IN THE previous ‘Education Matters’, we talked about how post-primary schools funding is allocated and how much each school is due to receive for 2021-22.

Today, we’re going to look at the picture in the primary school sector in the county.

To remind readers, the funding schools receive is based on an October audit in the previous year, so the numbers on the roll on October 9, 2021, form the basis for what they will receive for 2021-22.

It’s not only just numbers, though – there’s a second category loosely called ‘other funding’, and this includes money for premises management, targeting social needs, small schools support, and principals’s release.

Targeting social need is a very broad brushstroke, but essentially is an assessment based on which pupils need to access the Free School Meals service.

Also under ‘other funding’ is extra funds for teaching children for those in categories deemed to need it, namely, ‘newcomer pupils’, where English (or Irish, if the case applies) is not their first language; pupils from the Travelling community; children of service personnel; and children who are ‘looked after’, such as those in foster care.

In this sector, each pupil is worth a base figure of £2,371.83 per annum before a weighting is added, currently 1.08 for primary school pupils and at the younger end – nursery, 1.452.

This translates into £2561.58 and £3,443.90 respectively, with nurseries receiving more per child mainly due to the high number of staffing costs needed for this age group.

Looking at the bigger picture, and the last academic year, 2020-21, education in Northern Ireland received £2.4 billion – some 17 per cent of the total spending by the Northern Ireland Executive.

The majority of the budget is spent on schools and children, though some money goes on other items such as supporting children and young people through providing early intervention initiatives; supporting Childline and Young Enterprise; tackling educational under-achievement programmes; providing youth and other children’s services and related projects.

All the facts and figures in this article are publicly available, and like the statistics explored in the previous edition of ‘Education Matters’, they are best digested with a large dollop of common sense.

In this case, it’s because some primary schools have nursery units built within their school, and together with their other specific funding to service those children whose families are in social or educational need.

These are the main reasons why some superficially comparable schools enjoy different incomes.

Of the facts and figures themselves – in Enniskillen, the four largest primary schools (Holy Trinity PS, Enniskillen Model PS, Jones Memorial PS and Enniskillen Integrated PS) will each receive £2,130,287, £1,338,533, £643,744 and £790,853 respectively, of which £507,688, £267,365, £195,213 and £223,344 is under the aegis of ‘other funding'.

Moving just outside Enniskillen, St Patrick’s PS in Mullanaskea will receive £644,621, and Lisbellaw PS, £690,769.

Holy Trinity’s roll and split site will both account for its higher income, but it is also worth noting that it has 136 pupils who are deemed as ‘newcomer’, compared to The Model and Jones Memorial, which have 71 and 11 respectively, with Enniskillen IPS having 16.

The next two largest conurbations in County Fermanagh, Lisnaskea and Irvinestown, have four schools between them, but unlike post-primary schools, primaries are smaller and more community-focused.

In this respect, parents living close to Irvinestown who want their children to go to a Controlled primary school may well find them going to Ballinamallard PS, Queen Elizabeth II, Lack or Kesh PS, and likewise, parents close to, say, Lisnaskea, who want a Catholic Maintained education for their children, may opt for St. Mary’s PS in Maguiresbridge or St. Joseph’s in Donagh.

This is an issue which underpins the difficulty in analysing funding in the primary sector – there are very many variables.

In the Catholic Maintained sector in the east and south-east of the county, St. Ronan’s, St. Joseph’s and St. Mary’s (Newtownbutler) each will get £1,123,504, £319,457, and £575,491, with St. Mary’s (Maguiresbridge), St. Mary’s (Tempo), Aghadrumsee PS and St. Mary’s (Brookeborough) receiving £473,544, £498,700, £229,120 and £282,970, respectively.

In the Controlled sector in the same area, The Moat PS, Tempo PS, Maguiresbridge PS and Newtownbutler PS will receive £498,704, £361,666, £448,797 and £193,872 in this incoming academic year.

On the southern shores of Lough Erne, the A509 belt on the road to Dublin, the Catholic Maintained sector boasts another three St. Mary’s primary schools, in Mullymesker, Killesher and Teemore; all three each attracting £458,059, £314,431 and £436,199 respectively.

Also in this corner of the county, St. Naile’s in Kinawley and St. Ninnidh’s in Derrylin will receive £393,418, and £487,287.

Rather interestingly, St. Ninnidh’s and St. Ronan’s, between them, enrolled 33 ‘newcomer’ children in last year’s October audit.

This is quite a high number for a rural community, and probably a reflection of the local employment opportunities in the area.

In west Fermanagh, St. Columban’s in Belcoo, Killyhommon PS in Boho and St. Patrick’s PS in Derrygonnelly account for this large geographical area, with just Florencecourt PS and Derrygonnelly PS catering for those in the Controlled sector.

The three Maintained schools will each get £368,318, £310,600 and £415,069 respectively, while both Controlled schools will benefit to the tune of £456,225 and £269,495 each.

There are four primary schools in the west Fermanagh area; St. Martin’s PS in Garrison, St. John the Baptist in Roscor and two in Belleek – St. Davog’s PS, and Belleek PS.

Despite the expanse of the region, all four are huddled quite close to each other, with St. Martin’s due to get £366,028, and Roscor £216,582 for 2021–22, while both St. Davog’s and Belleek PS will receive £399,753 and £174,586.

In the final quartile of the county, north Fermanagh, Ballinamallard PS, Irvinestown PS, Kesh PS and Lack PS in the Controlled sector will each receive £504,432, £548,975, £752,070 and £178,764, while the Catholic Maintained schools are St. Paul’s in Irvinestown and St. Joseph’s in Ederny, which will get £796,325 and £524,814 respectively.

There’s no shortage of small primary schools in the county, but why not?

Young children can’t be carted away in buses to an economist’s idyll of massive campuses – they’re small people at tiny desks with big hearts and growing minds.

We just need either a larger percentage of the budget, or a larger pie from which to cut a slice.