Question Time: Education Monday 1 June 2015

The impact of funding cuts on the Education system dominated today’s Questions to Minister of Education, John O’Dowd. Alban Maginness asked why schools that were successful in the first phase of the school enhancement programme (SEP) have now had furniture and equipment funding withdrawn. Mr O’Dowd lamented the £1.5bn cuts to the Executive budget over the last five years and the difficulty in maintaining front line services in the face of the consequent financial pressure. Only 5 of the 22 SEP projects have received their furniture and equipment funding and the Minister recognises the issues this raises for the remaining schools. DE officials have prepared a bid to DFP to address the shortfall. While the Minister couldn’t make any guarantees he added, “I am assuring everyone who is listening that I am trying my best and we are exploring options for how we fund furniture and equipment going into the future.”

The Minister was also questioned on the £2m cut to the Early Years Fund. Early Years is a non-profit organisation that promotes high quality childcare for children 0-12 and their families. Mr O’Dowd acknowledged the unwelcome nature of the news and strength of feeling from MLAs and those affected but highlighted once more the impact that Westminster cuts have had on the department’s budget. The Minister also argued “A recent review of the fund has highlighted the inequitable nature of the fund for this reason (that it was only available to those in greatest need following the end of Peace II funding). Importantly, there are children across the North who are equally deserving of support who cannot benefit from the fund and whose situation must also be considered. It is essential that any funding is allocated in a fair and transparent manner to ensure that those who need it most can avail themselves of it.”

The Minister also answered queries on nursery schools admission criteria, accommodation and development on various school sites, special educational needs provision and post-primary schools admission.

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