More than 400 additional teachers could have been employed in Northern Ireland’s schools if millions of pounds had not been squandered on the ill-fated Education Skills Authority (ESA), a teachers’ union has claimed.
The Ulster Teachers’ Union (UTU) blasted Education Minister Caitriona Ruane’s failed ESA as a “deplorable waste of resources” at a time when the education system is in financial crisis.
Since 2005 around £10.2m has been shelled out on the proposed centralised education body, which never got off the ground.
“This is a travesty and a deplorable waste of resources given the jobs crisis facing our young teachers. This money would have covered the salaries of around 450 young teachers,” said Avril Hall Callaghan, General Secretary of the UTU, which represents 6,180 members.
According to the latest report from the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee there are more than 2,500 newly qualified teachers who have never got a full-time position.
The comments come as the UTU holds its annual conference — themed Education Cuts Don’t Heal — at the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle, Co Down.
At a time when many teachers are having to cater for more than 30 pupils, Ms Hall Callaghan stated that the funds set aside for ESA should have been earmarked for newly qualified teachers’ salaries in a bid to reduce class sizes.
UTU President Lewis Love, who is principal of Omagh High School, said his primary focus was the major cuts facing education. He said: “I have absolutely no doubt that the economic climate that we are about to embrace will have profound implications for the quality of education of future generations of our children — thus affecting their life chances.”
”As we move towards Council and Assembly elections in May the budget cuts will have already begun to bite and the cuts proposed in the Education budget will begin to effect teaching and learning. Our local government should be investing in the future not cutting the education budget.”
And he hit out at MLAs for contributing to “a lack of public confidence in their willingness to tackle the hard issues”.
“I would say to our politicians it really is time they agreed the best way forward for education, stop using transfer at 11 as a political football and get on with providing our children with the life opportunities they deserve as well as better working conditions of service for our teachers.”
Education Minister Caitriona Ruane had planned to establish a new Education and Skills Authority, a single group to replace nine education bodies. The Department of Education said it would save £20m a year in costs. But in December 2009, Ms Ruane conceded that the establishment of ESA on January 1, 2010, was no longer achievable.
Interview with Education Minister Caitriona Ruane