Teaching unions could launch industrial action after it was confirmed that cash shortages in education may hit teacher employment.
Education Minister Caitriona Ruane sought an extra £60m to cover rising costs in her department, but after she was told the money was not available, she yesterday unveiled what she described as a “difficult budget” for the next year.
And while a record £1.9bn is being spent, a leading union said young teachers will find it harder to get work after the money to fund the early retirement of older staff fell short of what is needed.
Ms Ruane announced plans to tackle disadvantage, with parents of primary school children to get help buying uniforms for the first time.
The minister announced more cash will go to primary schools and revealed she will invest in efforts to promote the proposed cross-community education campus at the former Lisanelly army base in Omagh.
But Frank Bunting of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) criticised the Executive’s failure to find the estimated £22.7m needed to fund early retirements, even though the minister has gathered £6m to go towards the area.
“When the minister herself is saying that she is £60m down, it’s a pretty grim picture for education,” he said.
“It looks as if we are moving into a pretty difficult place for teacher employment with compulsory redundancies and it looks as if it will be harder for young teachers to get employment.
“This is short-sighted of the Executive because when things are bad you need to invest in education for the future.”
Mr Bunting said the leading unions are to meet next week, but he said full strike action would not be a likely course for teachers who he said wanted to support children’s education and not disrupt it.