Education minister shelves plans to axe prep school funding

THE Minister for Education, Caitríona Ruane, has shelved controversial plans to axe funding to prep schools.

Parents of children attending local prep schools who recently voiced their concerns about the plans to the Chairman of the Assembly's Education Committee learned this week the Minister now intends to continue the funding, albeit at a considerably reduced rate.

The Minister said: "My position on this issue has always been that funding of Preparatory Departments is an inequitable use of public money.

"I have given conscientious consideration to the responses to the Equality Impact Assessment and recognise that ending the funding completely may cause difficulties for parents and possible disruption in some schools.

"I have therefore decided to continue funding Preparatory Departments, but at a reduced level. The current level of funding will be reduced by one third from September 2010."

Lagan Valley MLA Jonathan Craig, who chaired the recent public meeting in Lisburn about the funding plans, welcomed the decision. However, he also expressed concern about the reduction in funding.

"This is not a 100% victory as the Minister has reduced funding to prep schools by a third but this is a major face-saving exercise by the Minister," said Mr Craig. "Given that this was an equality issue, it was an impossible situation for the Minster to place herself in.

"I welcome the climbdown by the Minister but I am concerned about how the prep school sector moves forward and I would like my colleagues and the chairman of the Education Committee to speak to the prep school sector to investigate what damage the handling of this whole issue has done as I believe it has done serious damage," he concluded.

MLA Jeffrey Donaldson added: "I welcome this partial U-turn by the Education Minister. She has clearly recognised the strength of opposition to the withdrawal of funding from prep schools.

"However, she is still proposing to cut part of the funding and we will continue to press the Department on that particular issue.

"There is no doubt this would not have happened without the strong campaign that was fought by the parents of children which attend these schools and we will continue to offer our support to them and they continue to seek equality for their children."