'Widespread fear' among primary schools facing cuts

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There was "widespread fear and concern" among primary schools facing cuts to their income due to a redistribution of government finances, the DUP's education spokesman said, on 24 September 2013.

More than 650 primary schools in Northern Ireland would lose up to 4% of their budgets if the proposals were enforced.

The Department of Education was changing how money was allocated to schools, in an attempt to tackle deprivation by targeting funds at those most in need.

More than 160 schools were to benefit, especially those that had a lot of pupils entitled to free school meals.

Mervyn Storey, who also chairs the Education Committee, said the education minister had "stooped to a low-level of social engineering" and that no other issue had generated as much anger within the education sector at this time.

He said that Protestant schools in Northern Ireland would be disadvantaged if the proposals were enforced.

The DUP MLA explained that 85% of primary schools in the controlled sector, compared to 76% of Catholic maintained schools, would be worse off.

"This is not a policy of putting pupils first, rather this is a new policy of putting some pupils first," he added.

Education Minister John O'Dowd said he was "disappointed" the DUP's motion only focused on one sector and "totally rejected" suggestions that he had not properly managed or been transparent with his budget.

"I make no apology about wanting to target and put more funding towards the schools that serve our most disadvantaged communities," he said.

The minister explained that children from poorer families had, after 12 years of compulsory schooling, half the chance of their better-off counterparts.

"I will base my decisions on need, not on creed," the minister added.

Sean Rogers of the SDLP said he was not convinced that the redistribution would take the full needs of all children into account.

"I believe the proposed changes to the common funding formula will not accurately address social need nor improve the delivery of the key policy objectives of the Department of Education, rather these proposals will result in greater levels of disadvantage amongst small schools," he said.

Ulster Unionist Danny Kinahan said he welcomed the wording of the DUP motion which noted the "apparent disproportionate impact of the proposals on controlled school" with "grave concern".

"I do feel like the department doesn't care about its schools, its teachers or its pupils," he said.

Trevor Lunn of the Alliance Party said he had been lobbied from school principals who said they could not afford to have the money taken from them.

"There is a principle like Robin Hood where you take from the rich to give to the poor, but the rich in this case are not actually rich, they are suffering from extreme pressure on their budgets already," Mr Lunn said.

The DUP motion passed with 53 voting for and 24 against.

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