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43 Belfast school heads slam 'impossible' budget cuts

By Allan Preston

Primary school principals in Belfast have slammed the Department of Education for proposing "impossible" budget cuts.

Forty-three head teachers have written to parents expressing their concerns about significant reductions of up to 6% to an already "grossly inadequate" schools budget.

The angry response follows a letter to schools on March 15 from senior civil servant Gary Fair, the Department of Education's director of finance.

With no budget for 2017/18 yet agreed, Mr Fair provided indicative budget assumptions for the next financial year.

Jackie Wallace, principal of Stranmillis Primary in the south of the city, said he and the other 42 heads would now have to make decisions which would put their schools in deficit.

"For the past six years we've faced cuts to our budgets," he explained.

"We've co-operated with the department by making the necessary cuts to staffing and resources.

"Despite that, each year we've still faced more cuts.

"This year we've reached the point where any more will impact significantly on children's education."

Mr Wallace said the proposed cuts would apply even if pupil numbers and services at a school had not gone down from the previous year.

In addition to the department's proposed cuts, Secretary of State James Brokenshire announced on April 24 that unless the latest Stormont talks deadline of June 29 was met, a 2.5% cut would be made to the education budget.

"Both of those are reductions on last year's budget, which was already grossly inadequate," added Mr Wallace.

He explained that if both rounds of cuts were implemented his own school, which is fully enrolled, would go from an annual budget surplus of £30,000 to a deficit of £60,000.

"This would mean the loss of four classroom assistants or the loss of special needs support. If we did that in our school, the children wouldn't receive the support to which they're legally entitled. In some other schools the situation is even more dire.

"It's now over to the department and the Education Authority to see what steps they take next."

See Letters to the Editor, Page 30

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