Page last updated at 20:50 GMT, Wednesday, 21 April 2010 21:50 UK

Minister unveils education budget

Catriona Ruane
The minister Catriona Ruane says she is in a 'challenging position'

The education minister has admitted her budget allocations for the coming year have involved "difficult decisions".

The overall funding is up by 1.9% to just over £1.9bn but the minister must find savings of £74m against her original plans for the year ahead.

Catriona Ruane said that in drawing up the revised budget, she had focused on "equality, reducing bureaucracy and ensuring funding for the classroom".

Education chiefs criticised delays in producing the budget.

Teachers and principals had complained they did not know how much they would have for the current financial year.

In keeping with cutbacks across government departments, the Department of Education has been asked to significantly reduce its budget compared to its original projections.

This means that despite a small incremental rise in funding, the budget is markedly lower than previously projected.

The Department of Education has identified savings of £51.7m in current expenditure and £22m earmarked for capital spending.

Among the plans detailed in the budget are extra funding for primary schools and an extension of the criteria for free school meals.

But she has also gone ahead with plans to cut the level of funding to state preparatory schools but not as deeply as planned.

Primary schools

The minister stressed that despite the efficiency savings, she wanted to ensure additional funding for primary schools.

She explained: "I am able to announce that the budget provides for an additional £90 per primary pupil which represents a 3.1% increase in funding per primary school pupil compared to last year."

She said that she still wanted to see the introduction of the Education and Skills Authority which was supposed to be introduced at the beginning of this year as a replacement for the Education and Library Boards.

It has not yet taken that role because of a lack of agreement within the executive, but Ms Ruane said that she still expected the boards to make the same cuts in bureaucracy which its introduction would have heralded.

Preparatory

The funding of prep schools, which the minister has previously threatened to get rid of altogether, is described in her budget statement as "an inequitable use of public funding".

However she said that she has given consideration to an equality impact assessment as well as the views of parents and teachers in the sector, before deciding to cut funding by one-third of its current level from September 2010.

Changes to the free school meal criteria will cost an extra £3m.

Children in full-time nursery places and primary schools whose parents receive working tax credit and a taxable income of under £16,190 will be entitled to a free meal.

Addressing the fall in capital budgets, the minister said she faced a "very challenging position", with a budget over £84m lower in real terms than 2009-10.

She said that new school building projects which will go ahead include Belfast Boys' Model School, Grosvenor Grammar School, St Cecilia's College and St Mary's College in Londonderry, St Mary's PS in Portglenone, St Joseph's PS in Carryduff as well as Ballysillan Youth Club.



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