Grammar schools not singled out for funding cuts but state (mainly Protestant) schools are hit hardest

I hope that I’m not the only one who’s finding it difficult to follow  how schools will be affected by Sir Robert Salisbury’s the review of common funding for schools. On Thursday the Irish News reported:

The Irish News this week revealed that 60 of the north’s 68 grammar schools would receive extra cash under the plan – some almost £100,000 a year.

I’d thought that funding reallocations were being strongly favoured for schools with high numbers of pupils on free school meals, a standard measure of social deprivation and disadvantage, as proclaimed by the Sinn Fein education minister John O’Dowd. Earlier in the week he declared:

I have been accused by some of taking money off schools to give to other schools, however no school’s annual budget is confirmed until it is done so by my Department. Therefore the monies I plan to use are not any individual school’s; they are from my Department’s central Aggregated Schools Budget (ASB) of £1.1billion and will be, as in any year, distributed under the Common Funding Scheme when confirmed by me.

“The proposed changes to the CFS for 2014 will, when confirmed, see more money from the ASB going to schools with higher levels of social deprivation. If that annoys some school principals, even if they are set to benefit from it, so be it.”

Why is Mr O’Dowd appearing to defy criticism that hasn’t been made – at least so far? The Irish News report goes some way to clarify. So no grammar school has benefited from a social deprivation fund. OK but this is a drop in the ocean of the Aggregated Schools Budget SB of £1.1 billion. It appears the grammar schools have benefited by the replacement of funding for school premises by funding according to pupil numbers.

So who are the losers? According to a remarkable school-by-school anatomy of the still to be approved scheme presented by  Kathryn Torney in the investigative reporting website The Detail:

OVER 62% of Northern Ireland’s schools would lose money from their annual budgets if controversial Department of Education plans to reform the common funding scheme are given the go ahead.

Budgets for 720 schools – in both the primary and post-primary sectors – would be cut while 424 schools would benefit from an increase.

Over 80% of the total 832 primary schools would be worse off financially under the department’s proposals – compared to just a quarter of post-primaries.

After examining our data, Professor Tony Gallagher – former Head of the School of Education at Queen’s University in Belfast – said that the figures show the greatest increase in funding would go to Catholic schools in the primary, secondary and grammar sectors.

Other key findings from our study include:

  • The largest percentage increase would go to three maintained primary schools in Belfast who would all see their budgets go up by 15%. These schools are St Kieran’s Primary in Poleglass (83% of pupils entitled to free meals), St Bernadette’s Primary on Glenalina Road (93% of pupils entitled to free meals) and Holy Cross Boys’ Primary (78% free meals). These schools’ budgets went up by an average of £147,506.

  • Aside from Garvagh High (which has closed), St Anthony’s Primary in Larne would be the biggest percentage loser under the new scheme – a 6% cut worth over £17,000. They have 31% of pupils entitled to free meals.

  • The largest financial gain would be St Louise’s Comprehensive which would have an additional £292,600 (5%) added to its budget. Almost 41% of the pupils are entitled to receive free school meals.

  • The largest financial loss would be suffered by St Colman’s Primary in Lisburn with an estimated budget cut under the new plans of more than £44,000. This would reduce this school’s budget by 5% from £973,346 to £928,934. This is followed Campbell College grammar in Belfast which would lose over £42,000 – a 1% reduction. Only 1.1% of pupils are entitled to free meals at Campbell – compared to 13.9% at St Colman’s Primary.

  • The ‘winning’ schools would have an average of £37,000 more in their budgets if the proposed changes were already in place this year. The ‘losing’ schools would face an average cut in their funds of just under £8,000.

  • The school with the largest budget this financial year – and if the changes were implemented – is Methodist College in Belfast. It received £7,646,445 this financial year (less VAT).

On the face of it then, the opportunities for sectarian shenanigans  appear limited. Salisbury’s independence has not been challenged. It appears Mr O’ Dowd is on the point of accepting it in full   and no ideological bias against grammar schools as  a sector has been attempted.

I’m looking for two main reactions 1. The results of the consultations on the scheme from the state, still mainly Protestant sector – will they and their political representatives object or accept settlements that fairly reflect a fall in pupil numbers? 2. How financial cuts will expedite school closures and amalgamations, as they surely must.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London