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‘Bigger problem’ facing NI schools exposed by relief over £10m Engage Programme funding, says union

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Liam McGuckin, principal of Greenisland Primary School

Liam McGuckin, principal of Greenisland Primary School

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen (Credit: Liam McBurney/PA Wire)

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen (Credit: Liam McBurney/PA Wire)

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Schools in Northern Ireland have breathed a sigh of relief after funding to continue the Engage Programme was finally secured, though the £10m in funding means it will only be available until the end of the calendar year.

The programme was developed to provide schools with funding for additional teaching support for pupils following the enforced school closures due to the Covid pandemic.

Engage III will be run across schools and other educational settings from the beginning of the new academic year in September.

Schools had been hoping to receive news over whether the scheme would continue before breaking up for the summer holidays.

The uncertainty meant they could not guarantee positions for thousands of relief teachers, nor plan timetables for the next school year.

But while school leaders met the news with relief, Liam McGuckin, President of school leaders’ union NAHT (NI), said that showed how desperate the situation in schools has become.

“Our members are glad that funding has been released to continue the Engage initiative until the end of the calendar year. These funds have been used in various creative ways to benefit children and young people across our schools and the extension of the project will be helpful,” he said.

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“The fact that school leaders are so desperate to access such relatively small pockets of money points to a much bigger problem. School funds have been decimated in recent years, to the point that well over half of our schools are function from deficit positions.

“This situation continues to spiral even though schools have cut their spending to the extent that after staffing costs have been accounted for, only 4% of a school’s spend is allocated to the running of the school. After utility bills are covered, what is left for children?

“NAHT members are pleased with the continuation of the Engage project, but we mustn’t forget that the amounts of money that are being allocated are little in comparison to what our children need.”

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen announced the Engage scheme will run from September 2022 until the end of December.

Announcing an additional £10m to fund the Programme from September to December 2022, Minister McIlveen said: “The Engage Programme provides vital support for our children and young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“As well as supporting pupils’ learning and engagement, it is helping to protect and enhance their social, emotional and mental wellbeing.

“The disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is still being felt across our education system and it is important that we continue working to limit the impacts on pupils. Engage III is an important opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of our children and young people, which is why the continuation of the programme was a priority for me.

“This will allow me to guarantee the continuation of this programme until the end of 2022 at this stage,” added Ms McIlveen.

“Schools will continue to have flexibility to use the funding in a way that best meets the diverse needs of their pupils. This will help to ensure the benefits of the Engage Programme are maximised for our children and young people who are most in need.”


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