Budget Blow: Schools to Receive Only Half of Previous Funding for Shared Education


Schools in Northern Ireland will experience a significant reduction in funding for shared education programs starting from September. The funding cut of 50% will affect hundreds of schools that participate in shared education initiatives, where students from diverse backgrounds and different schools come together for joint classes and activities. The Education Authority (EA) cited the “financial climate” as the reason for the budget reduction. A letter sent to school principals also revealed that there would be no funding available for shared education from the Department of Education (DE) after April 2024.

Currently, around 700 schools and pre-schools receive funding for shared education projects, aiming to bring together students from Catholic, Protestant, and other backgrounds on a regular basis. This approach seeks to promote integration and collaboration, distinguishing it from integrated education. One notable example is the long-standing partnership between Limavady High School and St Mary’s High School. The two schools will also share Northern Ireland’s first completed shared education campus, a newly constructed building used by students from both institutions.

Previously, the department allocated approximately £5 million per year to support schools working together in shared education partnerships. This funding covered expenses such as trips, resources, activities, and transportation costs for students traveling between schools. However, due to the impact of education budget pressures, the EA informed principals that the available budget for mainstreamed shared education (MSE) for the next academic year would be reduced. The recent budget cuts to education funding in Northern Ireland have resulted in a 50% decrease in shared education funding compared to the previous year.

The EA acknowledged that the funding reduction would negatively affect the level of activity that can be provided to children and young people. Schools involved in shared education partnerships will receive information about their exact funding allocations in the coming days. The EA letter also stated that funding beyond Easter 2024 could not be confirmed due to current financial pressures. While it is hoped that further resources will become available, no commitments can be made beyond that timeframe.

These cuts in education funding are part of broader austerity measures implemented by the Executive Office in response to significant budget challenges. With predetermined allocations for specific purposes, the department argues that reductions in funding are unavoidable. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, set the budget in the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Executive. The budget announcement followed the Democratic Unionist Party’s boycott of devolved government due to concerns regarding post-Brexit trading arrangements.

In addition to the cuts in shared education funding, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland is also facing financial challenges. The commission’s funding for the upcoming year has been reduced by approximately 11% (£9.5 million). This reduction comes despite increased expenditure in other areas, such as the Homes for Ukraine scheme and the Identity and Language Act. Geraldine McGahey, the chief commissioner of the Equality Commission, expressed concern about the cumulative cuts the commission has experienced over the past decade. With a nearly 40% budget reduction during that period and staffing numbers currently at half the establishment figure, the proposed 10% budget reduction further exacerbates the situation. McGahey emphasized that this critical stage of funding significantly impacts the commission’s ability to address inequalities and discrimination and fulfill its role as a safeguard established by the Good Friday Agreement, particularly on its 25th anniversary.

The Executive Office, despite facing increased financial pressures and new spending commitments, has been allocated £182 million for the year ahead. These budget constraints reflect the difficult decisions government departments must make in order to live within the available funding. As education and equality initiatives face funding cuts, the impact on schools and society as a whole remains a matter of concern, raising questions about the government’s ability to address the needs of diverse communities and promote social cohesion in Northern Ireland.