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DUP threat to scupper Robin Hood-style shake-up of budgets in Northern Ireland schools

By Rebecca Black

The DUP has threatened to overturn the Education Minister's Robin Hood-style funding policy for schools.

John O'Dowd's new system will slash the budgets of almost 400 primary schools to give more funding to those in deprived areas.

But the DUP accused Mr O'Dowd of "hiding his blushes" by setting up a one-year contingency fund for the affected 384 primary schools and one nursery to cushion the initial blow.

And a party spokesman said it was considering taking the matter to the Executive – which could mean the new policy being overturned.

The rejig of the common funding formula will allocate more money to children from socially deprived backgrounds based on how many of a school's pupils receive free meals.

The new policy also includes a focus on children in care for the first time.

Under original proposals, more than 62% of schools would have lost out on up to £17,000.

But the Education Department amended plans so that the most lost by any school will be £11,000.

Transitional payments will be made to the 385 losing schools from just £2 up to £11,000 for the first year – but after that they will face the full cut.

Education committee chairman Mervyn Storey asked why a transitional fund for schools that lose out was being set up if the minister was confident in his proposals.

"You are always going to get winners and losers, the issue is, has the formula been so fundamentally changed that in years to come it will still have an adverse impact on the budget of those schools?" he said.

"That's the issue we need to get resolved. To hide his blushes, the Education Minister has brought in a contingency fund, another slush fund to raid money from another element of educational provision to cover in a very short-term way this announcement.

"That will give no comfort to schools who in 2015/16 will have to face a formula which is skewed against them. That's the issue that is at the heart of my concerns."

Mr O'Dowd said the amount of money directly delegated to schools would rise by £26.5m over the current financial year.

"Since my appointment as Education Minister I have been clear I want to create a system that provides every child with an excellent education," he said.

"I was not convinced that the existing arrangements for funding schools reflected this aim; therefore I asked an independent panel to provide me with recommendations.

"Last year, after consideration of these recommendations, I published my proposals for consultation. I promised to listen to the views expressed during the consultation and that is exactly what I have done.

"I have amended a number of my proposals to reflect some of those concerns raised while at the same time maintaining the key principle behind the changes of ensuring we target increased resources at social deprivation."

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