The Department of Education has defended its summertime schools upgrading programme.

Amid accusations of funding cuts, the Department said the structure of the programme makes year-on-year funding comparisons inappropriate.

It was responding after primary teachers' union the INTO criticised what it said was a €17 million cut in the scheme.

The Department has allocated €30 million to be spread across 405 schools for repairs and improvements in a summer works programme to be carried out in 2020.

The union pointed out that the fund for 2017 comprised €47 million.

Last year, schools received a total of €40 million under the scheme.

In a statement the Department said the scheme was a multi-annual programme which was carefully managed with different emphasis year-on-year. It said accordingly it was not appropriate to compare allocations of funding given in different years.

A spokesperson for the Minister for Education said that 2020 would also see an increase of almost 100 schools on the programme compared to 2019. He said this was not a cut "in anyone’s language".

The Summer Works Scheme is designed to provide funding to schools for small and medium scale building works to improve and upgrade existing school buildings.

Next summer the programme will focus on the upgrading of safety systems such as fire alarms and detection and emergency lighting, as well as the resurfacing of playgrounds and car parks.

The INTO said the programme provided vital funding for schools, and reducing it would do further damage to the condition of school buildings.

Its General Secretary John Boyle said investment in the school building programme needed to be scaled up, not reduced.