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Puzzled by John O'Dowd's school funding proposals? Here's our guide through the maze

Anna Maguire explains how the controversial proposals will have an impact on education

Q What are these changes to the way schools are funded all about?

A The proposals are contained in a 160-page report, which was commissioned by Education Minister John O'Dowd last year.

The report assesses the effectiveness of the current system for deciding how much money every school in Northern Ireland receives annually, and how it should be changed.

The review was led by Sir Robert Salisbury.

Q What are the proposals?

A The following changes are proposed:

* A revised system for how schools are funded will primarily target pupils from socially disadvantaged backgrounds.

Under this new system, schools with high levels of children from socially deprived backgrounds will receive significantly more funding.

Schools in more affluent areas would lose thousands of pounds through funding reallocation.

* The percentage of pupils receiving free school meals should continue to be used to measure a school's social deprivation levels.

That measure is controversial because it does not take account of the working poor, critics say.

However, the report recommends consideration of an alternative measure of social deprivation.

* More funding for pupils in foster care and from Roma or Traveller backgrounds.

Q Why are the plans so controversial?

A Critics say the proposals will go so far to financially benefit schools in socially deprived areas that they will harm the education of pupils at schools in more affluent areas.

Schools due to fare worst financially under the plans have warned they will lose teachers, classroom assistants and initiatives for pupils with additional educational needs.

The removal of funding allocated through the Warnock factor is particularly controversial.

Schools receive thousands of pounds every year to help pupils with additional educational needs, such as problems with literacy and numeracy or undiagnosed behavioural issues.

That funding will be cut under the proposals and reallocated to schools with high levels of pupils from socially deprived backgrounds, but largely lost in schools in more affluent areas.

The proposed removal of extra funding for small schools in rural communities has been delayed for consideration in 2015, after a public backlash.

Robert Salisbury's report, following his review, does call for a small schools policy and funding for "strategically important small schools".

Q How many schools will lose, and gain?

A More than 62% of Northern Ireland's schools will lose money from their annual budgets if the controversial plans to reform how schools are funded are given the go-ahead by Education Minister John O'Dowd.

Budgets for 720 schools – in both the primary and post-primary sectors – would be cut.

Another 424 schools will benefit, according to current estimates, on the other hand.

Over 80% of Northern Ireland's 832 primary schools would be worse off financially under the department's proposals – compared to just a quarter of post-primaries.

Q What has the reaction been like?

A More than 14,000 individuals and organisations have submitted their responses to a public consultation on the proposals. That consultation closed on October 25, despite calls for it to be extended.

The consultation was criticised because it was launched a month into schools' summer holidays. Publicity around public meetings ahead of the consultation's closure was widely criticised as insufficient – and meetings were poorly attended.

The minister said he will look at every submission before deciding whether to rubber-stamp the proposed shake-up as it stands, or make changes.

Around 3,000 young people submitted their responses to the consultation, as well as 11,000 educationalists, unions and other organisations.

Belfast Telegraph


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