Why are NI schools sitting on £50 million of unspent money?

Great story from Simon Doyle over at the Irish News. To quote:

It shows that of the north’s 814 primary schools, 617 ended 2014/15 with a budget surplus.

Christ the Redeemer in Lagmore, which received an annual budget of £1.8 million, ended the year more than £375,000 in the black. St Patrick’s PS in Armagh, which had a budget of £1.2m, ended with a surplus of about £342,000. Grange Park PS in Bangor’s surplus was £310,000 while Holy Trinity PS and St Kevin’s PS, both, in Belfast, also had more than £300,000 unspent at the end of the 2014/15 financial year.

For the second year in a row, St Colm’s High School in Twinbrook had a surplus of more than half a million pounds – this time the figure was £608,420.

When I first saw the headline I assumed the schools would be rich ones like Methody, St Annes etc. But the opposite is true, it is schools in some of the poorest areas of Northern Ireland. Ironically some of these schools would also get additional funding as they would have a large proportion of children getting free school meals. I also thought they may be saving for new buildings but it seems capital costs come out of a different budget.

Why would schools who have pupils from poor backgrounds not be spending every penny they have? These are exactly the children who need help to reduce inequality and give them opportunity. Off the top of my head could they not spend the money on:

  • Teachers
  • Classroom assistants
  • One on one tutoring
  • Breakfast clubs
  • After schools clubs
  • Day trips
  • Music/arts equipment
  • Sports equipment

You get the idea, there must be a thousand ways to spend the dosh.

Should the minister take back unspent money? Or would this just punish the prudent well run schools? Would it just lead to last minute shopping sprees by schools looking to blow their budgets?

I know quite a few of our readers are in education. Any idea why schools are not spending their budgets?