Belfast Telegraph

Small school payments axe rejected

A proposal to scrap extra payments to small schools which could have led to widespread closures has been rejected by the Education Minister.

The recommendation from an independent review, commissioned by minister John O'Dowd, would have removed the extra support eligible schools receive. It would have saved £28 million a year, which could have been redirected to other schools in socially deprived areas.

Mr O'Dowd said: "I know there has been much concern expressed about this recommendation. While I am accepting the recommendation in principle, I am not, however, implementing it at this time. Small schools should be reassured that those factors will not be removed from the common funding formula overnight."

The minister, who recognised that strategically important small schools would, if funding was removed, have to be supported by money outside the new formula to deliver effective education for pupils, said schools should not rely on the funding long term, warning area planning work is under way to determine the right type and size of schools are in the right places.

An extra 15,000 children in Northern Ireland will be entitled to free school meals and support with uniform costs from September next year, it was revealed.

The boost was part of an additional £30 million allocated by Mr O'Dowd for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds over the next two years. The money means children eligible for free school meals in primary school will still receive the benefit when they transfer to secondaries and grammars.

Mr O'Dowd said: "At the heart of the changes is the desire to use the money at our disposal to target disadvantage, to improve educational outcomes for all young people and to tackle the attainment gap that persists in our system."

Around 79,000 pupils in primary and post-primaries receive free school meals this year. In primary schools, if a child's household earns less than £16,190 and receives certain benefits, the pupil receives free meals.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, the largest teachers' union in Northern Ireland, said the recommendations represented a move in the right direction towards more transparency, simplicity and fairness in the funding structure for schools.

"It is essential that school funding mechanisms recognise the importance of ensuring all pupils are supported according to their needs, particularly in areas of high deprivation," she said.

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