Department U-turn on NI school uniform grants

Children in uniforms, generic
Image caption,
The grant is given to low-income families to help pay for school uniforms

A decision to drastically cut the amount of money for this year's school uniform grants has been reversed.

The grant is given to low-income families to help pay for school uniforms.

The Department of Education had instructed the Education Authority (EA) to reduce the cost of the scheme by £3m, saying it was facing major financial pressures.

The department has now said the grants will remain at 2016 levels.

It said it had been able to make the move following the secretary of state's announcement last week of extra money for education and health.

About 98,000 pupils in Northern Ireland received a grant this year.

The most that any individual pupil can receive is £78, which helps pay for uniform and PE kits for post-primary pupils.

'Expensive branded products'

Northern Ireland's biggest teaching union welcomed the decision, but raised the issue of uniform cost.

"We call on all schools to ensure that they are doing all that they can to reduce the cost that parents have to pay," said the National Association of Schoolmasters and Women Teachers (NASUWT).

"Expensive Uniforms, PE equipment and the compulsory purchase of laptops and ipads are acting as a barrier to children and young people's participation in activities and educational opportunities.

"Schools should use a wide range of suppliers for their uniforms and refrain from using expensive branded products".

The department reiterated that it faces "major financial pressures" and will continue to "explore a range of measures which would allow it to live within the indicative 2017/18 budget".

In a statement, it said: "Following the Secretary of State's written statement last week on Northern Ireland departments' budget allocations, the Department has been able to finalise decisions on budget allocations across a range of programmes including deciding to maintain funding for the uniform allowance at current rates."