Sinn Féin Councillor and Education Spokesperson Patricia Logue has welcomed the announcement by John O’Dowd Sinn Fein Minister for Education that schools in Derry and Strabane will receive over £3.5 million in their budgets as a result of changes to the way schools are funded.
As a member of the Board of Governors at St Cecilia’s College and Chairperson of Bligh’s Lane Nursery I am particularly pleased to see that they will receive very close to £250000 per annum. I am sure that this extra funding will go a long way to improving the educational experience and life chances of the pupils and children in Creggan. In total, there is almost £30 million in additional funds being pumped into school budgets across the North and this money is being targeted at those in greatest need. Its vital that school governors, teachers, parents and pupils understand the reasons behind this reform and why change is needed.
Perhaps one of the greatest inequalities currently facing our society is the fact that children from a disadvantaged background are much less likely to do well in school. The facts speak for themselves, 64% of children, not in receipt of Free School Meals achieve 5 good GCSEs whilst only 32% of those on Free School Meals achieve this level of attainment. In effect, a child from a lower income household, has only half the chance of leaving school with a good standard of qualifications. The Minister cannot ignore that inequality. None of us should ignore it.
The evidence and international experience have shown that the best way to break this cycle is by creating a network of good, well-led schools, which are properly resourced to do the job we want them to do and Sinn Féin through our programme of change is committed to this.
Toronto in Canada embarked upon a similar reform process in 2003. They faced a lot of resistance to change but they persisted and now have one of the most equal and high performing systems in the world. Their experience showed that, by targeting those children in greatest need and raising their attainment levels, this actually helped create a cycle of achievement in schools, raising standards for all children, including those who were already high achievers.
That is our aim and we have a whole suite of policies in place, which are aimed at improving educational attainment and creating that network of good schools. The year-on-year increase in attainment under successive Sinn Féin ministers is testament to the success of those policies. But there is still much to be done and we can never become complacent.
Sinn Féin are changing the way we do education. We now need to change the way we fund education so as to address the needs of the most disadvantaged. And there is nothing to fear in that for anyone. The international experience clearly shows that targeting disadvantage in this will improve outcomes for all children.
It’s also important to remember that this is not about ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’. When the planned reform of the formula was first publicised, there was a great deal of public comment and, it’s fair to say, concern among some schools that their budgets would be decreased. However, the Minister has listened to those concerns and addressed them. In the budgets, confirmed yesterday, no school is losing a penny as a result of his changes. He has injected additional funds into the system and take other steps to ensure that is the case.
That is incredible leadership. He has remained true to the policy aim of targeting disadvantage and making a real difference to thousands of children who need our help, while at the same time ensuring that no other school loses out. This is the kind of leadership that Sinn Féin brings to every area of work we are involved in, be it in the Executive, the Assembly, the Council or the community and we will continue working tirelessly on your behalf until we achieve a society centred on fairness and equality where every child has the chance to fulfil their potential in life.