Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

£120m is a welcome windfall for Northern Ireland schools ...but big challenges remain

The prayers of hundreds of schools across Northern Ireland were answered yesterday when it emerged the Department of Education's coffers are to be boosted by £120m.

It won't eradicate all pressures, but it will go some way.

Following the Budget the department was left to deal with around £126m shortfall in cash over the next three years, which meant less money for our 1,235 schools.

This windfall, as schools are in the midst of revising their budgets, is manna from Heaven.

It will secure hundreds of teaching jobs and for many schools it should keep them in the black rather than the red.

Our politicians often get slated for lack of progress but this news is proof that when they work together society benefits.

It would have been no easy feat to rustle up an additional £120m. However, schools cannot afford to sit back - this does not get them out of the woods.

Some schools are already hundreds of thousands in debt and this will not greatly improve their fortunes.

There is still a shortfall, inflation is high, fuel costs are high and undoubtedly there will be more challenges down the track.

The Education Minister has rightly stated that the viability audit continues, as does the drawing up of an area plan.

We cannot afford to, and even if we could we shouldn't, run an education system with 85,000 empty desks, duplicated services and support schools not meeting our children's needs.

While schools should breathe a small sigh of relief and politicians enjoy a pat on the back, no one should pop open the champagne just yet because the challenges have not gone away.

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