Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland schools' spending power down £230m in eight years, MPs told

By Adrian Rutherford

Schools in Northern Ireland have seen their spending power fall by more than £230m since 2010, a group of MPs has been told.

The stark message came from senior officials appearing before a Westminster committee yesterday as they set out the pressures facing the sector.

Education Authority chair Sharon O'Connor, acting chief executive John Collings and director of finance and ICT Joyce Bill addressed the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee's inquiry into education funding.

MPs were told the two main areas that need addressed are transformation of the education system and an ongoing funding shortfall.

The committee heard that while progress has been made, the education system is still facing considerable financial pressures.

The spending power of education budgets has fallen by £233m since 2010/11, the MPs were informed.

Yesterday's committee hearing was told that schools and services have faced unprecedented demands as a result of having to absorb increased costs such as pay and inflationary pressures.

These have been impacted by rises in National Insurance and changes to superannuation and the ongoing increasing demands related to children and young people with special and additional needs.

The committee heard that principals have reported "intolerable strain" caused by the deteriorating financial position placed upon them.

Other key pressures raised during yesterday's committee include the increased need for early intervention to meet the growing and increasingly complex needs of children.

There is also an increasing need for support to children who have additional and special educational needs.

MPs were told of the need to close attainment gaps and improve the skills levels of children and young people. Speaking afterwards, Ms O'Connor said there was a clear need to transform the education sector.

"This will require investment galvanising the skills and innovative thinking of the people within the sector," she said.

"This transformation will deliver improved value for money in the use of public funds and will enable and support school leaders to deliver improved outcomes.

"Transformation has already begun and improvements and progress has been made with school performance and investment in the schools estate through new buildings.

"To propel this further we support the identification of earmarked resources, for example a transformation investment fund to support the continued modernisation of services, skills and culture, to transform the system and to immediately support schools, children and young people and services during transformation."

Belfast Telegraph

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