A pause on the roll-out of digital devices to students in Northern Ireland and a halt on new school buildings or school extensions for 2023-24 marks the latest in a series of detrimental cuts from the Department of Education.
The news announced today (25 April) by the Department of Education (DE) comes as a further blow to Northern Ireland’s educational resources crisis.
Funding has recently been cut on vital services including school holiday food payments for children entitled to free meals during term time, the Cycling Proficiency Scheme, the BookStart Scheme which provides free book for babies and the closure of NI’s Anti-Bullying Forum.
The roll out of digital devices like laptops and iPads was part of the Fair Start Programme specifically for pupils in need.
In a statement received from the department to Ni4kids it was noted that while this was a “difficult decision” to make, there has been “significant investment in recent years with over 31,000 devices provided since 2020”.
However, the department had planned to provide approximately 16,000 devices by 2026 as part of a recommendation contained in the 2021 “A Fair Start” report. And with the interruption to this vital service that target is unlikely to be met.
The department further added: “Any remaining devices already in stock will be delivered to schools over the next few months.”
Furthermore, DE commented that the funding required for schools “far exceeds” the budget available and this is resulting in difficult decisions having to be made about how best to target spending.
A DE spokesperson said: “This year investment of around £70m is being provided for statutory and emergency construction works across the schools’ estate and to provide additional places for pupils with Special Educational Needs.
“Regrettably, it is unlikely the Department will be able to commence construction of any Executive funded new school builds or school enhancement projects during the current financial year.”
A forum representing more than 50 public bodies, including the Education Authority have stated that critical services are being put at risk by the lack of a Stormont budget.
NI Secretary of State, Chris Heaton-Harris is due to set the budget for Stormont departments in the absence of Northern Ireland’s Executive.
It is expected that some departments will have budgets cut by 10%, a situation that would be worsened due to the high rate of inflation and the effect of these budgets cuts could be felt for years to come.