O’Dowd responds to criticism of budgetary proposals

John O'Dowd MLA. INLM4710-629con
John O'Dowd MLA. INLM4710-629con

Education Minister John O’Dowd has responded to comments made by Stephen Moutray MLA and Councillor Colin McCusker in a recent edition of the Lurgan Mail.

The comments related to the current review of the Common Funding Scheme, which distributes funding to schools locally.

Mr O’Dowd said: “The review of the Common Funding Scheme is about examining how we allocate the resources available to us in the most equitable way.

“It is about ensuring we fund schools appropriately to ensure all children and young people, no matter where they go to school or what their background, can get the most from their education.

“What it is not about is saving money by cutting budgets.

“The proposals contained in the Review were brought forward by an independent panel of experts, chaired by the educationalist Sir Robert Salisbury. That panel said that more funding should be targeted at pupils from socially disadvantaged backgrounds and that this funding should be weighted towards schools with significant concentrations of disadvantage.

“I accepted this recommendation; I have already announced my intention to inject an additional £30 million into the Aggregated Schools Budget (ASB) over the next two years, targeted at social deprivation. In addition, the ASB is set to increase by £15·8 million next year,

“I also decided to extend the criteria for free school meals, a move that will see an estimated 15,000 children become eligible for free meals from next September.

“Investment in schools is on the way up rather than on the way down. How does this equate to a budget cut?

“Mr McCusker also refers to my attacks on the current education system. What attacks is he referring to?

“Does he mean the additional £30m I am directing to school budgets? Does he mean the 40 new school building projects I have announced since last summer – a potential investment of £353million? Does he mean the continued improvement in GCSE attainment levels delivered each year?

“Rather than ill-informed sniping, Mr McCusker and Mr Moutray should look at the proposals in detail.

“The consultation period runs until 18 October and I want to hear all views on the issue before making final decisions. The proposals are grounded in equality – ensuring all children have an equal chance of achieving educational excellence. They are also based on the recommendations of an independent expert panel.

“I plan to make final decisions on the way forward in time for the next financial year and make no apology for aiming to support all children in our education system and not just the few.”