Northern Ireland news

Proposed cuts to youth services and early years programmes halted

Cuts to several youth services and early years programmes will not go ahead
Suzanne McGonagle Education Reporter

PROPOSED cuts to several youth services and early years programmes will not go ahead, the Department of Education has announced.

It said programmes such as Pathway Fund, Sure Start, Bright Start and Toybox will not be halted, while proposed cuts to the Extended School programme will not proceed either.

Budgetary pressure on the education system in Northern Ireland has already seen a number of schemes cut or scaled back.

Education bosses have been faced with difficult choices after the annual funding for education was cut in the budget from Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.

The sector is to receive £2.6 billion in funding - a cut of 2.5 per cent on last year's allocation.

The department has already implemented cost-cutting moves including halting the Engage, Healthy Happy Minds and School Holiday Food Grant schemes from the end of March 2023.

In a statement on Thursday, it said it was "not proceeding" with proposed cuts to programmes such as the Pathway Fund, which supports 187 early years organizations, and Sure Start centres which aim to support the wellbeing of children before they start school.

The Extended Schools programme, which enables almost 500 schools to provide extra services like counselling, breakfasts and after-school clubs, will also be saved.

Education permanent secretary Dr Mark Browne said the department’s "vision for all children is that they will be happy, learning and succeeding". 

"Delivering on this is particularly challenging in the current budgetary context, especially in terms of addressing the needs of our most disadvantaged children and young people," he said. 

"We know that early intervention, especially for our most vulnerable, is critical for development, improving learning outcomes and supporting longer term societal benefits.

"Accordingly, having carefully considered all of the principles in the secretary of state’s decision making guidance, I am not cutting funding to youth services and a range of early years programmes including the Pathway Fund, Sure Start, Bright Start and Toybox.

"In addition I am not proceeding with the full scale of proposed cuts to Extended Schools."

Education Permanent Secretary Mark Browne


He said that "considering the scale and cumulative impact of the proposed cuts, which represent a major change to long standing ministerial programmes and policies, I am of the view that such a decision should be taken by a minister, not a permanent secretary".

“Evidence shows that the scale of the proposed cuts to early years, Extended Schools and youth service programmes would create greater budgetary pressures for the next financial year and beyond across a range of areas, including special educational needs," he added. 

“Furthermore, the reductions would cause significant detriment to the provision of services for our most vulnerable children, young people and families, and run counter to all the Department’s efforts to tackle educational disadvantage.”

Northern Ireland news