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Drastic budget cuts may mean shorter school days in Northern Ireland

By Rebecca Black

Published 22/04/2016

Education leaders have delivered a shock warning that an unprecedented budget crisis could lead to shorter school days and less subjects for pupils. File image
Education leaders have delivered a shock warning that an unprecedented budget crisis could lead to shorter school days and less subjects for pupils. File image

Education leaders have delivered a shock warning that an unprecedented budget crisis could lead to shorter school days and less subjects for pupils.

Groups representing post primary schools in the voluntary grammar, controlled and Catholic sectors have demanded that Stormont steps in to prevent a generation of children having their educational opportunities limited.

The Governing Bodies Association, the Association of Controlled Grammar Schools, the Catholic Heads Association, the Voluntary Grammar Schools Bursars Association and the Association of School and College Leaders Northern Ireland represent school leaders in most of our larger post primary schools.

The Belfast Telegraph can reveal that the groups, which represent 80 schools in Northern Ireland, met for a crisis meeting on Monday about the situation which they say could leave some schools facing a deficit of up to £500,000.

In a joint statement they have issued a stark warning of:

  • a reduction in subject choices at GCSE and A-Level;
  • inability of schools to deliver the statutory Entitlement Curriculum;
  • larger class sizes;
  • a potentially shorter school day;
  • an increase in non-specialist teachers delivering the curriculum; and
  • reduced educational opportunities for a generation of pupils

The Department of Education is facing a cash reduction of £72m in its resource budget in 2016/17, and in March Education Minister John O'Dowd announced the Aggregated Schools Budget will be cut by 0.8%.

On top of absorbing this cut schools must also fund a 3.4% rise in employer National Insurance contributions - an average £70,000 increase per school - as well as a 4.1% rise in employer superannuation contributions and cost of living pay rises for staff of between 1% and 2.2%.

The school leaders are now warning that if Stormont does not step in, they may be forced to take drastic action, including the introduction of shorter school days and cutting the number of subject choices at GCSE and A-Level.

"The schools we represent have already been proactive in recent years in managing significant cuts to their budgets which have already resulted in a reduction of approximately 10% in the teacher workforce across post primary schools," they said.

"Without proper funding further cuts to staffing will be inevitable".

The groups have warned the cuts will lead to reduced educational opportunities for a generation of pupils.

"With school budgets already stretched to breaking point by successive cuts in recent years and all reasonable, cost reducing steps having been exhausted, a new survey reveals that schools now face unprecedented financial pressures and will be running deficits of between £150,000 and £500,000," they said.

"This will have a direct and significant detrimental effect on the quality of education currently offered to pupils." The group says education in Northern Ireland is "at a crossroads".

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said that in setting the 2016-17 Education Resource Budget the Education Minister "has focused, as he has done consistently, on protecting the Aggregated Schools Budget as far as possible, promoting equality and raising education standards".

Mr O'Dowd said in March when he announced the 2016/16 school budgets: "My priority has been to ensure that there is minimum impact on the classroom and I have done everything possible to maximise the allocation to the department in 2016-17 and protect the Aggregated Schools Budget as far as possible."

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