Anger over proposed cuts to school uniform grants
PLANNED cuts to a school uniform fund for children from lower-income families have been slammed as an "attack" on deprived communities.
Budget pressures are being blamed for a proposal to slash the clothing allowances by £3 million, leaving £1.9m available in the coming school year.
The Education Authority said the department ordered it to "make certain spending cuts to achieve budget savings".
Grants to help buy uniforms for certain categories of pupils are available from the authority. Who qualifies is decided in a similar way to free school meals.
Around 98,000 pupils were entitled to a uniform grant in 2015/16 at a cost of around £5.3m.
As recently as April this year, the department launched a consultation on changes to eligibility criteria for uniform grants.
It said it wanted "to continue to give a uniform grant to about the same number of pupils as we do now".
The proposed cut comes following a survey by PTA UK showing that four out of five parents in the north were already concerned about uniform costs.
Jayne Thompson, NI programmes manager at the parents' group, said many families are feeling the pinch.
"PTA UK parent research found nearly three-quarters agree the cost of sending children to state school is increasing with nearly half feeling concerned about this," she said.
"The research revealed that younger parents, parents of children in post-primary school and parents from lower socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to be concerned about the cost of sending children to school and in particular, parents were worried about the cost of essentials such as uniforms.
"Cutting the support to low-income families without considering the full impact on parents and pupils is ill advised."
Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey claimed the planned reduction is further evidence of Tory austerity cuts.
"I have asked for urgent meetings with both the Education Authority and the department and will be calling on them to reverse this cut immediately," he said.
Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit said: "Serious questions need to be asked about decisions made by unelected civil servants in the Department for Education. No one voted for these cuts."
The department said it was facing major financial pressures.
A spokeswoman added: "Consequently options to reduce spending across all programme areas are being explored, including the clothing allowance (uniform grants), extended schools and the entitlement framework.
"Final decisions on the scale of the budget reductions have not been taken on all areas and will depend on the department's final budget allocation."