The £105m education shortfall – behind the headlines…

The head honcho of the Department of Education says there is a rather big hole in the education budget, from the BBC:

Derek Baker, the department’s permanent secretary and the man in charge of the department in the absence of a minister.

Mr Baker said that the department had £24m less in cash than last year, but rising costs meant pressures of £105m.

He said the funding pressure was mainly due to rising pay, special educational needs and maintenance costs.

Mr Baker said that the department had spent “every penny” of its £1.9bn budget in 2016/17.

Government departments looking for more money is not exactly front-page news, but like most things in Northern Ireland when you look into it it is not quite as simple as it first seems.

Writing in the Irish News the other week Newton Emerson highlights the fact that for every £5,009 spent per pupil per year in NI a further £2,468 is spent on administration. This compares to only £1184 spent on administration per pupil in England. It may be a crazy idea but could we not reduce the admin budget and give more money to the actual schools?

Newton references a report by the Children’s Commissioner which also highlights the large admin costs.

Across the UK, the amount spent in total on education per child is £7,477 in Northern Ireland, £7,099 in England, £7.772 in Wales and £9,831 in Scotland.

Scotland has poured a lot more money into schooling but, on the face of it, NI holds up OK. However, there is a significant disparity. While the total budget per child in NI is similar to England and Wales, the percentage of this budget that makes its way to schools is much different. In England it is 83%, in Wales it is 84% – but here it is 67%.

So, the amount spent on schooling per child in the four nations is £5,915 in England, £6,565 in Wales, £7,305 in Scotland – and £5,009 in Northern Ireland. This is the outworking of the inefficiencies in Northern Ireland’s education system.

The shortfall seen here is largely allocated to two other budgetary areas: “Subsidiary services to education” and “Education n.e.c.” (meaning not elsewhere classified).

Per the report, subsidiary services means “home to school transport; school meals and milk; schools development services; pupil support (special schools and other education services); and other Education Authority centre services” while the not elsewhere classified spending is a catch all that includes administrative costs and also applies to “special schools; Non-Departmental Public Bodies (e.g. Education Authority, CCEA, CCMS, GTCNI, CnaG, NICIE, Middletown); capital (minor works, major works, special schools); departmental costs; and grants for education services”.

It would be ignorant not to recognise that a lot of this spending is likely to be extremely valuable and ultimately to the benefit of education of children in Northern Ireland, but the sheer disparity with other regions in the UK means scepticism is natural, especially when there are so many holes in budgets for schools.

NICCY further recommends that: “The Department of Education should provide more information on the money currently allocated to ‘subsidiary services to education’ and ‘education n.e.c.’ More of the funding allocated for education in Northern Ireland should be spent on direct education provision for children. A larger proportion of the education budget should be directed to schools so that they are not dependent on parents to provide funding.”

There are problems in education, and some of these require more funding to be solved – but that doesn’t mean we need extra money, just better spending.

You know you have problems when even the public sector is complaining about the cost of bureaucracy.

Add to this over 70,000 empty desks across schools in Northern Ireland, and you do wonder if education needs a good shake-up rather than more and more cash.

And all this is without looking at our age-old issue of duplication of state schools and Catholic schools in many places. It was not that long ago that even Rathlin Island with a population of just over a 100 had two primary schools.

We don’t like change in Northern Ireland so I expect we will just bumble along like we always do. But for how long can we keep putting off change?

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  • Skibo

    I believe that, similar to Health, there needs to be a full assessment of the education system. Whether this will happen this side of reunification, I am not sure.

  • Ban religious education in schools. End the problem.

  • the keep

    Can`t wait 350 years to change the education system here.

  • Skibo

    Five to ten years should be adequate. I expect by 350 years, if we humans are still around, we will have moved past Nations to put the good of the human race more important.

  • Ciaran74

    Why include the mention of duplication of Catholic and State schools when it’s spurious to the article? It’s not mentioned as a major cost drag. Seems like clickbait.

  • duplication is relevant. Take 2 schools into the shower? Not me. I use new TaigyProd Integrated Education Shampoo

  • David Crookes

    How much money is being wasted?

    One of our more courageous MLAs may like to run with the following questions.

    How many international academic conferences has each member of staff of a local university’s department of education attended in the last ten years?

    Has the cost of their flights and hotel-bills been borne by their university, and therefore by taxpayers?

    Have they all flown economy class, by way of making war on inequality, or have they flown business class?

    That’ll do for a start.

    Then someone can address more serious questions.

    How many persons in the ‘education sector’ are not involved in teaching pupils or students, and what is the total cost of keeping all these persons in their jobs?

    Should teachers be burdened with the fatuous special-educational-needs industry? We are rapidly moving toward the day when a minority of our school pupils will not have special educational needs.

    * * * * * * *

    Does anyone remember a helminthagogue called ‘Rexpel’? Our education system needs a serious dose of Rexpel right now.

    I was taught in grammar school by men who had no degrees or diplomas in education. In my day the huge tapewormocracy of educational theorists and advisers did not exist.

    No sixth-former of today would be able to pass an A level in Latin or mathematics if the exam was based on papers from thirty years ago.

    Many if not most university students of today are unable to write grammatical English.

    (The same goes for many of their lecturers and professors.)

    Oh, but the students of today have all these wonderful ‘skills’.

    (Google, and wiki, and gabbling into mobile phones.)

    I’m jolly glad that I shan’t be around in 2057.

  • Ciaran74

    Sorry I’m posing a capacity question. Your answer is on lifestyle/choice and maybe that there are two schools per child head. The Catholic vs State questions is about identifying spare capacity. It was mentioned. If there is, reduce schools, introduce more choice via non-faith or community schools on a capacity basis.

    Why remove choice and diversity when it’s about management? Besides, Catholic schools deliver results currently.

  • William Kinmont

    no need for the word education

  • William Kinmont

    Class size 25 pupils 125k per year
    presuming the school buildings came under capital spending
    30 k teacher salary
    20 k class assistant
    heat light bit of maintainance
    caretaker and dinner staff surely can be provided by the 75 k left per classroom. They dont even use that much chalk nowadays.
    Is alot teachers pensions we have had alot of early retirement schemes here?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Merge some schools, sell redundant assets, lay off the surplus staff and save money on non-segregated buses but obviously reinvest the saved money to provide an even higher standard than before.


  • Mister_Joe

    WE won’t be around. A lot will have drowned, many will have starved to death and the few remaining will be fighting to the death for what little remains. I’m lucky, I believe, I’ll be dead soon.

  • james

    Meanwhile the demands for the fund-sapping universally available IM education continue to be made….

  • hgreen

    The education system in England and Wales is a complete shambles so I’m not sure that a simple per head comparison is of much use.

  • For choice and diversity I read cultural segregation and division.

    There are good schools on all sides. Northern Ireland has the best teachers in the UK for many subjects because of its economic situation! The fact is that the decades of religious control of schools has served to divide society. We don’t need to have Catholic Schools, Protestant Schools, Born and Christian Schools, Islamic Schools, Jewish Schools, Hindu Schools, Atheist-pinko-liberal schools… we need a proper integrated state education school system that doesn’t have multiple regional boards and can be attended by all pupils in good conscious.

    You want something different. Have a private school without the state funding. See how popular indoctrination is then.

  • I don’t understand you when you write – “Should teachers be burdened with the fatuous special-educational-needs industry? We are rapidly moving toward the day when a minority of our school pupils will not have special educational needs.”

    Are you suggesting that Autistic/Down’s children are just going to disappear? You can try to argue that too many children are treated as special needs, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to imagine that there is a special needs industry. Try working with these kids for a day, you won’t find it very easy.

  • Ciaran74


  • Ciaran74

    Cultural segregation didn’t originate in religion alone now. There’s a much longer thread to that story.

    So far you’ve banned religious schools, outlawed choice in schooling, forcibly redirected careers, communities, and flip knows what else. There are clear cost saving opportunities if 1 in 6 desks are empty, but that doesn’t mean they are uniformly spread across the region. Does your sympathy and understanding for special needs extend to rural citizens?

    I agree we need to address costs in the short for efficiency but I’m not overly convinced public monies is wasted in education, the NHS appears to be that black hole.

    I’m for the expansion of community schools but not forced enrolment in state schools.

  • So long as school boards are controlled by Themuns or Thosuns we perpetuate division. Teach the kids Philosophy instead. The RE teachers can retrain, they won’t find it very difficult.

  • epg_ie

    Is rural school transport to “blame”? About half of England and Wales live in huge metropolises and a partially overlapping 10 per cent are in public schools.

  • Oggins


    Do we know what the actual administration is? Have they broken it down at any level.

    Would be interesting to see what actually administration is within the education board

  • Neil

    Should teachers be burdened with the fatuous special-educational-needs industry? We are rapidly moving toward the day when a minority of our school pupils will not have special educational needs.

    I think you’ve picked the wrong target there. Many children with autism are highly intelligent kids with great potential, more so than many neurotypical children oftentimes. Those children cannot perform at school without support, but with support they can go on to be productive, well educated people. Helping those kids be the best they can be is probably a net saving for society, rather than leaving them isolated, left behind and eventually not fulfilling their potential.

    The problem seems to be the 70k empty seats. I’d like to know how that breaks down. Small schools seem to the main culprits.

  • Old Mortality

    I’d say that one of the problems is the plethora of choice available at secondary. In a few areas that could be as many as six options – state selective and non-selective, Catholic selective and non-selective, integrated and Irish-medium. This must have an impact on transport costs. In some areas, free transport even appears to be made available to pupils who want to attend a school more distant than one of the same category that is nearer to their home. A good example is Portadown, where busloads of pupils are ferried to non-selective Catholic schools in Armagh and elsewhere while the local Catholic non-selective struggles to survive with heavy reliance on migrant pupils.

  • Easóg

    Well, this IS Ireland and the rebelly taigs have to be educated somewhere.

  • file

    Well, yes, but also … The Education Authority was set up to save money by centralising services previously provided by five educational and library boards. As far as I am aware, the current CEO has continued with his policy of having five regional pillars (as he calls them) and therefore the major cost savings have yet to be seen. My Boyd needs to be asked some serious questions (again) about his regional pillars policy and why he will not take the hard decisions necessary to greatly reduce the sum from the education budget allocated to his organisation.

  • babyface finlayson
  • whatif1984true

    So who decides about Education policy the Education Authority or the politicians.
    Education and health are political footballs which we ALL are responsible for.
    Direct rule might be the only way to move these forward so that DUP and SF can cry “it was not me”.

    I notice that UNIVERSAL CREDIT is now starting in NI, was this not something that was avoided or extra money allocated as dictated/approved by SF. Is all the extra money being paid out to shelter Universal Credit claimants?

  • whatif1984true

    If you close a small school and provide transport to get another school does this additional cost outway the cost of empty seats in the school you have closed.
    Surely the small school also has advantages in environment, child welfare and smaller class sizes. These are all very positive benefits.

  • whatif1984true

    They are getting so far ahead of us. Soon there will no catholic communion prep in schools south of the border. If we had that here then we could move forward to integration at a much more rapid pace.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Neil and Neonlights.

    I’m really thinking about money.

    More and more children are being declared to have special educational needs.

    I don’t know exactly how many of them are receiving continual one-to-one attention (that is, one classroom assistant per pupil), but the number is growing.

    Taxpayers should not be asked to finance one full-time classroom assistant per pupil, multiplied by whatever the figure is.

    Neither should they be asked to finance the well-paid monitorial staff who come in and check that teachers have individual written lesson plans relating to every SEN pupil in every single forty-minute period.

    Our education sector is providing far too many careers for persons who don’t teach pupils. An honest member of the inspectorate vouchsafed to a friend of mine last year that if the inspectorate was completely abolished, the quality of education in NI would suffer not at all.

    Even if our ‘education sector’ goes bankrupt, so that there is no money to buy new textbooks, there will still be money to send Prof. Brinkley Abrams off to an international educational conference in Seoul, and don’t expect him to fly economy class.

    Any MLAs who diligently investigate the amount of money that is being wasted by NI’s educational system will be horrified by what they find. (For example, expensive ‘conferences’ in big hotels on no-pupil days. There should be no such thing as a no-pupil day, let alone a no-pupil week filled with pseudo-administrative ordure.)

    Jobs not for the boys, but for the tapeworms.

    If standards of education had risen over the last three decades, I should have nothing to say. In fact, they have fallen lamentably.

  • Brian O’Neill

    The massive amounts of cash given to Translink for school bus runs its worthy of its own post.

  • james

    Indeed. Hence the oft-repeated suggestion that we must instigate a proper push towards integrating as many of our schools as possible over, say a five-year period.

    The ludicrous educational apartheid system we are running is far too expensive – both in terms of (short term and tangible) financial cost and (long term and intangible) social costs.

    Anyone with half a brain can see that. No surprise, then, that the Shinners are bitterly opposed to integrated schools – and have indeed attempted to exacerbate the problem with this Irish Medium schools nonsense.

  • james

    Integrate all our schools.

    Problem solved (this one, and the major one that overshadows everything else in NI).


  • Easóg

    Sinn Féin have NO connection with Irish Medium education or their schools. As an all Ireland, republican/nationalist party, one would expect them to be sympathetic to that cause but that hasn’t always been the case. To speak of ‘Irish Medium schools nonsense’ labels you. Could you produce evidence that SF is ‘bitterly ‘ opposed to Integrated Education or are you at your usual stunt of shouting from under the bridge?

  • Easóg

    You mean have all schools as State schools?

  • Neil

    I’d wager the savings would be considerably greater than the cost. I can only speak from my own experience (have 2 kids working through school, one with special educational needs). They are in a very large primary school, one of the largest I’ve ever come across. And they are fantastic. I think economies of scale kick in and when you have children with autism for example, larger schools can make a case for getting additional support because you may have one support teacher who can then work with multiple kids in the same school. Same for other associated professionals, educational psychologists etc. in a larger school they can help 3 or 4 kids in a single visit where with smaller schools they may only be able to help one child, and the visits may be time limited as a result. Pros and cons I suppose as with all things.

  • Granni Trixie

    They are certainly in protective mode as regards rationalising third level teacher education.

  • whatif1984true

    I would think that a child with special needs would be best in a school that had the resources to cope.

  • james

    Uhmm….Sinn Fein’s record of doing virtually nothing to grow the Integrated Education sector, despite holding a virtual monopoly on the Dept of Education?

  • Croiteir

    I have the ideal solution – make every school a Catholic school

  • Ciaran74

    Sounds just as bad as banning religion!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Well James, I used to think similarly but that droughts battle lines, our top catholic grammar schools excel.

    Plus what’s the point in integrating st play’s Downpatrick or st Colm’s Draperstown?

    In those cases it would simply be lip service.

    Integrate schools in mixed villages and schools in places like Magherafelt.

    Then we can see how things are, gingerly whisperly and all that.

  • Easóg

    So that’s your idea of being ‘bitterly opposed’?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    When I was passing through the University of London Institute of Education David I was taught by a Polish artist whose aunt had gone to an academy in St Petersburg just before the Great War. She lamented the decline in educational standards of his generation, and he in turn teased me and my contemporaries with another drop in standards which he evidently saw in us. Looking at how little real culture seems to seep into the present educational system, I’m inclined to run ( with you I’d imagine) exactly the other way to those who always claim that each generation regularly sees a non existent decline in their juniors. When I think of how my own generation were taught to carefully assess information as well as simply gather it in, even in the early years of secondary education, and note the avoidance of such analysis in much of modern examinations, I can only believe that Dr Stanislaw was entirely right in his Jeremiad!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ah, but which grade has he reached?

  • David Crookes

    Indeed, Seaan. It would be as easy for persons of our vintage to address an audience of aliens as it would be for us to address an audience of recent graduates. There is no base of shared knowledge on which we and they may stand together.

    The ‘mystery of iniquity’ which began to afflict our education system in the 1960s has become an enormous hellish monster of vacuity.

    ‘Crush the infamy’? Not a hope. The zombies are all playing with their mobile phones.

  • babyface finlayson

    To paraphrase Dr Johnson, it is not that it is done well but that it is done at all which is remarkable.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ah, but he’s only using two paws, like Little Richard my cat can use all four.

  • Abucs

    There is always Themuns and Thosuns.

    Facilitating the two groups fairly is actually more healthy for a society than a one size fits all mentality where the philosophy is dictated by … ahem .. Thoseotherones.