29/06/2010

Blame-Game Rages On New School Building

The Education Minister has said that she does not have the budget to fund as many new school buildings as she would like to.

Caitriona Ruane told the Stormont Assembly that she has made decisions on which of the 69 school applications are to get the go ahead for new buildings to be constructed.

She said most have been approved, some have been told to do extra work with the possibility of being approved, and some have been turned down.

However the minister refused to divulge the list of schools affected.

If all of the plans were given the go-ahead, it could cost around £500m, but she said the money is simply not there.

Other Assembly members complained that she had not shown them the full criteria for deciding which schools had been approved for funding - but she insisted: "The reality is with the reduced capital budget allocation available to me we are over committed to over spend and these projects will be delayed."

"If additional funds are not allocated to Department of Education for capital build projects then I fear a delay on commencing these schools for some months is inevitable"

Meanwhile, she has been criticised after a prep school announced it would be closing.
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Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey blamed Ms Ruane's "threat to remove funding" after Bloomfield Prep in east Belfast indicated it would close its doors for good in August 2011 after more than 100 years.

It is the first of Ulster's prep schools to close after Ms Ruane slashed funding to the sector earlier this year.

There are 17 prep schools across NI which are attached to grammar schools and some 2,500 primary pupils attend them.

It is understood that many of these, including Bloomfield, which is one of the smallest with 28 pupils this year and just 19 registered for next year, lost pupils when Ms Ruane announced what the DUP termed as an "ideological jihad" against prep schools.

Earlier this year, it was feared Ms Ruane would cut all funding to prep schools but she softened her position and in April announced that instead it would be slashed by one third.

From this September, prep schools will see their government funding per pupil cut from £808 to £533.

This is compared to most primary schools which receive £2,000 per pupil, while Irish medium schools currently receive £3,371 per pupil.

In another apparent effort to shift blame, Minister Ruane has said the education boards are at fault for cutting summer schemes for children with special needs.

The Sinn Fein minister also accused the DUP of opposing reforms that would see the boards replaced by a single Education and Skills Authority (ESA).

(BMcC)

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