The impact of the stalling Welfare Reform Bill and concerns around educational attainment gaps were among the topics discussed during today’s Questions to the Minister of Education, John O’Dowd.
Trevor Clarke asked the Minister what provisions he has made if the Finance Minister’s prediction that £30m may be lost from the Education budget as a result of penalties imposed due to the stalling Welfare Reform Bill proves accurate. Mr O’Dowd dismissed the speculative nature of the claims given that the Executive has not come to any budgetary agreements saying, “I think that our energies would be much better used in dealing with the British Government and relaying to the them the detrimental impact that welfare reform will have on our society and community than anticipating or speculating on figures that may or may not come out of my budget” while assuring the Member that, “ I will continue to manage my budget efficiently and effectively and will deliver education services across the board”.
The Community Relations Council recently identified educational attainment gaps in their third peace monitoring report and Chris Lyttle was keen for the Minister’s assessment of the findings. The Minister highlighted the report’s findings that the performance of young people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds is suffering saying that “the attainment gaps are simply unacceptable”. The Minister pointed out that he is attempting to intervene with the new common funding formula aimed at diverting greater funds towards schools that serve a higher proportion of pupils from a socially disadvantaged background.
The Minister also answered questions on enrolment at rural schools and post-primary withdrawals as well as providing updates on planned campus and school newbuilds.