Question Time: Education 14 January 2014

During oral questions to the Minister of Education, John O’Dowd, Daithi McKay enquired about how much EU funding was secured by the Department in the past five years. The Minister explained that the Department’s ability to obtain funding is directly linked to the applicability of EU funding streams to the core business of the Department. As such the Department focused on the support available from the EU’s Comenius and ‘Youth in Action’ programmes resulting in £4.2m worth of funding received between 2010 and 2013. Mr O’Dowd added that, after extensive discussions with European colleagues, it is hoped that the European social fund’s investment for growth and jobs programme will provide a perfect fit for the Department’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and business evaluation programmes in the years ahead. He is also looking into how the Department can benefit from Peace IV funding.

Mervyn Storey was also keen for an update on the common funding formula (how funding is distributed to schools). The method of identifying those schools most in need of funding (by using free school meal entitlement as the primary indicator) has proved contentious.  The Minister revealed that a review of the 15,000 responses to the consultation is currently being considered. Mr Storey suggested that the controversy surrounding proposed changes to the formula should see the process set aside while alternatives are considered. However Mr O’Dowd countered that, as free school meal entitlement has shown to be the best indicator so far and no alternative has been brought forward, there is no reason to delay the process saying, “If others come forward in the time ahead with an equally robust or better system, I think that that should be taken into consideration moving forward.  However, we have to move forward and we have to tackle the issue head on.  I intend to do that in the time ahead.”

During topical questions, the Minister answered members’ questions on the Dickson Plan in Upper Bann, educational underattainment in the Shankill area and school enrolment in North Down.

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