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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Department of Education protects funding for vulnerable children and young people

Children playing in playground

The Department of Education has announced it is not proceeding with proposed cuts to Youth Services and a range of Early Years programmes including the Pathway Fund, Sure Start, Bright Start and Toybox. 


In addition the Department is not proceeding with the full scale of proposed cuts to Extended Schools.


The Education budget for 2023/24 has been cut by £66.4million (2.5%) compared to last year, despite rising costs and increasing demands for services, resulting in an estimated funding gap of around £382million.



Faced with this extremely challenging financial position, the Department has already taken significant decisions to reduce expenditure by £172million. These included the cessation of the Engage, Healthy Happy Minds and School Holiday Food Grant schemes from the end of March 2023 and reductions to the Education Authority’s Aggregated Schools Budget and Block Grant.


Education Permanent Secretary Dr Mark Browne said:


“The Department’s vision for all children is that they will be happy, learning and succeeding. Delivering on this is particularly challenging in the current budgetary context, especially in terms of addressing the needs of our most disadvantaged children and young people. We know that early intervention, especially for our most vulnerable, is critical for development, improving learning outcomes and supporting longer term societal benefits.



“Accordingly, having carefully considered all of the principles in the Secretary of State’s decision making guidance, I am not cutting funding to Youth services and a range of Early Years programmes including the Pathway Fund, Sure Start, Bright Start and Toybox. In addition I am not proceeding with the full scale of proposed cuts to Extended Schools.


“In considering the scale and cumulative impact of the proposed cuts, which represent a major change to long standing Ministerial programmes and policies, I am of the view that such a decision should be taken by a Minister, not a Permanent Secretary.


“Evidence shows that the scale of the proposed cuts to Early Years, Extended Schools and Youth Service programmes would create greater budgetary pressures for the next financial year and beyond across a range of areas, including special educational needs. 



“Furthermore, the reductions would cause significant detriment to the provision of services for our most vulnerable children, young people and families, and run counter to all the Department’s efforts to tackle educational disadvantage.”


The Department will shortly publish an Equality Impact Assessment Consultation as part of the final budget. Interested parties are encouraged to make responses. The consultation responses received will be used to inform further mitigation measures and reallocation of any additional funding available during 2023-24.


• Sure Start programme delivers targeted Early Years support to children aged 0-3 years in (at least) the 25% most disadvantaged area in NI. Sure Start is targeted in this way as evidence shows that children in areas of deprivation are more likely to underachieve in education, and these children are most likely to benefit from early years support.



• The Pathway Fund delivers targeted Early Years support to children aged 0-4 years who are facing disadvantage which is likely to negatively impact on their educational achievement.


• The Toybox project was introduced by Early Years Organisation to meet the specific developmental needs of Traveller children (age 0-4) and their families. Toybox support has been expanded in recent years to include support for Roma children and families.


• Bright Start provides a subsidy to school age childcare settings based in areas of disadvantage, on school’s estate and in rural areas, with the aim of supporting them to be sustainable.



• Extended Schools provides practical assistance to schools to help remove some of the barriers to learning that exist for our most vulnerable children.  The funding supports additional learning interventions in approximately 500 eligible schools serving the most deprived communities.


• Investment in youth services provision is fundamental to delivery of the Department’s statutory obligations under Article 37 of the Education (NI) Order 1986.  High quality youthwork is increasingly valued for its direct impact on young people within communities – often proving highly effective with those young people most likely to become disengaged. 

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