Northern Ireland Plans More Funding for Low-Income Students

Northern Ireland’s Education Minister John O’Dowd has announced that the process the country uses to fund schools is about to change, the Belfast Telegraph reports. He also announced a £30 million addition to the budget that will over the next two years go to schools that have a high percentage of disadvantaged students.

Low-income students will find other benefits in the proposed plan. O’Dowd called for an eligibility expansion for a free school meal program which means that as many as 15,000 additional students could qualify for free school meals by the fall of 2014. Low-income families will also be able to get some help covering the costs of mandatory school uniforms.

The Minister also revealed that he did not plan to remove the small school support factor of the funding formula at this time.

Mr O’Dowd said: “Last year I commissioned a review of the Common Funding Scheme which determines how funds are allocated to schools. I did not believe that the scheme adequately supported my key policy objectives, in particular raising standards; targeting social need; and building a network of strong, sustainable schools.

“I therefore commissioned an independent panel, led by Sir Bob Salisbury, to examine this area and to report back to me.

After analyzing the recommendations O’Dowd made it clear that he not only endorsed them in full, but also plans to add $30 million in additional funding to pay for programs that weren’t mentioned in the report itself.

In his speech O’Dowd explained that money allocated to each primary and post-primary school was to be used towards improving academic outcomes for the students and took issue with a recent audit found that 86 primary schools were holding funding surpluses, some as high as a quarter of a million pounds. Schools – especially those where students were chronically underperforming – should not be hoarding money under any circumstances, he said.

In the cases where hoarding was becoming egregious, O’Dowd opened the door to the possibility of replacing school administrators and those responsible for managing the school finances.

Turning to small schools, the Minister said: “The review panel recommended that I remove all small schools factors from the current funding. However, it recognized that strategically important small schools would, in that scenario, have to be supported by funding outside the new formula in order to deliver effective education for their pupils.