Belfast Telegraph

Education Minister John O'Dowd in climbdown over school funds plan

By Anna Maguire

The Education Minister has said he may ask for a multi-million pound funding boost to compensate schools facing sweeping cuts.

In an apparent climb-down over plans which have drawn opposition from within his own party, John O'Dowd, has revealed that he is considering bidding for an additional £5m to £10m from the Executive.

The extra funding would be used to compensate schools set to suffer the heaviest financial losses in 2014/15 – if Mr O'Dowd approves a planned shake-up of the schools' funding system.

Schools across all sectors would lose around £5.7m annually, under plans to redirect funding to "poorer" pupils.

The minister has been repeatedly accused of "robbing Peter to pay Paul" – with Sinn Fein-dominated councils in Strabane and Fermanagh voicing their opposition to reducing budgets in small, rural schools.

Asked if he would allocate additional funding to offset schools' losses, the minister said: "I am considering requesting that from the Executive – around £5m to £10m.

"This would be in terms of can we compensate schools losing out in the first year (2014/15), especially schools losing some significant funds."

The department has also identified £15.8m of potentially additional funding to offset losses brought about by the proposals.

If the minister bids successfully, the extra funding would all but compensate every school due to lose thousands from their annual budgets, for one year at least.

It would also go some way towards silencing his critics.

However, Mervyn Storey, DUP head of the Assembly's education committee, questioned whether any such bid would be approved, with Stormont budgets set to be squeezed by a tenth over the next four years.

"The Executive will only look favourably if they believe the policy upon which this is based is fair and equitable – and at this time we would not believe that it is," Mr Storey said.

BACKGROUND

More than 700 schools (62%) here would lose money from their budgets if a proposed shake-up of the funding system is approved. Primary schools would be worst hit, with over 80% of 832 primaries due to lose thousands. The minister has pointed to concerning "anomalies" in the plans, which would see around a third of the most deprived schools actually lose funding.

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