Northern Ireland

NI schools face massive cuts to shared education funding

Funding for schools to bring pupils from different religions and backgrounds together is to be cut
Funding for schools to bring pupils from different religions and backgrounds together is to be cut

Schools across Northern Ireland face massive cuts to shared education funding.

It is understood that money for the scheme will be slashed by 50 per cent from September in the latest series of cuts set to impact schools.

Figures show that around 700 schools and pre-schools across the north received funding for shared education projects as of June 2021.

It is estimated that more than 87,000 young people were involved in shared education projects.

But the Education Authority (EA) has told schools that support for the shared education initiatives are to be cut by half in 2022/23 due to the "financial climate".

In a letter to principals, it also said there could be no funding available for shared education from the Department of Education (DE) after April 2024.

Head teachers were told education budget pressures "have unfortunately impacted on the budget available to support mainstreamed shared education (MSE) for the next academic year".

Shared education brings pupils from different religions and backgrounds together for classes and activities.

The aim is to bring children from Catholic, Protestant and other backgrounds together on a regular basis for joint classes, activities or trips. 

It is expected that schools involved in shared education partnerships will be told the exact future funding arrangements over the coming days.

"We recognise that this will be detrimental to the level of activity that can be provided to children and young people," the letter stated.

The EA also said that "due to the current significant financial pressures" funding to schools for shared education could not yet be confirmed beyond Easter 2024.

"It is hoped that further resourcing will be made available thereafter but at this time we are unable to make any further commitments beyond that timeframe," it said.

The Transferor Representatives’ Council, which represents the three main Protestant Churches in education, said it is "deeply disappointed" by the decision.

In a statement, it said "it is vital that we promote and encourage the growth of shared education, which enables staff and pupils from different backgrounds to work together on a regular basis, bringing significant educational, social and community benefits.

"This also includes giving pupils the opportunity to study subjects at GCSE level at their partner schools that are not taught at their own.

"The reduction of this funding in this financial year, and proposed complete removal next year, which will disproportionately impact the controlled and maintained sectors, will be to the detriment not only of children and young people, but also to good relations across society.

"This is on top of significant cuts to other areas of the education budget, many of which are specifically targeted towards providing a better start for the most vulnerable children among us."

The TRC statement added that it is calling for "all in government to reconsider this negative impact on the most vulnerable in society and give education the proper funding it requires, and particularly in the area of shared education".