The Education Minister has ‘unwisely’ diverted £10m of funding to schools with a high level of free school dinners which is creating damaging inequality for children, a Ballymoney school principal has claimed.
Paula Whyte, principal of Bushvalley Primary School at Stranocum, said that severe cuts are forcing her to merge four years of her school into two, whereas her inner-city colleagues have so much money they cannot spend it.
Minister John O’Dowd is wrong to direct more money to schools with a high percentage of pupils receiving free school dinners, she said, because he has a mistaken belief this will help these children attain better academic achievement.
“He thinks the key factor in improving results is money, but anyone in education knows that children learn due to quality of teaching,” she said.
Last year she drew up a list of 10 Northern Ireland primary schools with very similar pupil numbers but which had much higher levels of pupils entitled to free dinners and uniforms.
On average each school was granted £61,000 more than her school.
Next year she has to combine primaries three and four into one class and also four and five, due to cutbacks.
A redundancy would have happened also except three staff have gone on maternity leave.
She is calling on Mr O’Dowd to rethink his funding approach.
“The minister talks about equality all the time but he is making the system more and more unequal, irrelevant of whether parents are in paid employment or not,” she added,
The minister has reduced the Aggregated Schools Budget, the total given to education boards for schools, by six per cent, and he has cut the Age Weighted Cash Values (AWPU), which calculates funding based on children’s ages, by eight per cent, she said.
“The minister then found additional funding and allocated this to ‘social deprivation’. This was £10m and was allocated based on the percentage of children on free school meals. There is no equality for our children!”
The Department of Education responded that Bushvalley Primary School is a small rural school that receives additional support under the ‘small schools factor’ of the Common Funding Scheme.
“In terms of funding in respect of social needs it is recognised that pupils from socially deprived backgrounds have greater obstacles to overcome and that schools need to do more to assist them in breaking this linkage,” a spokeswoman said.
“That is why there has been additional funding allocated within the formula to target pupils from socially disadvantaged backgrounds.”