HL Deb 12 July 2004 vol 663 cc116-7WA
Lord Laird

asked Her Majesty's Government: What, since 1990, has been the required number of pupils enrolling in a school in Northern Ireland for the school to receive government funding; whether there have been any exceptions; and, if so, what schools were involved; and what were the reasons given.

Baroness Amos:

The numbers enrolled at schools are kept under review with the relevant school authorities and amalgamation or closure is agreed for schools that are no longer considered viable. There are no set enrolments below which funding is automatically withheld: viability is considered on a case-by-case basis. To receive government support schools must also satisfy the following requirements:

School management—the school must have a scheme of management under Article 123 of Education Reform (NI) Order 1989 and a board of governors constituted under Article 11 of the Education and Libraries (NI) Order 1986.

Teachers—teachers must be properly qualified under Article 70(i) of the Education and Libraries (NI) Order 1986 and must observe days of operation under the teacher's regulations.

Curriculum—there is a specific statutory requirement under the Education Reform (NI) Order 1989 that to qualify for grant a school must teach the Northern Ireland school curriculum as specified in the order.

The department is also required to ensure that the establishment of a new school will not result in unreasonable public expenditure and will be viable in the long-term.

The current enrolment criteria for all new schools to qualify for funding are: Primary schools: Rural areas Minimum P1 intake of 12 pupils Urban areas Minimum P1 intake of 15 pupils Secondary schools: Minimum intake of 50 pupils

The criteria for primary schools have been in place since 2000 and for post-primary schools since 2001. In recent years, new schools have generally been in either the integrated or Irish-medium sector. The criteria that applied to integrated schools prior to the introduction of the current requirements are below. These covered the Irish-medium sector since 1998.

1990 15 60
1996 25 100
1998 25 80
2000 12/15 As above
2001 12/15 80

1 Rural/Urban respectively

Two new schools received funding without strictly meeting the relevant intake criteria, as follows:

  1. In 1996, Meanscoil Feirste, the only Irish-medium post-primary school in Northern Ireland, was awarded grant-aided status, although it did not achieve the required intake. There was, however, firm evidence from the school's previous intakes and the growth in the Irish-medium primary school sector that the school would shortly achieve the level of enrolments and that these would be sustainable.
  2. In 2002, Bunscoil Bheanna Boirche, an existing independent Irish-medium primary school in Castlewellan, was approved for funding with a year 1 intake of 10 instead of 12. The decision was taken on the basis that the school had just fallen short of the minimum but had 12 pre-school children in the attached pre-school unit. The school at the time also had a total of 32 children of compulsory school age already attending.