The latest thing to fall victim to cuts in the education budget is a system that would have made it possible for all schools to switch to using cashless payments.
The Education Authority (EA) explained that the postponement of the online payment scheme was due to the numerous financial challenges facing the organization. In a note that was sent to schools, the organization expressed regret for the tremendous amount of disappointment that the news would create.
A school principal has been quoted as saying to sources that he "cannot believe it is 2023 and this has not been sorted." For the current fiscal year, the Education Authority is tasked with finding savings of around £200 million.
The Department of Education (DE) has terminated many programs in an effort to save costs, and the future of funding for other programs, such as the pre-school Pathway Fund and Sure Start, is questionable after the 30th of June. This comes after education funding decreased in 2023-2024 under the budget delivered by the secretary of state in Stormont's absence.
Some schools have paid for their own online payment systems to enable students and parents to pay for school meals and activities, respectively. Others must still rely solely on collecting money from students or parents.
The Education Authority was developing a system that could be utilized by all schools, eliminating the need for schools to pay for an online payment service out of their own budgets. In a message to principals, however, it was stated that it and the Department of Education had made the difficult decision to postpone the online payment initiative due to the current financial strains facing the Northern Ireland education sector.
We recognize this will be a major setback for institutions that had anticipated the implementation of the new solution, the statement continued. The communication also recommended that schools renew their contracts for online payment systems for another year if they already had one.
Kevin Donaghy, principal of St Ronan's Primary in Newry, told sources that because many parents of students shop and finance online, they want to pay schools online as well. He stated that schools will either continue to pay for this out of their own budgets or continue to collect currency. He also mentioned that he could not believe that in 2023 this issue has not been resolved.
The Education Authority stated that the timetable for the roll-out of the system to schools was now reliant on financing becoming available. The roll-out of the system to schools was scheduled to begin this year.
A project that would modernize information technology in education in Northern Ireland and cost 750 million pounds will include an online payment project for schools as one of its components.
The Education Authority stated in its statement to the heads of departments that the larger Education Information Solutions (EdIS) plan will be ongoing. However, members of the EA board were informed in the past that the organization's desire to cut costs was "impacting significantly" on the EdIS project.