School funding cut for special educational needs staff
Continued budget pressures on schools has seen funding cut in half for teachers supporting children with special educational needs.
Each school appoints a special needs coordinator, but funding for the role has now been slashed from £22 million to £11m in 2023-24.
The BBC report the latest cost-saving reduction from the Department for Education follows a decision to end a school holiday food grant for children entitled to free school meals.
Special needs coordinators have responsibility for supporting and monitoring the progress with special educational needs (SEN).
Over 66,000 pupils in Northern Ireland are said to have a form of SEN, with over 24,000 having a legal document setting out the support they should receive in school.
The extra responsibilities on coordinators means schools are given funds to allow them time away from the classroom.
An email to schools from the Education Authority said that despite the cuts, they were pleased at least some had been retained “given the challenging financial situation”.
Last week, the Department of Education announced that proposed cuts to several youth services and early years programmes would not be going ahead.
Programmes like Pathway Fund, Sure Start, Bright Start and Toybox as well cuts to the Extended School programme will now be protected.
It follows a 2.5 per cent cut in this year’s Education budget set by the Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.
Cuts have already been implemented in other areas like halting the Engage, Healthy Happy Minds and School Holiday Food Grant Schemes.
A spokesperson for the EA said in a statement: “Whilst the £11m allocation from the Department of Education is significantly reduced in the context of the ongoing unprecedented financial pressures, the funding available is aimed at supporting schools and providing dedicated time for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCOs) to support children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, including through putting in place a Personal Learning Plan (PLP) for each pupil on a school’s SEND register.
“Education continues to face unprecedented budget challenges in 2023/24 with an estimated funding gap of around £382m.
"We remain very concerned this will have an enduring and detrimental impact on our schools, critical services and ultimately on our children and young people, particularly the most vulnerable and those from disadvantaged areas.
"There has been a chronic underfunding of education over the last 10 years and we would repeat our call for sustained investment and continued transformation of services.”