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Education chiefs refuse to say how £15.8m fund will benefit schools

By Anna Maguire

The Department of Education has refused to publish figures revealing how a multi-million funding boost could alleviate sweeping school cuts.

The Assembly's education committee had requested figures indicating how far a £15.8m windfall would go in compensating schools due to lose thousands of pounds under plans to change school funding arrangements.

A combined total of £5.7m could be lost from schools' annual budgets because of controversial plans to redirect funding to 'poorer' pupils.

Queen's Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Tony Gallagher has now called for a halt to the proposed shake-up of the schools' funding system.

He said free school meals numbers, which are used to indicate social deprivation, are a crude measure and should be replaced with a pupil's family income and the area they live in.

Echoing principals, he called for the department to issue guidance on how significantly increased funding can be spent effectively.

"I think now that the opportunity has arisen to have this debate, it would be worthwhile putting a halt on these proposals, which are controversial anyway," Professor Gallagher said.

More than 700 schools (62%) here would lose money from their annual budgets – including over 80% of primary schools – if the plans are approved by Education Minister John O'Dowd.

Mr O'Dowd has repeatedly cited a £15.8m windfall as an indication that schools' losses may not be as heavy as predicted.

However, the Department of Education has now written to the education committee stating that it would "serve no useful purpose" to provide a breakdown of schools' forthcoming budgets taking the £15.8m windfall into account.

The letter, dated November 14, informs the committee that it will have to wait until the start of the new year, when schools will find out how much they would lose or gain during 2014-15 through the changes.

It attributed its decision not to provide the figures to factors including school enrollment numbers for 2014-15 and the level of pupils receiving free school meals, which influence how much money schools receive.

Members of the education committee challenged the decision.

Alliance's education spokesman Trevor Lunn said: "If we are going to consider this, we need to know how the department intends to allocate that £15.8m across all the schools – and schools need to know this information.

"I don't see why we have to wait until the new year because by that stage it will be a fait accompli."

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