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John O'Dowd to spend £5.4m on laptops for teachers

By Rebecca Black

Education Minister John O'Dowd is spending an extra £5.4m allocated to his department on laptops.

The Sinn Fein minister's department received the money from the January monitoring round.

It is in addition to the £63m that Education received when the draft budget for 2015/16 was unveiled on Monday.

Yesterday Mr O'Dowd revealed that this £5.4m will be spent almost entirely on laptop computers. Some 15,500 laptops will be purchased for teachers across Northern Ireland.

This is despite continued worries that scores of teachers may lose their jobs following stark warnings from top department officials last year.

In a statement issued yesterday, Mr O'Dowd said: "Teacher laptops are to be replaced. In this ever changing technological society, it is important that teachers have access to the most up-to-date technology to enable their pupils to benefit."

The laptops will replace devices provided in 2007.

They are intended to facilitate the delivery of the curriculum, administrative tasks and provide access to the School Information Management System (SIMS).

The new budget allocation will allow for the purchase of approximately 15,500 portable devices for primary, post-primary and special schools. Mr O'Dowd also revealed that some of the extra money will be used to buy a site for a potential rebuild of Dromore High School.

Earlier this week it emerged that the Department of Education will receive another £80m in the budget. This means the aggregated schools budget will remain around the same as last year.

However, there was no guarantee of teaching jobs. Last year a top department official warned that 2,500 teaching and support staff jobs may be lost under the terms of the previous draft budget.

UUP MLA Danny Kinahan has accused Mr O'Dowd of "political brinkmanship".

"I am sure that the teaching fraternity are feeling bemused and exasperated, wondering what sort of Government is being run at Stormont," he said.

"At the very least, all schools, pre-schools, and youth workers in Northern Ireland deserve an apology from the Department of Education and the minister for the stress they have been put through for the past six weeks."

Story so far

The Department of Education gained £63m in the revised 2015/16 budget. This, plus savings, totalled a £80m boost. Most has been allocated to schools, and £2.5m to restore reductions proposed in the draft budget for the pre-school education programme, as well as £2m to youth services. There was an extra £5.4m in the January monitoring round.

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