Fears over jobs and free school meals

School dinners.
School dinners.

The concerns were raised as WELB representatives updated Derry City Council’s Regional Services Committee on the current situation.



The WELB and the other four education and library boards in the north have been in existence since 1973, but are to be amalgamated under the Review of Public Administration, the committee was told.

June Neill, WELB Deputy Head of Curriculum and Advisory Support Service said there will be around a year of interim arrangements while various services are “streamlined into the new organisation”.

Ms Neill said that down the line there would be implications for staff numbers and employment contracts, as well as slight differences in the way services are delivered in the future.

Sean Rodgers, Assistant Finance Officer with WELB, said he had hoped to be giving the council committee members an update on the funding being allocated to local schools, but the overall budget has yet to be approved.

He said he was hopeful schools will be “no worse off financially that they were last year” but warned that a steeper decline in birth rates in the western region that elsewhere may have an adverse impact locally. In Derry, he said, school enrolment has dropped from 18,222 at the start of the Millennium to 15,868 at the census last year- a reduction of 13%.

He added that funding for extended schools programmes, transport services and school meals as well as special education were all provided for from the block grant and until the final figure comes through it could be anyone’s guess what will happen.

Sinead McCartan, WELB Planning and Development Officer, said there were no plans to “rationalise” any schools in Derry other than the closure of Immaculate Conception College.

Mayor of Derry, SDLP Councillor Brenda Stevenson raised concerns over job losses and the future for rural schools and SureStart. She said: “Some of our children don’t even get a meal at home and this is the only meal they get in the day. We cannot afford any cuts.”

Sinn Fein Councillor Mickey Cooper said any job losses will be on a voluntary basis.

Speaking about a recent additional funding allocation to the Department for Education, he added: “We would emphasis that £80m that wasn’t there before Christmas, that is now in place. We are not out of the woods yet but there is certainly an improvement on six weeks ago.”