Speaking afterwards Mrs Dodds said:
“This was a wide-ranging conversation about many different concerns but our key message was the continued underfunding of the Education budget. Regardless of the panel’s eventual findings and report we made clear that there is a need for Education to be recognised as ‘mission critical’ in budgetary terms in parallel with the Departmental of Health”
Mrs Dodds outlined key statistics to the panel in this crucial area. “Over the last ten years Education budgets have seen real term cuts of around £150 million. The funding overall has decreased over the last ten years by around 11%. Northern Ireland now has the lowest per capita pupil spend in the United Kingdom”.
This overall pressure is best illustrated by examining Special Education Needs (SEN) budgets. According to figures received by Mrs Dodds from the Department of Education total expenditure for Special Education Needs is projected to hit £500 million in 2022/23 which is an increase of 100% in the last 8 years. This will account for just under 25% of the entire Department's budget.
“There is a statutory duty on the Department and the Education Authority to ensure that our most vulnerable pupils receive the education that they need and deserve, this can only be done through appropriate funding.
Additionally we need to achieve a fair pay settlement for teachers and the financial issues are no less pressing in Further and Higher Education where budgets are also under significant strain.”
Mrs Dodds further stressed the need for fairness and equity amongst the different sectors in Northern Ireland. "The Controlled Sector and its pupils are disadvantaged in a variety of ways and we will continue to press for equality for all pupils regardless of which school they choose to attend"
"We also need to ensure that the Fair Start Action Plan needs to be properly financed and widening the context of that panel's findings we need more intervention and support earlier in a child's life to give them the best start possible".