Mixed fortunes for local schools in funding shake-up

October 21, 2013

By Christine Keighery

The controversial school funding shake-up has divided schools in the local area with some faring well from a new School Enhancement Programme for capital investment, while many more face crippling cuts in Minister O’Dowd’s revised funding formula.

Five schools in Newry and Mourne are set to benefit from a Department of Education investment worth a potential 106million.  Our Lady’s Grammar School Newry, Sacred Heart Grammar School Newry, Rathore Special School Newry, St Mark’s High School, Warrenpoint and Killean Primary School, are among fifty schools throughout Northern Ireland who learned last week that their applications under the School Enhancement Programme (SEP) for capital investment have secured approval to proceed.

The investment, worth a potential £106million, will ensure the schools benefit from refurbishment or extension projects, each valued between £500,000 and £4million.

Announcing the news, Education Minister John O’Dowd said the purpose of the programme was to provide the best possible education estate for children and young people within the budget available.

Examples of projects proceeding under the School Enhancement Programme include the provision of permanent build accommodation to replace mobiles, refurbishment of existing accommodation and the provision of sports facilities.

The Minister described the successful projects as “good news for the pupils, staff and school communities involved, as well as being a welcome boost for the local construction industry.”

Many other local schools, however, will not fare so well if new funding proposals are implemented.  Indicative budgets published on the Department of Education website show the new changes to how schools are funded will leave the majority of primary schools in Northern Ireland losing thousands of pounds.  The Education Minister’s proposals to invest 30 million on children from families on low incomes means that, with the overall budget pot remaining the same, this money is being taken away from other schools, resulting in 81% of the 832 schools across Northern Ireland being worse off financially.

The biggest loser locally is St. Ronan’s Primary School in Newry, which is set to lose almost 15,000 of its annual budget when funding changes from its current system of being weighted on a per pupil basis.  Indeed, the school, much like many other affected schools, is calling on parents to dispute the changes.  As part of a campaign against the funding shake-up, Principal Frank Dawson has sent home a consultation questionnaire urging parents to rally against the implementation of a system which will detrimentally affect the budget for St. Ronan’s and so many other schools.

Those campaigning against the revised funding strategy argue that children in receipt of free school meals already receive at least an additional 33% in funding and free uniforms so “sacrificing” the education of 81% of Northern Ireland schools is an unnecessary move where there is no evidence that money alone will improve educational performance.

The public consultation on the matter continues until 5pm on Friday 25th October.