Paul Givan enquired about the maintenance backlog in the schools estate, expressing his concern for the health and safety of students and teachers, during today’s Question Time to the Education Minister, John O’Dowd. Mr O’Dowd assured that he has “continually highlighted the need for significant investment in our schools estate to tackle the high backlog in maintenance” saying that he is “acutely aware of the importance of ensuring that the schools estate is appropriately maintained to prevent unacceptable deterioration of the buildings and to ensure that our young people and teachers have a learning environment that is fit for purpose and safe for use”. Despite the budget pressures that are being felt across all Departments, the Minister has ring-fenced some capital budget for facilities improvement schemes that should assist in improving the condition of the schools estate.
During the period for topical questions, the Minister outlined the cuts imposed on the Education budget as a result of reductions to the block grant from the British Government. The resource budget for 2011-2015 was cut by £125m as compared with 2011 – a reduction of 13.6%. Feeling this to be untenable the Minister met with the First Minister and deputy First Minister to impress the impact such a loss would create. As a result a further £120m of funding was secured. Despite this, there are still significant financial pressures on the Department which are curtailing services and preventing expansion, including the employment of vital front line staff in our classrooms.
Throughout Question Time the Minister also updated the House on the gender balance of Primary School teachers, safety on school buses, school starting age, literacy and numeracy and the single education authority.