Exam body spending over £250k a year on catering, figures show
The body that sets and marks state exams in Northern Ireland is spending more than £250,000 every year on catering, it can be revealed.
The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessments (CCEA) - which is funded by the Department of Education - has spent almost £1m in the last three years on food and drink.
However it has defended the spending, pointing out that in the last financial year the body had catered for 20,000 attendees at various events.
In 2014/15 CCEA spent £342,631, in 2015/16 the costs totalled £304,893 and in 2016/17 spent £270,880.
The figures, revealed following a Freedom of Information request, come as schools are being forced to lay off staff and ask parents for money to buy basic items such as Pritt Stick.
Last month, school principals and governors received a letter from the finance director at the Department of Education (DE), Gary Fair, warning that schools must make difficult decisions to stay within their budgets. Mr Fair said the DE was facing major funding pressures.
He said: "The department is anticipating having to make spending reductions across a wide range of areas in order to live within its expected final budget allocation for 2017/18."
In response to the amount spent on catering, CCEA said it holds a significant number of events and meetings in support of qualifications, curriculum and assessment. The body said it can hold around 4,000 of these events annually.
A spokeswoman told the Belfast Telegraph that during the last few years CCEA provided catering for well in excess of 20,000 attendees.
"In the area of qualifications alone we contract in excess of 5,000 practising teachers to help us set, mark and award examinations.
"Throughout the process we need to undertake training and meetings to ensure all of the work is done to the highest standard," she said.
"Modest catering is provided for teachers attending training and events and this makes up the great majority of the figures quoted.
"We also run a range of other events for examiners, teachers and students throughout the year.
"As part of CCEA's overall efficiency drive and the budgetary pressures affecting the education sector as a whole, we continuously review catering costs and from 2014/15 achieved reductions of almost £72,000."
Earlier this week, the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the Education Authority spends more than £30,000 a year on teachers' lunches.
C2k, the information and communications network operated on behalf of what were previously the five education and library boards, spent more than £100,000 on catering in the past three years.