Belfast Telegraph

How much do we pay for pupils who cross the border to get a northern education?

O'Dowd challenged on cost of 400 students from Republic

By Rebecca Black

Stormont has been challenged over how much money is being spent on education and medical treatment for hundreds of people from the Republic.

It can be revealed that there is no legal limit to how many can travel to Northern Ireland from the Republic to use our schools and hospitals. However, schools must prioritise local children.

Yesterday it emerged that more than 400 children from the south are attending schools here – more than four times the number from Northern Ireland who go to schools in the Republic.

In 2012/13, 132 pupils at primary level and 275 at post-primary level came to schools in Northern Ireland from the south.

This figure is rising with a 42% increase since 2008 in the number of post-primary pupils from the Republic attending school in Northern Ireland.

Schools in Northern Ireland provide books to their students, unlike their southern counterparts. The UK education system of GCSEs and A-Levels is also believed to appeal to some southern parents.

Under current admissions legislation, priority is given to pupils resident in Northern Ireland, but there is no limit to how many students from the south that can be accepted.

The Department of Education said it is unable to say how much educating 407 pupils from the Republic costs.

The Department of Health was also unable to supply figures for how many people from the Republic receive medical treatment. However, the Belfast Telegraph revealed in October that the number of medical cards registered in Northern Ireland exceeds the total population by up to 80,000.

That would tend to indicate that a proportion of those cards are being used by people living outside the jurisdiction. Chairman of the education committee at Stormont Mervyn Storey said he was concerned at how much all this education and health provision was costing Northern Ireland.

He has challenged Education Minister John O'Dowd (below) to reveal costs.

"This has been ongoing, my question to the minister for some time has been how much this is costing the Northern Ireland taxpayer," he said.

He also expressed concern at how much was being spent to fund the medical treatment of people from the Republic.

Mr Storey continued: "Some degree of cross-border travel for schooling will inevitably take place, and is a sensible option for a child whose closest school is in a different jurisdiction."

Mr O'Dowd and the Republic's Education Minister Ruairi Quinn carried out a joint survey of pupils in the border area last year. This has not yet been published.

A Department of Education official said: "It is intended that the results of the survey will be made public once the North-South Ministerial Council has completed its considerations and authorised publication."

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