Northern Ireland extended schools programme scrapped due to budget constraints

A scheme which provided funding for hundreds of schools in Northern Ireland to offer the likes of breakfast and homework clubs has been axed.

The Department of Education has written to principals telling them that it will be ending its extended schools programme due to a lack of funding.

It has been described it as a "blow to the most vulnerable children".

The scheme helped nearly 500 schools across Northern Ireland to provide homework, counselling and after-school clubs.

The department says the 'extremely challenging' draft budget set by the Northern Ireland Office has forced it to make 'significant savings.'

It comes after UTV saw a leaked Northern Ireland Office briefing note on the Stormont budget, which indicated a potential for the Government to take a tough financial stance in the months ahead. The document stated the Executive is "losing over £700m a year by failing to introduce revenue raising measures".

In the absence of an Executive, it is expected that the 2023-24 budget for all Stormont departments will be decided by the Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris.

The Department of Education is yet to receive its confirmed funding allocation and it said in a letter to principals that "the indicative budget allocation recently advised by the Northern Ireland Office is extremely challenging for education and as a result, the department has had to made significant savings."

The extended schools programme has been supported in recent years with £5.8million worth of funding from the Confidence and Supply agreement struck between the DUP and Westminster. That agreement saw the party support Theresa May's minority government.

However, this is no longer available and due to the extent of budget pressures, the funding cannot be covered by the Department of Education.

The interim allocation for the Extended Schools Programme has been set at just over £2m representing a reduction of nearly £7m or 75% from the previous year.

A such, the Department of Education says it can only provide funding to the end of June.

However, only schools which fully meet the criteria will receive substantial funding until then.

The department recognised how "disappointing this is for everyone involved in the delivery of this longstanding programme, and for the young people and families who have benefitted from its support over many years."

However it stressed the decision was "necessary" given the severely constrained financial context.

The NASUWT's Justin McCamphill described it as a "blow to the most vulnerable children"."The withdrawal of both of the Extended Schools programme is yet another blow to our most vulnerable children and young people. This comes on top of the ending of the Engage Programme, the Holiday Hunger programme and the Healthy Happy minds pilot.

"Post-Covid we need a recovery plan for our most vulnerable children and young people. Instead they are being subject to cuts which the Secretary of State has the power to reverse. 

"If these cuts go ahead we will see the end of breakfast and homework clubs, after school sports, art clubs, drama clubs, ICT clubs and programmes for parents and families as well as community use of school premises.

"There can be no expectation that teachers will fill the gap on an unpaid basis.

"This decision is being made in the context of wider cuts to education and against a back drop of accelerating real terms pay cuts.

"The Department of Education should be in no doubt that cutting services will only strengthen the resolve of NASUWT members as they take strike action next week".

Mark McTaggart, INTO Northern Secretary, expressed his concern about the cuts stating that they "will affect the most economically and socially disadvantaged children in the region".

"The removal of the Extended Schools funding will be a significant setback for these students, and the communities they come from.”

This latest cut to education funding follows a series of cuts to: free meals during school holidays, counselling for primary school children, catch-up support and free books for babies.

"The continued cuts have sparked outrage among teachers, who are calling on politicians to find the necessary funding to ensure that this system can offer world-class education to all students.

"It is time for politicians to stop playing with the lives of the most vulnerable young people in society and get back to real politics. Education deserves better."

The Department of Education has been contacted for comment.

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