Education news

Schools can bid for extra money after summer, minister says

Education Minister Peter Weir and senior department officials appeared via Zoom

SCHOOLS will be allowed to apply for extra money to help them with the post-Covid restart, the education minister has said.

Peter Weir and senior officials from his department appeared before the assembly education committee yesterday.

It had been reported that Mr Weir told principals there would be no additional funding after the summer break.

However, he told the committee that while the education budget was set, money could still be found to assist schools.

He cautioned that there would be "no open cheque book".

Children in key cohorts of Years 7, 12 and 14 are due to return on August 24 with other year groups starting later.

Pupils are expected to experience `blended learning' where they will be in the classroom for part of the week and learn from home when not in school.

Mr Weir told the members that he was more optimistic that there could be a full return earlier than expected.

Some schools have said they will need more money for accommodation and staff before all pupils can come back.

The committee heard that a lot of expenditure in schools would happen irrespective of whether there was a full or partial return.

Chairman and Alliance Party MLA Chris Lyttle asked the minster why he had written to suggest there would be no extra money, only to say the opposite in the committee.

Mr Weir said that there was "presently no additional funding in the education budget" to address all anticipated pressures.

It was likely that any future bids would be discussed at the executive and considered in the context of overall funding available.

The minister said if schools faced small additional costs "they will be met".

Most of these, he said, would likely be capital in nature, including implementing hand sanitising stations or more classroom space to help children maintain social distancing.

If individual schools decided it wanted all its children to wear masks, he added, they would need to fund that themselves.

"Efforts are underway with the Education Authority to come to a view as to what is needed," Mr Weir said.

"The overall budget is not any different from what it was in April, so there would need to be a level of bidding."

Meanwhile, free wi-fi and mobile connectivity is to be provided to children who may not have had access to digital technology during lockdown.

It is part of a scheme to lend digital devices to those pupils who would benefit most and to ensure continuity of learning when they return to school.

"I am conscious that internet access is an issue for many vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people. In May, I outlined proposals to lend digital devices such as laptops to those children who would benefit most in terms of supporting their learning," Mr Weir said.

"A key element of this scheme was to ensure that pupils who did not have access to the internet were able to use the digital devices for online learning. My officials have been working with the Education Authority to progress this issue as quickly as possible."

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