Education Minister John O’Dowd has been criticised for his “scarcey concealed agenda to strangle and close” small rural schools.
This follows news in the Sentinel recently that, due to proposed changes to the way budgets are allocated, almost every primary school in the Limavady Borough is likely to lose funding.
Now, TUV Leader Jim Allister has added his voice to those opposing the closure of rural schools. Mr Allister hit out at the rural schools posed by the review of the Common Funding Formula and, in particular, his plan to withdraw the Small Schools Subsidy.
Mr Allister said: “An 80 pupil rural school will see its delegated budget slashed by over £40000. This will mean redundancies, maybe of two teachers, leaving composite classes above the criteria set by Primary Area Planning, and, thereby, closure will be accelerated. This I suspect is the minister’s agenda.”
Based on figures from the Schools Census for 2012/13, there are eight primary schools with less than 80 pupils in the Limavady Borough and another which hovers just above that cut-off point.
Mr Allister continued: “Also, schools will be unable to meet their obligations to SENCO pupils i.e. providing extra literacy and numeracy support for under attaining pupils.
“And, of course, once schools run into significant deficit the schools will be deemed not to be economically viable and, thereby, another box for closure is ticked.
“Thus in O’Dowd’s approach I discern a scarcely concealed agenda to strangle and close many rural schools. The Small School Subsidy is indispensable and must not be removed. The entire rural community needs to get behind their local schools and respond to the current consultation on the Common Funding Formula.”
The Sentinel revealed on September 18 that almost every primary school in the Limavady Borough is set to lose funding as a result of proposed changes to the Common Funding scheme.
The proposed changes were severely criticised by the Ulster Unionst Party in Limavady, who said that th eproposed changes would “only make an unequal system more imbalanced.” The proposed changes are out to public consultation until October 18.