Majority of secondaries set for cash boost, but will others lose out?

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Three in four Northern Ireland secondary schools stand to gain money in a radical budget shake-up aimed at helping poor pupils.

However, a row is brewing over numerous changes to the way schools will be funded in future.

Education minister John O’Dowd wants more money to be made available to directly target educational disadvantage.

About £30 million will be aimed at children from families on low incomes.

Principals are concerned that with the overall budget pot staying the same, this money is being taken from other schools.

Mr O’Dowd announced the change following recommendations made by a review team headed by leading educationalist Sir Robert Salisbury. 

Sir Robert concluded that the North’s “common funding formula” was out-dated and too complicated.

The changes mean about 50 secondary schools will get less money next year than they would have received under the existing formula – 165 will get more.

Many principals, even those who will benefit, are angry at the changes, which they claim are “divisive and unfair” and will create “a new form of inequality”.

Basically, it is those with the highest proportion of children entitled to free school meals (FSM) that will receive the largest cash injection.

FSM entitlement is considered the simplest and most common measure of social disadvantage in the classroom. However, responses to the funding public consultation are questioning its appropriateness.

Two west Belfast secondary schools that serve areas of high social deprivation and, therefore, have large numbers of pupils on FSM, will be among the biggest winners.

Corpus Christi College and Christian Brothers’ Secondary will have their budget increased by more than £150,000 each per year.

Academics at the University of Ulster say awarding extra funds to schools with large numbers of poor pupils risks establishing “perverse incentives”.

Professors Vani Borooah and Colin Knox said: “High deprivation schools will have a greater incentive to admit FSM pupils – and, thereby, become even greater bastions of disadvantage – compared to low deprivation schools.

“This will lead to a polarisation of schools into those in which a substantial number of pupils are FSM pupils and those in which FSM pupils barely figure.”


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