Belfast Telegraph

Principals' fury at lack of notice to discuss overhaul of school funding

By Rebecca Black

Primary school principals have accused the Department of Education of not doing enough to publicise two public meetings about controversial plans to overhaul funding.

Just four people attended the first public meeting in Omagh and around 40 attended the second last night at the Linenhall Library in Belfast.

Notification was only sent to schools on Friday afternoon.

Before the meeting even got under way, there was criticism from teachers and parents of how it had been publicised and organised.

Vice Principal of Saintfield High School Sarah-Lucy Hynds said: "I am concerned that the promotion of this meeting was not great. I think we would have had a greater number of people if it had been advertised," she said.

Paul Sheridan, principal of the Model Primary School in Londonderry, travelled almost two hours to have his say.

A department official said that it had advertised the meeting in newspapers and on its website as well as sending out a Press release.

The consultation on the Common Funding Scheme will close this Friday.

However, The Northern Ireland Primary Principals Action Group (NIPPAG) urged the department to take the summer months into account and extend the end of consultation beyond October 18.

Education Minister John O'Dowd (right) revealed in response to an Assembly Question yesterday that he is currently considering requests for an extension to the deadline and will "make a decision on this shortly".

The proposed changes concern how money is allocated to schools, and attempt to tackle deprivation by targeting funds at those most in need.

Around 160 primary schools with a large proportion of students who receive free meals are set to benefit from a revamp of how Northern Ireland's 832 primaries receive funding from government.

But it means four out of five schools will lose funds.

Mr Sheridan said anger "isn't a strong enough word" to express how people feel about the policy.

He said 35% of children at his school are on free meals yet he is losing £16,000.

This was made worse, he said, by the fact that four schools nearby are gaining £160,000, £132,000, £120,000 and £98,000 respectively.

"These are the same kids," he said. "You are robbing Peter to pay Paul because we didn't qualify for that and because our results are good."

Another teacher pointed out that it is well known that Protestant boys are not doing as well in school, and queried why that was not being targeted.

One mother was emotional as she told the meeting: "You don't care about the middle families at all."

NIPPAG said it is concerned that the vast majority of schools will suffer if the proposals go ahead.

The group said as a consequence of the plans, schools will face a reduction not only in resources but in teaching and non teaching staff, including provision of support for children with special needs. They said the policy will mean larger class sizes, the most vulnerable children losing out on support, increased teacher stress and essential resources not being provided.

NIPPAG has called on the Department of Education to "have a major rethink on this flawed, unfair, ill-advised and unpopular proposal".

QUOTES

"Parents of pupils from St Anne's are extremely concerned about these proposals and the negative impact they may have on the school budget and their children's education.

"St Anne's would have lost £40,538 this year if the proposals had been in place. This is not a one-off loss and the culmulative effect over a three-year budget and beyond is very significant.

"Regardless of how well the governors and principal manage the budget this can only but have a negative impact on pupils' education."

Michael Keenan, principal of St Anne's Primary School, Belfast

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