Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Minister defends funding reforms

DUP Member Mervyn Storey (right) has hit out over school funding reforms.

Education minister John O'Dowd has been accused of disadvantaging Protestant schools in Northern Ireland as part of a proposed redistribution of funding.

The department is considering changing how money is allocated to schools in an attempt to tackle deprivation by targeting money at those most in need.

Democratic Unionist North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey said a greater proportion of controlled state primaries would lose funding than Catholic schools.

"I am very disappointed that the minister and his department have stooped to this level of social engineering," he said.

He added: "This is not a policy of putting pupils first, rather this is a new policy of putting some pupils first."

As part of the department's consultation, more than 650 primary schools are facing cuts to their budgets, for most less than 3%, but more than 160 schools are to benefit, especially those who have a lot of pupils entitled to free school meals.

A greater proportion of pupils at maintained schools are entitled to free meals, because that is where deprivation is highest, than at state primaries. Free meals is a measure used to calculate disadvantage and schools with more pupils receiving the concession could receive extra money from the department under the minister's proposals.

Mr Storey said 85% of controlled primaries would lose out while 15% will gain. That compared to 76% of Catholic maintained schools suffering a reduction and 24% gaining. Some principals have said the different treatment could be divisive.

Mr Storey said: "So the thrust of these proposals appears to be a movement of funding from the controlled to the maintained sector.

"This will not only impact on funding but also on job opportunities for those who wish to teach in the controlled sector or indeed any other sector."

He claimed no other issue has generated such anger and opposition within education as this has done in recent days.

"It makes the blunders over computer-based assessment and the levels of progression pale into insignificance."

Mr O'Dowd said an independent review had recommended more funding be directed towards pupils from socially deprived backgrounds.

"One of the key reasons I initiated the review of the Common Funding Scheme was because I did not believe that the current scheme properly supported our children and young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds," he said.

"I wanted to ensure that those pupils who are most in need will benefit the most."

School budgets will rise by another £15.8 million next year. An additional £10 million has been directed at social deprivation.

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