BBC News

John O'Dowd to give £30m to help low income pupils

By Maggie Taggart
BBC Northern Ireland education correspondent

image captionThe budget of Northern Ireland's primary and secondary schools was examined

The education minister has agreed to give £30m to help schools that teach children from families on low incomes.

John O'Dowd will make the money available over the next two years.

He has rejected a plan to remove extra support from small schools.

The proposal, in an independent review, could have led to hundreds of closures and would have saved an estimated £28m a year.

The recommendation from a review commissioned by the minister would have removed the extra support small schools get.

However, new planning for schools will probably mean many will close anyway.

The author of the report, Sir Robert Salisbury, says the rejection was predictable and that small schools are unsustainable in their quality of learning and cost.

He stands by the review group's recommendation that small schools should lose the extra financial support they get.

Sir Robert argues that education is better and costs are lower in larger schools.

In extreme cases, it costs £14,500 a year to teach each pupil while the average in other schools is £2,200.

The minister is supporting the report's idea to give more help to children in poor families, and he will give schools an extra £30m over the next two years.

There will also be more children eligible for free school meals, giving pupils of all ages the same rules.

From next year 15,000 more secondary and grammar school pupils will be able to claim free dinners for the first time.

The review found that the budget allocation needed to be fairer, more transparent and more logical.

Every year £1.1bn is shared between more than 1,000 schools.

The report, which was written by a team of education specialists, said some spending was not in line with government policy.