While 28 schools are celebrating a share of an £800m announcement in building funds, the news comes with a warning that the Department of Education must now make good on its promises.
he funding for school build projects has been broadly welcomed, but the Education Minister made the announcement with the proviso that the work will not happen overnight.
Instead, Michelle McIlveen said that work would not commence on the majority of projects “until the end of this decade at the earliest”.
She also said that construction would depend on funding being available in the future, and with only 30 of 75 new school building projects approved over the past 10 years fully completed, schools included in the projects receiving approval from the Department could be waiting a some time .
Dr Graham Gault, director of school leaders’ union NAHT(NI), said unfulfilled promises have all too familiar in the past.
“Any announcement of funding for education is to be welcomed and we welcome the approval of £800m for 28 new school buildings,” he said.
“In Northern Ireland, however, we are all too familiar with promises left unfulfilled, and so we will judge this announcement by its delivery, over time. The reality for some of our members is that building projects approved as far back as 2012 have still not been progressed to construction.
“Beyond the long-term and much-needed investment in our physical school estate, there is an immediate shortfall of three quarters of a billion pounds in basic education funding.
“It would, therefore, bring a great deal of reassurance to our school leaders to hear from politicians how the immediate financial crisis will be offset for our frontline education services.”
The minister said the 28 post-primary schools included in the announcement can now appoint designers and seek planning permission, but that finance will still depend on the level of capital funding available in future years.
“It is important to note that these figures are broad initial estimates at today’s prices of potential construction costs only, and they do not include inflation, site costs, professional fees or VAT,” the department added.
“The department will work with the schools and their managing authorities to examine the options and determine the preferred solution to provide the required accommodation and outside space.
“An assessment of estimated costs will be determined at that stage. In addition, authorization to proceed to construction on any individual project will be based on the level of capital funding available at the point when a design is complete and all necessary approvals have been secured.”
More than 25,000 pupils could benefit from the schemes in future years, but Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan questioned the time of the announcement as a pre-election stunt.
“On the cusp of an election, the minister has announced a capital investment for 28 schools at a cost of £800m with no delivery targets or time frames,” he said.
“There are hundreds of schools across the north that are in bad need of investment to bring them up to the standards that our young people deserve.
“However without a plan or time frame many of these schools will be left in limbo.”
Meanwhile, the minister has promised to make a decision on the future of the Lurgan campus of Craigavon Senior High School this week.
The 650-pupil school operates on a split site with one campus in Lurgan and a larger one in Portadown, although the Education Authority has proposed that the school is in Portadown alone from September 2022.
Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council has objected to the plan to close the Lurgan campus.
“Pupils in the Lurgan campus still eat their lunch meals between parked cars, where there are still safeguarding issues, and you said you would make a decision on their future as early as possible,” said UUP leader Doug Beattie.
“Are they going to be bussed to Portadown purely because they were not given a grammar education?”
How much is each of the 28 schools getting?
St Paul’s High School, Newry £54m
St Louise’s Comprehensive College, Belfast £47.4m
Carrickfergus Academy £39.5m
Ballyclare High School £38.2m
Ballymena Academy £37.9m
St Catherine’s College, Armagh £33.9m
St Pius X College, Magherafelt £32m
Loreto College, Coleraine £31.9m
Friends’ School Lisburn £30.6m
Ballyclare Secondary School £30.3m
Belfast High School £29.4m
Dromore High School £26.8m
Cambridge House, Ballymena £28.4m
Lumen Christi College, Londonderry £26.5m
St Ciaran’s College, Dungannon £25.8m
Malone Integrated College, Belfast £25.3m
Portadown College £24.6m
St Joseph’s College, Belfast £24m
Larne High School £23.7m
Larne Grammar £23.2m
Mercy College, Belfast £23m
St Brigid’s College, Londonderry £22.7m
Edmund Rice, Newtownabbey £22.4m
Hunterhouse College, Belfast £22.4m
Killicomaine Junior High School £21.5m
Sperrin Integrated College, Magherafelt £18.7m
Lisnagarvey High School, Lisburn £15.8m
Dean Maguirc College, Omagh £13.9m