Teachers buying pencils and classes dropped as Stormont fiasco takes toll
The Stormont stalemate is forcing schools to scrap vital lessons and teachers to personally fund essentials like pencils, trade unionists have warned.
Director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) in Northern Ireland, Mark Langhammer, said delayed budgets are having a knock-on effect on schools - and many are having to resort to asking teachers and parents to contribute financially.
Research carried out by ATL in December showed that over 80% of teachers have been funding classroom resources from their own pocket, with 30% or respondents saying they did so without reimbursement due to a lack of funding.
He said that teachers are trying to keep schools afloat despite a 0% pay settlement last year and no agreement at Stormont.
"People go into teaching because they care about children and want to make their learning as fun and exciting as possible, so they buy things to make their classrooms attractive and to stimulate their pupils", he said.
"Current austerity measures and years of redundancy rounds mean that teachers 'dipping their own pockets' is likely to rise."
St Ronan's Primary in Newry has resorted to writing to 390 parents asking for financial support and will no longer offer Spanish and music lessons.
It also plans to cut special education and classroom assistant support and close its after-school club, in an attempt to save money. Headteacher Kevin Donaghy, blamed the crisis on politicians failing to "put aside old animosities and work for the benefit of our children."
In the letter, he wrote: "It was widely hoped that the different political parties would, for the betterment of all, be able to put aside their differences.
"Unfortunately we see that this continued failure to reach an agreement means that education will now not have a budget."
Despite having already made savings of £30,000 in 2016/17, St Ronan's has to make a further £46,000 of cuts this financial year.
Former DUP education minister Peter Weir said he sympathised with schools but blamed the situation on Sinn Fein.
"I share the frustration and anxiety of many within the education sector at the current financial problems facing, in particular, our schools", he said.
"We believe that the Executive should not have been brought down, and instead our problems discussed and resolved alongside a functioning Executive delivering on the bread and butter issues.
"It was particularly irresponsible of Sinn Fein to pull the plug on government ahead of agreeing a new budget for 2017/8. We are committed to restoring Government in Northern Ireland to tackle the real funding issues facing people in Northern Ireland, and have been willing to do so since the election.
"There are real funding issues facing schools, and these will not be solved by simply the continuance of the budget for 2016/7, which is already happening.
"There are real problems not being talked about, such at the UK-wide change to employer National Insurance rates which since 2016/7 places an annual additional burden on schools of around £22m, or the cost to education of the new Apprenticeship levy, which means that there needs to be additional funding for schools in any new budget, just to stand still."