dowd

I'm guessing that a few more people than usual listened in to last week's Assembly debate on schools' funding.

The Education Minister, John O'Dowd, has decided to alter schools' 'common funding formula'. He says he is doing it to address educational inequalities, giving additional help to schools in disadvantaged areas

The aim is admirable but his way of going about it deepens divisions and creates new disadvantages. The Minister has decided to financially penalise all those other schools in which the uptake of Free School Meals is not as high as that in disadvantaged areas. He is stoking resentment, undermining other schools by taking money out of their hard-pressed budgets.

When the coalition Government in England wanted to help schools in disadvantaged areas, it introduced a 'pupil premium'. The coalition, in other words, agreed that the common good required giving these schools additional help. Additional funds were found for the pupil premium.

John O'Dowd's approach couldn't be more different. Rather than uniting our society around a just desire to help schools in disadvantaged areas, he opted for the politics of division - hurting many schools to help some.

This policy should have been negotiated around the Executive table. Together, the Executive should have agreed to find additional funding for schools in deprived areas. But no, we are instead stuck with 'us-and-them' politics, fake outrage from the other Executive parties, and the absence of any will to build a shared community around the common good.

Next time you hear someone say politics doesn't matter or we don't need to radically change our politics here, point them towards to one of those schools penalised by John O'Dowd ... and the Executive.