29/11/2011

Schools Close As Education Budget Squeezed

Most of four schools in the South Eastern Board area, which were threatened with closure, have been told that they will indeed be shutting down.

Redburn Primary in Holywood, Dunmurry High School and Ballykeigel Primary in Comber, have been told the board would like them to close by the end of August next year.

However, one school, Knockmore Primary in Lisburn, has been reprieved after a protest campaign by parents and politicians.

The news emerged yesterday as the Sinn Fein Education Minister, John O'Dowd announced the future funding position for all schools in NI over the next three years - and it was clear the closures might not be the last.

"The scale of the savings required in education has been clear since the Budget 2011-15 process concluded in March this year," said the Minister.

"I have however reviewed the budget allocations and two weeks ago I mitigated the impact on the Aggregated Schools Budget by putting £40m from my budget into it over the next three years. Otherwise the decrease next year would have been more than 5%," he said.

"I am meeting with the Finance Minister soon to talk in detail about the impact of the Education budget as it currently stands and will also be looking towards the Executive's Budget Review Group, which is seeking to identify extra sources of funding, in order to reduce the financial impact on schools.

"Normally schools get their budget information in January/February but I was keen to get as much information out to schools at the earliest possible date.
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"The harsh reality is that the cuts imposed on this Administration by the British Government have severely impacted upon the future schools' budget and these reductions will in turn mean that schools will face job losses - both in teaching and non-teaching staff in the future.

"My Department issued a letter to all schools setting out in detail the future funding position they face.

"The cash value of the Age Weighted Pupil Unit is estimated to decrease by 5% next year, a further 1% in 2013/014 and a further 5% in 2014/15.

"It is important that schools and their funding authorities now examine this information and I would ask each school to call an early Board of Governors meeting to analyse their budget in light of this and agree the actions required to ensure that each school lives within its budget for the next three years.

"However I am clear that, as Education Minister, I have a duty to inform schools as soon as possible of the budget planning information I have available to ensure they are fully informed when making important future decisions.

"This is why I have also informed schools and the Education and Library Boards that I have extended the deadline for the viability audit to 16 January 2012 to allow it to be as robust and complete as possible."

The Minister concluded: "Clearly many schools will have difficult choices to make but this early notification of future budgets will allow them to make informed decisions and plan for the future.

"I will continue to argue the case for further investment in the future to help alleviate pressures on the education budget. I will also continue to explore options for alternative savings."

(BMcC)

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