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Compensation claims hitting schools budget

By Lisa Smyth

Northern Ireland's Education and Library Boards have paid out over £4m in legal compensation since 2002.

In 2006/07, the Boards paid out over £1m, with the BELB paying out the largest amount of compensation last year - accruing a bill of just under £300,000.

Education committee member Mervyn Storey - who requested the figures - said he was concerned about the money being taken from the education budget to pay for compensation claims arising from legal proceedings.

Mr Storey said: "I think serious questions need to be asked about the amount of money paid out. More needs to be done to ensure that our children are not losing out over something like compensation. "

Fern Turner from the National Association of Head Teachers said she is concerned at the amount shelled out on compensation.

" There is a big issue in terms of compensation and I believe there are, unfortunately, people within the system (who) believe that it is in their interests to try and pick up as much money as possible out of the education budget," she said.

"The thing is that every single penny spent in this way is a penny less for vital resources such as school books, which we need to ensure our children get the best quality of education possible.

"The education sector needs to change and be modernised and this all takes money so it is important that money isn't wasted."

However, Frank Bunting, Northern secretary of INTO, said he did not believe the £4m bill was so shocking.

" If you take into account how High Court cases can be it could be worse over a five year period," he said.

"If you take, for example, a case we were involved in which was settled out of court, the bill came to about £160,000. However, I know that there was no resolution to the issues and the problems are still ongoing in that particular school. It shows that more needs to be done to prevent issues arising in the first place."

A spokesman for the BELB said: "Each claim is examined on an individual basis. The BELB will contest claims where liability is an issue."

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