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Education Minister John O’Dowd responds to opposition over funding plans

By Anna Maguire

The Education Minister John O’Dowd has issued a determined response to growing opposition over plans to change how schools are funded.

As a public consultation on the plans closed yesterday, with more than 11,000 responses, Mr O’Dowd issued resigned acceptance of school principals' criticism of the plans.

The proposals would see schools in socially deprived areas gain significant funding boosts to their annual budgets, while schools in more affluent areas lose tens of thousands of pounds.

However, several principals whose schools will benefit substantially under the proposals have voiced grave reservations.

Brian McAlea, principal of St Kieran's Primary School in Poleglass, Belfast, which is set to receive £180,000 extra a year, has spoken of his annoyance that the majority of schools would lose money as a result.

Deirdre Gillespie, head of Steelstown Primary School in Derry, also described the proposals as "educationally unsound".

However, in a robust defence of his plans, Mr O'Dowd said even "if they annoy some school principals, even if they are set to benefit from it, so be it".

"I am more annoyed that these young people's life chances are being decided by their parents' income or lack of it," he added.

Mr O'Dowd has indicated that he will take time to study responses to the consultation.

However, Mervyn Storey, the DUP chairman of the Assembly's education committee, said the pressure was showing.

"From a position of refusing to extend the deadline on the consultation to then giving an additional week, the minister now tells us that he is going to 'take his time to study the responses'. Clearly, the minister has the brake lights on. But he needs to go into reverse."

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