Education boards paid for 69 overseas trips in 4 years
Details of almost 70 overseas trips paid for by education boards have emerged, at a time of unprecedented budget pressures on schools.
More than £200,000 was spent on foreign travel over a four-year period, with 21 different countries among the destinations.
Five major American cities - Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Pittsburgh - appear on a list of trips taken outside Britain and Ireland.
The United Arab Emirates and Ethiopia also feature on the destination map.
The Irish News reported last week that teachers were sent multiple times to Belgium to discuss European studies.
The journeys came at a time when language classes, building work and school maintenance have all been slashed.
Savings of almost £200 million must be made across the education system in 2015/16, with schools being dealt repeated blows as Stormont budget pressures bite.
About 500 teachers and 1,000 support staff are expected to leave the system this year.
The cost and frequency of all trips taken by education bodies were revealed by minister John O'Dowd.
A total of 69 overseas journeys between 2011/12 and 2014/15 were paid for by the five boards, which this year merged into the single Education Authority (EA).
The total cost to the boards was £202,091. Some trips were paid by third parties, such as the British Council and European Parliament, and are, therefore, not included in the total amount published today.
Of the 69 journeys, 15 were to the US. France and Poland were the next most popular destinations, with boards picking up the tab for eight visits to each.
Trips included a conference for teachers in Berlin, planning meetings in Belgium, ICT training in Italy, youth travel to various destinations and three days of "peace building" in Poland.
Polish was included in the popular and successful Primary Modern Languages Programme, which has recently been scrapped at a saving of £900,000 a year.
Justin McCamphill, the NASUWT's national official for Northern Ireland, has said the Department of Education must prioritise the front line when making spending decisions.
Teachers and support staff, he added, face widespread job losses while resources are also being cut significantly.
"Given the current financial pressures on the public sector it is critical that every penny must be spent wisely and for the greatest benefit of pupils and schools."
A spokeswoman for the Education Authority said "international experiences enable educators to move young people into environments where identity, nationality, and religion are not necessarily seen as issues that cause division".
"By providing these types of opportunities for engaging with others from a range of backgrounds in different settings, we create space and time for educators and young people to reflect on their own assumptions and understandings.
"The most significant outcome of international experiences is that young people are better equipped to interact with others, maintain and manage new and challenging relationships.
"In this context, much of the spend on international travel for the SEELB for example relates to young people undertaking exchange trips. Some of the funding for these trips comes from CRED, the European Union and from fundraising/contributions from the young people themselves."
Country Number of trips
Czech Republic 1
United States 15