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(UK) NI: $366M education overspend in '23; "rising costs" to support special needs kids

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

Dec 6, 2022, BBC News: NI Education: Basic funding for Northern Ireland schools is cut after budget https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-63865816
The basic funding that schools get in Northern Ireland has been cut following the Stormont budget.

But they are getting some extra money to help with existing staff salary agreements and rising energy costs.

In a letter to schools, the Department of Education (DE) said it "has had to make some very difficult decisions".

The Education Authority (EA) may also need to find about £100m [$122M] in savings from its block grant in 2022-23, BBC News NI understands.

That could affect services like Special Educational Needs (SEN), school transport, school meals or maintenance.

In delivering a budget for Northern Ireland in November, the Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris warned DE that it needed to make significant cuts to its "current spending trajectory".

Mr Heaton-Harris said although education would receive a cash increase of £286m compared to last year's baseline, the department would need to take action to live within its budget.

According to previous analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), Northern Ireland spends less on each school pupil's education than any other part of the UK.

Jacquie White, General Secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union, said teachers feared the savings demanded of the EA "could damage the educational landscape here forever"….

"We've been told that the areas safeguarded within those savings are to include Sure Start, Free School Meals, Extended Schools and School Transport.

"However, no mention has been made of protecting SEN."

Chris Heaton-Harris said that although education would receive a cash increase of £286m compared to last year's baseline, the department would need to take action to live within its budget

The EA, which is responsible to the day-to-day funding of schools and school services, had previously warned it was facing a budget deficit of about £300m [$3

66M] in 2022-23.

It had identified rising costs to support pupils with Special Educational Needs and deficits in some school budgets as a particular concern.

Education is Stormont's second biggest spending department behind health.

The bulk of the budget - £1.4bn - goes to schools, while the EA spends over £800m on things like SEN, school transport, school meals and rates….

'Particularly challenging'

Schools were given an initial budget for 2022-23 by the department in March 2022 but their final budget for the year has just been confirmed….

BBC News NI understands that the EA has not yet made any decisions on exactly how it might save money.

In a statement on Monday, an EA spokesperson said that while it welcomed the "additional funding as part of the budget settlement, an EA funding gap for 2022/23 remains with a potentially adverse impact on our schools and front-line services, including but not limited to Special Educational Needs".

It said the "serious funding challenges facing education this year follow 10 years of under-investment in education and ever-increasing demand".

'Education can't take any more cuts'

"The EA does not underestimate the difficulty in trying to achieve a balanced budget, both this year and next, nor the tough decisions that need to be made and the potential impact these may have on our children and young people and our schools," it added.

"The EA will continue to work with DE and the wider education sector in carefully identifying and assessing a range of options to address the pressures faced, whilst trying to minimise the impact, particularly on the services we provide to our most vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people."

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions- Northern Ireland Commission (NIC-ICTU) said the EA was facing "impossible demands for cuts".

They said unions representing teaching and support staff had "expressed concern that EA management has refused to rule out compulsory redundancies".

Justin McCamphill, NASUWT national official for Northern Ireland, said the DE had "been put in an invidious position by the Westminster government and the secretary of state" and that "education simply cannot endure any more cuts".

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