Increasing numbers of SEND pupils must give rise to more education funding
22 July 2019
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee'' report on education funding shows that in the two and a half years since Stormont collapsed, a growing funding crisis in Northern Ireland's schools has resulted in unmanageable pressures on school budgets, with the rising number of pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities being a key driver of the trend.
- Read the report summary
- Read the conclusions and recommendations
- Read the full report: Education funding in Northern Ireland
Following an in-depth inquiry into education funding in the 2018-19 Northern Ireland Budget, which was set at Westminster due to the absence of an Assembly at Stormont, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee concludes that Northern Ireland's schools urgently need more money to address the growing pressures facing staff, pupils and parents. During the inquiry the Committee heard that some schools are under such financial strain that parents have donated supplies such as toilet roll and stationery. Additionally, many schools have struggled to provide support to the growing number of students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) who require dedicated support. The report calls for Northern Ireland's education budget to be increased in line with pupil numbers and to reflect the costs associated with caring for students with SEND.
The report also looks at structural challenges within Northern Ireland's education system, the allocation of funding from the Confidence and Supply Agreement and real-terms cuts to teachers' pay. The Committee recommends that following steps are taken to address the emerging crisis in education funding:
- In the absence of MLAs and Ministers at Stormont, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should be prepared to implement education regulations previously agreed by the Northern Ireland Assembly;
- The Department of Education NI should review the capacity of the Education Authority to provide adequate support for schools;
- Future budget allocations for education should rise not only in line with inflation, but to reflect the number of pupils in the school system;
- The UK Government should work with the Department of Education and Department of Finance to produce three-year budget allocations for education;
- Future budget allocations for education should reflect the increasing number of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities in the Northern Ireland school system;
- The Secretary of State should implement SEND regulations which were previously agreed by Stormont in 2015 and 2016 but which have been unable to progress without the NI Assembly;
- The Department of Education should set out which factors it considers when determining special school budgets;
- The Department of Education should find out how the 2019-20 allocation of funds from the Confidence and Supply Agreement is being spent, and make this information available to the general public;
- Ministers should explain how programmes will continue to be funded after the exhaustion of Confidence and Supply funding;
- The Department of Education should review the Common Funding Formula to identify whether a fairer and more efficient balance of funding can be achieved;
- In the next budget cycle, The Department of Education pilot arrangements for Controlled and Maintained schools to be given greater financial flexibility;
- To make best use of resources, the school estate should be consolidated to concentrate resources in fewer schools following consultation with communities;
- To address unfair stagnation in teachers' pay, the Secretary of State should issue guidance making it clear that the moment a deal is reached with the trade unions the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Education can approve and authorise the pay deal;
- The Department and the Education Authority should establish a health and wellbeing strategy for teachers, school staff and school leaders.
Commenting on the report, Committee Chair Simon Hoare MP said:
"Stagnant funding is evidently having a devastating impact on the ability of Northern Ireland's schools to provide the education and support their pupils deserve. Without an Executive or Assembly, budgeting challenges have mounted into a crisis. Northern Ireland's education system desperately needs more money to cope with the rising number of students presenting with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities and unmanageable pressures on resources and school staff.
Future budget allocations for education in Northern Ireland should be tied to the measurable increase in students in the education system, particularly those with SEND. This would help to provide adequate support for schools struggling to cope with new pressures. Additionally, Northern Ireland's dedicated teachers deserve pay rises like their counterparts in the rest of the UK. The Secretary of State can take action to improve the situation for SEND care by implementing regulations previously agreed at Stormont. The Secretary of State must also authorise the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Education to authorise a teachers' pay deal once it has been agreed by Trade Unions.
Ultimately however, Northern Ireland needs Stormont to be restored so that long-term structural problems within the education system can be addressed. Steps can be taken now to improve the situation for Northern Ireland's schools, but lasting change can only come from a Northern Ireland Executive."
An immediate crisis: funding for Northern Ireland's schools
Education funding is widely recognised as one of the most urgent public service challenges facing Northern Ireland today. While Northern Ireland's schools are highly respected and deliver strong academic outcomes, there is growing concern across the sector that current funding levels are not sufficient to deliver the quality of education that pupils deserve, and parents expect. The Committee heard that many schools are cutting classroom support staff, increasing class sizes, closing schools early and cutting back on books, whilst parents have donated supplies such as toilet roll and stationery.
The report notes that some regulations to alleviate pressure on schools were previously agreed at Stormont, but have not been implemented since its collapse. The Committee therefore urges the Secretary of State to introduce these regulations in Westminster.
The growing number of students in the education system has also caused pressure. The school population in Northern Ireland has increased by 2.5% since 2011, meaning that spending per head has decreased as allocated funds have not risen in parallel. The Committee calls for future budget allocations for education to rise not only in line with inflation, but to reflect the number of pupils in the school system.
Growing number of students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
One of the greatest pressures on the education budget in recent years has been the rising level of spending on Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) provision. The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People told the Committee that there were 2,800 additional pupils with special needs in 2017–18 compared with the previous year, and that a total of 23% of the NI school population have SEND. The report concludes that the education system does not currently have the resources it needs to meet demand for SEND support resulting in delayed care and limited hours of specialist support. The Committee recommend that future budget allocations for education should reflect the increasing number of children with SEND in the Northern Ireland school system. The Committee also calls on the Department of Education to set out which factors it considers when determining special school budgets.
Additionally, the report notes that though some action had been taken at Stormont to establish a way forward for SEND support, the lack of an Assembly is stopping the legislation from coming into effect. The Committee urges the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to lay before Parliament consequential regulations and documents arising from the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 and the Children and Young People's Co-operation Act (Northern Ireland) 2015, in order to give full effect to those Acts and so improve the support offered to children with SEND.
Northern Ireland teachers paid less than in Great Britain
The report outlines that a new teacher in Northern Ireland was paid 6% less than their counterparts in England or Wales, 23% less than in Scotland and 47% less than in the Republic of Ireland. The value of teachers' pay scales in Northern Ireland have remained unchanged since 2016, despite increases in England and Wales in 2017 and 2018. NASUWT, the teachers union, estimates that, after adjusting for inflation, teachers' pay in Northern Ireland has fallen by 20 per cent since 2010. The Committee brands the pay differentiation "deeply unfair" and calls for it to be corrected. The Committee recommends that if the NI Executive is not restored in time to approve a pay deal, the Secretary of State should issue guidance making it clear that the moment a deal is reached with the trade unions the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Education can approve and authorise the pay deal.
The report also notes the serious impact budget pressures have had on staff wellbeing. Many teachers now work well beyond their contracted hours and have to provide support in challenging areas such as SEND, students' use of social media and social care problems. The Committee calls on the Department and the Education Authority to establish a health and wellbeing strategy for teachers, school staff and school leaders.