Inequality in funds for N. Ireland schools revealed
by Peter Stanford CATHOLIC schools in Northern Ireland have suffered in the allocation of financial resources in comparison with their Protestant counterparts according to an as yet unpublished report. The survey, carried out for the Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights, a government-funded body in Belfast, is currently in the hands of Secretary of State Peter Brooke and will be laid before Parliament later this month.
Part of a continuing investigation into equality of opportunity in the province's schools, SACHR's look at funding arrangements in education reveals "differentials" in "certain recurrent items" between Catholic and Protestant colleges, the committee confirmed this week. It declined to be more specific before full details are published when the research is presented to the Commons by Mr Brooke.
Sources in Belfast, however, revealed that the report shows that Catholic schools have historically been underfunded in comparison with the "controlled" sector where
children of the Loyalist community are educated. In the past the Catholic authorities have repeatedly complained that Protestant schools have received more favourable treatment in funding for capital expenditure like science and technology laboratories, and in terms of routine maintenance.
Fr Malachy Murphy, head of the education council of Down and Connor diocese, confirmed that recent changes in schools legislation had revealed higher levels in finance for nonCatholic schools in Northern Ireland. "In the past, in both secondary and primary sectors, some local boards (local education authorities) would be spending as much as £100 per pupil per year more on Protestant schools," he said.
However, Fr Murphy pointed out that such anomalies had now been tackled. Figures revealing the discrimination had only been discovered when the British government introduced local management of schools into the province. "When we were preparing for the new system, we got, for the first time, details of comparative funding and saw that we hadn't got everything right."
The government, in response, had provided £2.7 million of extra funding for Catholic schools, Fr Murphy noted. The new local management system of financing schools, brought in by the 1988 Education Reform Act, "now makes it impossible to discriminate against Catholics," he added. The new arrangements, Fr Murphy went on, "treat everyone as the same. If any schools are suffering financially, it is because of their particular circumstances, not because they are either Catholic or Protestant".
Catholic schools in Northern Ireland received 85 per cent of capital funds from the government and all their running costs, while controlled establishments get 100 per cent in both areas.
Fr Stephen McBrearty, editor of the Down and Connor Herald, the diocesan newsletter which has brought the SACHR report to public attention, said that if discrimination was demonstrated vital questions were raised about the conduct of educational policy in the province. "It should be asked why anecdotal evidence of bias against Catholic schools has not been fully investigated before now. And also if the shortfall over many years in provision for Catholic schools is now going to be restored to them".