MLA expresses concern on possible reduction in local school budgets

Fundamental changes to the way individual school budgets are calculated each year have been described as an attack on schools.

That was the stark conclusion of at least one MLA after it was revealed to the Education Committee at Stormont that “huge numbers” of schools would be receiving less money following a revision to the way in which school budgets are calculated.

Ulster Unionist MLA for Upper Bann, Sam Gardiner, has subsequently accused the Department of fixing one problem but creating another.

He said: “Recent changes announced by John O’Dowd will see huge numbers of schools all across Northern Ireland being hit with a reduction to their budgets.

“The Department claim that the changes are needed so that money can be directed to schools with additional needs, such as higher rates of free school meals entitlement.”

Mr Gardiner conceded the importance of free school meals but insisted the department was redirecting money from the wrong place.

“My party recognises the value of free school meals.” he said.

“What the Department is now proposing, however, is to take money away from schools with lower rates of free school meal entitlement in order to direct extra funds to those with higher levels.

“Whilst I support expanding free school meals entitlement I believe the money shouldn’t be taken away from other schools but should instead be taken out of administration costs and by cutting down on the huge level of waste on bodies such as ESA which John O’Dowd have overseen.

“Back in 2011, my questions to the Minister revealed ESA has cost £10 million before it even started work.

“Two years later, it has still to start work.”

The local MLA predicted a severe impact on schools when the changes were brought in.

“I`ve seen the proposed figures in the reworked budget for 2013-2014,” he said, “and had the new method of calculation been brought in this year, they would have had a devastating impact on local schools.Using this year’s figures as a benchmark it is clear that when the changes are brought in from next April the cuts will be severe.”