Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Friday, 06 June 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Sammy Wilson (Chairperson)
Mr Dominic Bradley (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Basil McCrea
Miss Michelle McIlveen
Mr John O’Dowd
Mrs Michelle O’Neill
Mr Ken Robinson

Witnesses:
Mr Paul Duffy ) Department of Education
Mr John McGrath )
Ms Roisin Lilley )
Mrs Louise Warde Hunter )

The Chairperson (Mr S Wilson):
John, I welcome you and your team. We have heard from the Northern Ireland Primary Principals’ Action Group (NIPPAG) and from a group representing the maintained sector in north Belfast. They talked to us about the same issue. You did not have the opportunity to hear what they said, but I assume that you know about the issues that they have raised, and you have addressed some of those issues in the paper that you have submitted to the Committee. Perhaps you will talk us through that paper.

Mr John McGrath (Department of Education):
We are grateful for the opportunity to speak to the Committee this morning. Louise Warde Hunter heads the early years, youth and schools division; Roisin Lilley works specifically in schools finance; and Paul Duffy will deal with the next item, which is in-year monitoring.

I am aware that, following a meeting in October 2007, the Committee received an update on the common funding formula and other funding for primary schools from Will Haire on 29 February 2008. We have made the point that the Minister recognises the challenges facing primary-school principals and fully accepts the valuable and vital role of early intervention in preventing or reducing later difficulties. She is also aware of the depth of feeling among primary principals and MLAs, and members will have had a flavour of that earlier this morning.

In determining what funding from the Budget settlement can be provided to primary schools, the Minister has tried to ensure that, in the overall settlement, the increases that can be made to support primary schools do not create adverse budgetary pressures for the other phases, whether nursery or post-primary. There is £1·8 billion recurring in the education budget. Of that, £1·05 billion goes directly to schools, and of the 20·4% increase of funding directly to schools under the common funding formula, about 12·7% was distributed to primary schools. The average increase for primary schools was 4% per pupil, which was higher than the average for post primary.

A number of specific funds have been made available outside the common funding formula to delegated budgets. In 2008-09, that includes specific funding to help support primary schools; £17·5 million for the foundation stage of the primary curriculum and a rolling-out of Making a Good Start programmes; and £2·5 million for distribution to schools for additional support for primary teaching principals from September 2008.

Overall, including already planned Making a Good Start funding, the money for primary schools across the period of the Budget includes over £74 million, an additional £32 million for the foundation stage and £12 million for primary teaching principals, alongside the increased funding under the common funding arrangements.

Ms Louise Warde Hunter (Department of Education):
As John said, the Minister is fully aware of the concerns that have been expressed, and has met representatives of primary principals and the unions to discuss them.

In its documentation, NIPPAG highlighted a range of provisions that require additional funding, including reduced class sizes, more and better resources, and support staff. In particular, it highlighted the differential in funding between primary year 7 and post-primary year 8. NIPPAG called for an immediate increase in funding in respect of the £200 per primary pupil and £800 per year thereafter, and also asked for the provision of equal funding with secondary schools in other regions of the UK.

As outlined in the briefing pack to Committee members, the differential in funding reflects the greater cost demands for post-primary schools. The comparison of the age-weighted pupil unit (AWPU) funding alone does not reflect the other formula factors that are used to distribute funds on the basis of identified needs. In particular, that includes the support for smaller primary schools and above-average teaching costs.

The differential in funding for primary and post-primary schools reflects the greater cost demands that arise from the delivery of the curriculum in post-primary schools. The provision of a wider range of subjects by post-primary schools results in additional costs in areas such as teaching, materials and equipment, specialist facilities and examination fees. Given my appearance before the Committee last autumn, I know that that matter was raised then.

As the briefing outlines, an assessment of the costs for additional funding of £200 per primary pupil would mean that additional funding of approximately £31 million per year would need to be made available for distribution. The £800 per primary pupil translates to an additional £123 million.

The Minister has consistently stated that she is fully committed to increasing the relative levels of funding made available to support the work of primary schools for those important early years of our young people in formal education. However, as outlined, the distribution of funds needs to take account of the totality of funding and the needs of all schools, including a significant proportion of smaller primary schools and in supporting all schools in addressing social disadvantage.

To conclude my opening remarks, I hope that the Committee found the briefing pack helpful in reviewing the funding arrangements for schools. I assure the Committee that the common funding scheme for all schools is kept under continuous review. Committee members will be aware that the local management of schools — the LMS steering group, which comprises representatives from all key education partner bodies, regularly discusses proposals for changes to the operation of common funding.

Numerous potential changes are currently being considered. We would welcome suggestions from this Committee, or others, for changes that would help to refine the funding mechanism and support the key principles of common funding, which are to fund all schools according to need, on an objective and fair basis, including the mitigation of the effects of social disadvantage.

I am very happy to answer members’ questions. Members should also highlight any elements of the paper that they want to draw to our attention.

The Chairperson:
I will ask a question for clarification. You talked about the cost differentials between primary schools and post-primary schools. We all recognise those, but one of the points that were made to the Committee was that those differentials also occur in other parts of the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland, there does not appear to be the same recognition of the costs of primary education as there is in other areas.

In England, primary schools receive 79% of the funding that secondary schools receive. In Scotland, the figure is 72%; but the figure is 61·8% in Northern Ireland. Are you saying that the cost differentials between primary schools and primary schools in Northern Ireland are because of an issue that is specific to us that leads to those differentials being far greater than is the case in other parts of the UK?

Ms Roisin Lilley (Department of Education):
Perhaps you are quoting some of the statistics that were provided by NIPPAG. We were also given some of those figures, and we asked our statistical colleagues to consider those. It is difficult to make direct comparisons between funding here and funding in other parts of GB for a variety of reasons. The Committee is probably aware of those reasons: there are different structures and funding regimes.

For instance, sixth form is different in England and Scotland; there are different starting ages, different transfer ages, and the extent of delegation to schools is different. That is not just a difference between here and, for instance, local education authorities in England. Even among local education authorities in the same area in England there are different levels of delegation. In most of the English schools, the local education authorities delegate matters such as transportation, meals and milk; they are not delegated here. In comparing the pupil numbers in primary schools compared to post primaries, one is not making a direct comparison. That was recognised in the comparisons made in the Bain Report. A lot of caveats were included to show that it is difficult to make a comparison, because one is not comparing like with like. Because of that, some of the statistics would perhaps bear a more detailed analysis. Primary schools receive significant amounts of funding outside of the common funding formula here in Northern Ireland.

There is also a difficulty in looking at where the statistics come from. For instance, the recent 2007 statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, in the document ‘Education at a Glance’, are provided by one source, yet, next year, exactly the same research will be from a different source. There are difficulties in making comparisons, because it is not always comparing like with like.

The Chairperson:
I accept that there may be difficulties in making direct comparisons, but even those difficulties should not lead to a 20% differential in the amount of money that goes to secondary schools as compared to primary schools. You have spoken a lot about delegation and the level of that, which I will come on to in a moment, but whether more of the budget is delegated or not should not affect the relative ratio between one type of school and another. Resources have simply been delegated, but surely there should still be the same ratio. I do not know how the explanation that you have provided so far explains the massive difference between schools in another part of the United Kingdom and schools here. Delegation certainly does not explain that, because it is simply delegating the costs — the ratio of costs should still stay the same. The source of the payments is simply different in one part of the country than another.

Ms Lilley:
I know that if one looks at the papers that you have been provided with, it could appear on the surface that there is a 20% differential, but one would need to have a look to see what exactly is being compared. I do not think that it is comparing like with like, because there are different funding structures, and different ages. In some cases, when some of the money is delegated, it goes through the education and library boards here, and therefore it is not necessarily counted as direct funding to the school, whereas in England it is taken as direct funding to the school.

The Chairperson:
One of the common themes throughout all of the submissions that have been made to the Committee is the dependence on one-off initiatives. There has been a lot of criticism about that. First, not every principal gets to know about those initiatives. Secondly, sometimes the application process can be quite complicated. Thirdly, sometimes schools end up spending money on things that they do not actually need, as they have to spend it in order to qualify for the initiative. Then, when they have the money from the initiative, it is suddenly cut off, just as it is beginning to have an impact, or before it has an impact. The issue of extended schools is often mentioned as a common example. The problem is that schools cannot do any long-term planning.

You have mentioned that you would be interested in hearing from the Committee about any way within the existing budgetary structures in which money could perhaps be better used. One of the things that I think school principals, and certainly the Committee, would like to see the Department doing is to find ways of reducing the number of special initiatives that there are, and mainstreaming them into the budgets, so that principals can make decisions as to how to spend money.

One principal today told this Committee that he did not want to spend £14,000 on computers. He could have spent that on something else, but was forced to spend it on computers, because the initiative told him to do so.

The Committee wants to examine the work that has been done by the Department to reduce the number of initiatives. Why can the Department not allocate funds to principals and allow them to spend it in the way that best meets their needs and problems.

Mr McGrath:
The point is well made. The Department is looking at the fact that there are proliferations of earmarked funds that have grown, year on year.

The Chairperson:
It would be useful to the Committee if you could tell us how many earmarked funds there are and what that amounts to in monetary terms.

Mr McGrath:
Absolutely. We have that matter fairly well in hand, and we have been looking at it recently. In many cases, the reasons why the funding started has perhaps passed. That comes back to a sense of trying to use a financial regime to make things happen. In terms of management within the Department, it does not help us, because if you have 50 or 60 little pots of money, you have to manage that number of pots. We have already taken some steps this year to reduce the number of earmarked funds, and we would want to mainstream most of that.

Obviously, there will always be some allocations that are topical, which arise from issues raised by the Committee or the Minister. However, we are examining that, and when and if ESA comes into being, the Department would like to move away from earmarking specific sums. Instead, we would like to move towards an approach of allocating broad funding and high-level targets that need to be produced from that funding.

We will present a paper to the Committee on the extent of earmarked funds as they exist at the moment. I suspect that that will amount to more than you imagine.

Mr K Robinson:
A fundamental point has been raised by others who have been before this Committee today — there is a gap in the funding for a child at nursery school and that same child when they move into primary 1. How do you explain those types of discrepancies, and what methodology do you use to calculate the amount that is allocated to that child at nursery, primary and post-primary levels?

Ms Lilley:
The discrepancy between nursery and primary education is because there are limits, statutorily, with respect to the number of pupils to a teacher. That is a result of the age ratio, and accounts for much of the difference in the cost of nursery education provision. However, those costs do not apply in primary schools, where there is a ratio of one teacher to every 30 pupils.

Mr K Robinson:
Yes, but most principals would try to avoid that situation.

Ms Lilley:
With respect to the point the Chairperson raised in relation to earmarked funding, Ms Warde Hunter has touched on the continuous review of the common funding formula (CFF) in the LMS steering group. That body has looked at taking funding currently outside of the CFF and putting it through the CFF as delegated funds this year — exactly as the Committee has asked. Therefore, the principals can use the funds as they see fit.

Obviously, we will be coming before the Committee again on this matter, but two of the areas that are currently being examined are what was known as Making a Good Start (MAGS) and what is now the foundation stage. However, the Department, in its examination, would need to treat that as a factor. That is because, at the minute, the system is banded so that all schools get more or less the same as last year. If that examination is favourable, schools would receive funds through the formula and then decide how they want to utilise those funds; the same would also apply for the extra funding for the principal’s release time.

Mr McGrath has already stated that he will be bringing the paper before the Committee. However, before that, the Department will be examining how much we can direct through mainstreaming. That will allow principals and boards of governors to do exactly what you have asked for — to decide how they wish to spend allocated funds.

Mr McGrath:
Obviously, if we narrow earmarked funds to certain schools for a purpose, and we group a number of those and put them through a funding formula, it will be spread. Therefore, some people will lose some of the jam and you would then undoubtedly have people making representations about the ending of the funding. However, that is the price of it.

The Chairperson:
That is one of the prices. You said that there will be times when you identify a particular need in an area that has to be addressed, and the Committee accepts that. We are not being simplistic to the point that we say that no funds should be earmarked.

Mr McGrath:
No; I was not suggesting that.

The Chairperson:
I get the impression that more funds are earmarked than ought to be. That is what the principals told us.

Mr McGrath:
The quantum of earmarked funds is £190 million.

The Chairperson:
That is a sizeable amount.

Mr McGrath:
It is. The amount earmarked should be a small amount of the total kitty. As you said, £190 million is a sizeable amount.

The Chairperson:
I know that that money is probably for primary and secondary schools. However, Louise talked about £800 per primary-school pupil, and you still have money left over from that. I am not saying that it is simplistic; however, we are talking about an amount of money that, if used in its entirety, would more than address some of the issues that we have been asked about.

Mr D Bradley:
The earmarked funding is £20 million more than the total budget for special-needs education.

Mr McGrath:
There is a large amount of earmarked budgets, many of which have continued for a number of years. Even in simple management terms, it would suit us better to use a formula for a lot of them. Earmarked budgets take time and effort. It takes nearly the same amount of time to monitor £1 of earmarked funds as it does to monitor £1 million in the education boards.

Mr D Bradley:
Sixth-form pupils have what could be termed special needs: low teacher-pupil ratios; special resources, including books and certain equipment; and supervised study time. Furthermore, their teachers require longer preparation time. All such factors are built into the money that they attract. How much money does a sixth-form pupil attract, per capita?

Ms Warde Hunter:
We do not have that information to hand, but we can get it for you.

Mr D Bradley:
Can you tell me how much a primary-school pupil attracts?

Ms Warde Hunter:
For 2008-09, the figure is £2,646. That is on page 14 of the briefing paper.

Mr D Bradley:
Is it not possible to tell us how much a sixth-form pupil attracts?

Ms Warde Hunter:
We can work it out for you.

Mr D Bradley:
Primary-school principals told us that they want to achieve for their pupils the same as sixth-form pupils currently receive, including low teacher-pupil ratios; special resources or books; better equipment; more teacher-preparation time; and more supervision and structure for the new curriculum.

Ms Warde Hunter:
Do you want us to consider that as a comparator? We are going as quickly as we can with our calculations.

Mr D Bradley:
Does the Department have a philosophy on education, and a general policy in which that philosophy is encapsulated?

If so, is that reflected in the way that schools are funded? It seems to me that whenever an emergency arises, the Department always sticks a plaster on it that is earmarked “funding for a special initiative”. The adhesive eventually dries up and the plaster falls off, and a sore then breaks out somewhere else. Therefore, there seems not to be an educational philosophy that directs the Department’s funding, and that is one of the weaknesses of the system.

Ms Warde Hunter:
The overarching vision and mission of the Department is to educate each child to enable them to reach their full potential at each stage of their development. That is the Department’s guiding philosophy.

Mr D Bradley:
That does not take into account the greater need that might exist at various stages in a child’s development through the education system. Most experts agree that pupils need the greatest intervention, support and resources during the early- and mid-primary school stage.

Ms Warde Hunter:
I accept that point. The reality that we are facing is the historic position with regard to the different weightings that have been allocated to different pupils at different stages of their educational career. We recognise the importance of meeting those needs and getting additional money to primary schools. Some of that money is outside the formula, and more of that money, as a result of streamlining, should be going through the formula in an appropriate way. The challenge is how that can be achieved from the current funding pot without adversely affecting the other phases of education. That is the conundrum.

At a recent meeting of the LMS steering group, one or two members raised the view — and this might not be a uniformly-shared view — that some of the challenges that they were seeing in their areas were on the post-primary side. The LMS steering group is, therefore, very conscious of the issue of relative surpluses and deficits, so to speak, and the attached pressures. Although there is merit in highlighting the key issue of the needs of the earlier stages of education, we are still hearing from the LMS steering group that there is a counter-balancing argument.

Mr D Bradley:
Most people agree that if you invest and intervene early, there are savings further down the line. You are investing to save, and those savings can be used elsewhere.

Ms Lilley:
Although Louise spoke of streamlining some funding, there is extra money in primary schools this year, specifically in years 1 and 2. All primary pupils are now receiving foundation funding under year 2, and the Minister has given an additional £32 million increase for years 1 and 2 over the next three years, specifically for the early years and primary schools, which recognises the point that you made.

I take on board the point about earmarked funds. However, there is additional money for literacy and numeracy to try to address that issue. Money is also being made available to allow teachers and principals to get time out, and for principals to get a second day out of class.

The Department made a bid for money to allow for non-contact time for preparation. Unfortunately, that bid was not successful. The bulk of the common funding formula is based on pupil numbers and is related to the age-weighted pupil unit. When looking at purely the AWPU, and the differential between year 7 and year 8, it is important to note how much money goes to AWPU. In the nursery sector, 87·5% is purely AWPU, and in the post-primary sector, 85·2% is AWPU. In the primary sector, however, that drops to 73·8%. When one considers the quantums of money that we are talking about, that is significant. That is recognition of how much money goes to primary schools that is not purely for AWPU, but for other factors.

A significant amount of money goes to primary schools in small-school support and in teachers’ salary protection. We have outlined that in the document. Because there is such a large number of small schools in Northern Ireland, they are significantly more costly on a per capita basis. Some 37% of our schools are small schools. I do not suggest that we would take money from those schools: clearly, they need it. However, to put that in perspective, the money that goes to small schools and to teachers’ salary protection — the bulk of which goes to primary schools — if taken out, would allow for an increase of £200 per pupil. Looking at AWPU alone does not give the full picture; one should consider other factors that skew the distribution of money in favour of primary schools.

Mr McCausland:
You mentioned earmarked money outside the funding formula. For each of those programmes or projects there is a design element. Schools have to report on it, someone checks that, and it is monitored. If all those initiatives were scrapped and the money put into the mainstream, you would end up with less work for civil servants. We could have fewer civil servants and that would release more money for teaching. That for me is a key priority: the simpler the system and the more slimmed down it is, the better; and, therefore, the sooner the area of earmarked funding and special initiatives is tackled, the better.

Does the Department benchmark, or has it done so in the past? Figures in England, Scotland and Wales have been quoted, and you said that you would have to investigate those. Has it not been the Department’s practice to benchmark and compare with England, Scotland and Wales? Would it not be good practice to use them as a point of reference?

Ms Warde Hunter:
We keep a watching brief on developments in those jurisdictions. In relation to the earlier point about the differentials, Roisin explained that, with respect to funding mechanisms, one would not exactly be comparing like with like. In a subsequent paper, we can offer a clearer analysis of that subject.

We are in the early stages of planning a review of the common funding formula. That review will undoubtedly take account of funding arrangements in other countries and jurisdictions. That will be helpful, and the member’s comments are timely.

Mr McCausland:
Did the Public Accounts Committee criticise the Department on the grounds that there had not been benchmarking and comparison?

Mr K Robinson:
The Public Accounts Committee pointed out that the Department had generally failed to watch what was happening on the mainland. That was a great oversight. The Committee is still watching that.

Mr McCausland:
Some £190 million was earmarked: what percentage is that of the total?

The Chairperson:
It is 10% of the total, or, as is shown on page 4 of the brief, it is about 20% of the money that is available to schools.

Ms Lilley:
May I return to the point you made about earmarked funds? We fully recognise that; and that is why, as part of proposals this year, we seek to streamline that to reduce bureaucracy. As you know, the MAGS programme is running until August and then the foundation stage replaces that. We have said to schools that, although, on paper, they are two separate funds, schools may treat them as one for all purposes, in order to reduce the bureaucracy. That is only a small step, but it is recognition that we are conscious of that, and we are moving in that direction.

Mr McCausland:
Louise made a point about the plea being made by secondary schools. If many of the educational issues had been addressed in primary schools, secondary schools would require less additional support, because the problems would have been tackled at a much earlier stage.

Mr McGrath:
There would be a time lag. Frequently, although theoretically there is the Invest to Save Budget, it does not manifest itself in savings that can be moved.

Mr McCausland:
The Invest to Save Budget does not stop you making progress on the new education and skills authority. Look at all the redundancy payments you will have to pay to the boards’ staff to allow the establishment of ESA. Why not do the same with the primary schools?

Mr McGrath:
That is a good point; I will take that away with me.

Mr O’Dowd:
Much of today’s discussion has focused on earmarked funding. When we were all engaged in opposition politics, I remember how often we released statements calling for certain batches of funding to be ring-fenced, so that it could be used only for the purpose for which it was intended. During that period, the dedication of £14,000 to a school in a socially deprived area to purchase computers would have been a good-news story. I accept that the principal of the school concerned may have considered that he could have used those resources for something else.

However, the counter-argument is that when funding is set aside, particularly for ICT and special needs, and the money goes into the school pot, it is not used for the purpose for which it was intended. It is spent on what the principal and the board of governors consider as a short-term or medium-term — but not a long-term — priority. Does that benefit the educational needs of the children or the community? We must strike the correct balance. Louise, you said that you are at the early stages of a review of the common funding formula. What exactly does that mean, and when will the report be published?

Ms Warde Hunter:
We are considering how to shape the progression of the review. We are working with the LMS steering group, which is an important dimension of the review, and we asked the group to identify the issues that it considers important.

We have also been taking account of each issue in the light of the need to progress the review quickly. A question arose on sending out a message to the wider public domain that, although there is a need to review the common funding formula, the LMS steering group had counselled that the aim should be to strike a balance and not create undue turbulence in the sector.

The short answer is that, over the next couple of months, we will produce a timeline to ensure that the stages of the review are more clearly defined. We will have to take advice on drafting our terms of reference, and we want to involve the LMS steering group. I anticipate that the report will not be published until well into 2009.

Mr O’Dowd:
Who sits on the LMS steering group?

Ms Warde Hunter:
It has representatives from a wide range of bodies: the education and library boards, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS), Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta (CnaG), the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE), and the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA).

Ms Lilley:
Educationalists and people with a background in finance sit on the steering group.

Ms Warde Hunter:
The steering group comprises a mix of people from the list of organisations that I mentioned. Some are educationalists, and others have the financial know-how.

Mr O’Dowd:
Are any educationalists specifically from the primary-school sector or secondary-school sectors?

Ms Warde Hunter:
No. The representatives from the bodies that I listed have an understanding of the management or type of school — depending on their organisation — throughout the nursery, primary and post-primary sectors.

The Chairperson:
I recognise that the Committee has a longer-term commitment to review the entire LMS, but you mentioned, if I picked you up correctly, that you are considering what short-term changes may be made. When will we know about those?

Ms Warde Hunter:
We have a clearer timeline on those changes, and Roisin is more closely involved with the details.

Ms Lilley:
The LMS steering group charged us to examine some changes, and we are considering modelling those. I mentioned some of the changes that the Department wants to consider. We are due to meet our LMS colleagues again on Friday 13 June, and we intend to return to the Committee before the summer recess to confirm which changes we have considered.

At the start of the presentation, Louise said that the Education Committee is welcome, at any time, to come to us with proposals for issues that it wants us to consider.

Ms Warde Hunter:
That would ensure that you are aware of the normal pattern. We will then be considering that over the autumn with consultation and so on. That is our normal cycle.

Mr B McCrea:
I understand the difference between AWPU and other funding. When everything is considered, do you think that the primary-school sector is underfunded?

Ms Lilley:
We have increased the amount of funding that goes to the primary school sector. On average, in the last four years, it has increased by more than the other two sectors. However, there is a surplus deficit. I know that you are considering the sector as a whole. The surplus increased from the 2005-06 period to the 2006-07 period, which are the most recent periods that we have full figures for. However, the deficit decreased during that period. Although we acknowledge that some schools are in difficulties; on the whole, there are surpluses that seem to be growing.

Mr B McCrea:
The primary-school principals mentioned that you might say that. However, the reason for some surpluses is that they make savings elsewhere. They sometimes make people redundant because they like to have some money put away for a rainy day. That puts them under huge amounts of stress.

Does the Department recognise that there is a problem in the primary-school sector?

Ms Lilley:
The Minister clearly gave her commitment to wanting to skew more money towards the primary sector. That is why the change was made in the primary AWPU last year, to go from 1·02 to 1·04. The Minister indicated that that is what she wanted to change. Louise indicated that we want to initiate a review — that is one of the issues that we will consider.

Mr B McCrea:
You have not answered the question on two occasions.

Mr McGrath:
It depends on context. The Minister would argue — and the Committee would perhaps argue — that more money should be given to schools in general. In absolute terms, the school system could do with more money. We made bids during the Budget process, but we were not successful in all of those. In one sense, there is underfunding across the school system.

The question is relative. The Minister has recognised that that area is underfunded and she wants to make progress on that front. However, progress is more difficult if it affects funding in other areas.

Mr B McCrea:
I will ask a specific question because I do not want to dwell on the issue. As I am sure you have heard, the principals this morning were very upset by the amount of stress and strain that they feel that they are under. Everyone appears to agree that they should receive more investment. However, platitudes do not achieve anything.

As I said to them, I am not sure whether other parts of the system believe that they have a problem. That was the real question. When you talk about the distribution and the different phases, one of the significant elements is small-school support, which is mentioned on page 13. It mentions a figure of 6·38%. If I understood your argument correctly, you are saying that if that was taken together with teacher-salary protection, that would, more or less, have made up the differential that they were concerned about.

Ms Lilley:
No — that was not what I meant. The majority of the money under small-school support goes to primary schools. If one considered the amount that went to primary schools, it could equate to an increase of £200 per pupil.

Mr B McCrea:
I thought that £200 was what they were looking for.

Ms Lilley:
That is what their initial target was.

Mr B McCrea:
If that is part of the issue, it appears to me that there is a differential between different types of primary school. Earlier, we heard from Martin Short, who talked about the Ardoyne area. He is principal of a primary school of 500 pupils, in quite challenging circumstances. The Committee has heard from others today who experience similar challenges.

It occurs to me that if the uplift to which you refer really came from small-schools support, there will be rural schools that receive support, but some of the primary schools in the most challenging areas with our biggest intakes will suffer because they will have a much-reduced source of funding from AWPU.

Ms Lilley:
Children in those areas in those schools would still attract substantial TSN weighting.

Mr B McCrea:
Yes, but that only makes up for the small-school support. This is anecdotal evidence, but there is a primary school in Glengormley that has a teaching vice-principal who is looking after a class of 14 children in P7. The headteacher came from north Belfast where no teaching was being done — they were out trying to keep people out of jail and look after similar issues. I am not being condescending — I know that there are different challenges. I do not think that the right resources are going into primary schools that operate in more challenging areas.

Ms Warde Hunter:
Would the Committee like us to take that thinking about the TSN factor away? That would be the only clear factor that I could see, if the intention was to secure more funds to meet the needs of schools in the most disadvantaged areas, particularly larger schools that are not in receipt of small-schools support.

The Chairperson:
I do not want you to think that that is a Committee idea. I would like wider discussion among ourselves on that because I do not think that Basil particularly understands the dynamics of what he is proposing.

Mr B McCrea:
I was not making a proposal; I was asking questions for information. As I understood it, the argument that the principals were making was that the uplift in AWPU from 1∙02 to 1∙04 was insufficient, and they were looking for an uplift of 1∙3. In comparing different regions across the United Kingdom — the proportion of money in comparison to secondary school education — Northern Ireland comes out bottom. My understanding was that AWPU is only part of the funding issue. I was merely identifying whether the shortfall was due to the way in which small-school funding was allocated. I am not making a suggestion, but I hear from a lot of people, particularly in north Belfast, who say that they are under real pressure, and if they do not get some extra money, they will have a breakdown.

Mr McCausland:
The issue is not as Ms Warde Hunter expressed it. TSN is a very blunt instrument. Sometimes, there are two schools in equally socially disadvantaged areas, but the dynamics within the community that they serve are very different. Specific cases have been highlighted by a number of teachers who face unique circumstances, and some thought needs to be given to objective criteria in the long term, rather than a two-year initiative. The challenge is to find the right criteria — it is about educational rather than social disadvantage.

Mr McGrath:
In many cases, I recognise those circumstances. That is why we end up with earmarked funds. Often issues must be dealt with that, in many cases, are outside the school. Those issues may impact on educational disadvantage and — for good or ill — that is why initiatives such as extended schools or interface funding happen. Some factors cannot be dealt with through a universal formula. Time passes, and we could end up in a position where we have too many of them, or the circumstances change. The question is where to strike the balance. Basil’s point is that principals are spending time outside schools, dealing with some of the wider issues that have an impact, but no formula could cope with the impact of all of those factors.

Mr B McCrea:
That is the point — we need a strategic review of a particular area, although I know that that sounds like area-based planning.

If you are going to conduct an overall review of an area such as north Belfast, it is important to consider how you will get money for that area and how you will get school leaders to deal with the issues. We need to find of a way of making the system practitioner led.

I have made the point — which I have mentioned to others — that the Department for Employment and Learning has been approached and is interested in tackling some of the wider social issues. We may need to get DSD involved so that we can come up with a way of tackling the issues in particular areas, because there are hot spots where people have real problems and, as John said, some of those are beyond the remit of the Department of Education.

The Chairperson:
I thank the witnesses for their time.

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