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UK school chiefs meet days after Down teachers' cash crisis warning

By Rebecca Black

School leaders from across the UK are meeting in Belfast just days after 15 Co Down primary principals signed a letter warning of a funding crisis.

The national executive of the National Association of Head Teachers are set to discuss a range of issues facing the profession, but in particular funding.

Paul McClenaghan, president of NAHT Northern Ireland, said schools are "being pushed beyond breaking point".

"School leaders from across Northern Ireland, England and Wales will meet to discuss the huge challenges school leaders face, and the ways in which we can lead and shape the profession," he said.

"Funding is a huge challenge, with schools being pushed beyond breaking point. Only this week we have seen warnings from head teachers in Co Down that they are facing financial disaster. On Thursday, voters in Northern Ireland will elect the new administration. Whatever form that takes, and whoever holds the education portfolio, the challenges of school funding should be a priority."

The national executive committee of NAHT will be meeting in Belfast until tomorrow.

Earlier this week the Belfast Telegraph reported that a group of 15 school principals came together to sign a letter warning of a funding crisis.

The letter, dated February 26, is signed by leaders of schools in the greater Newtownards and Comber area. It warns that they all, along with schools across Northern Ireland, face financial difficulties.

"In the past five years the money given to schools per child has only risen by 0.9% whilst costs in the same time have risen by approximately 14.5%. This clearly shows that each school is going to have to make savings in order to balance the book," the letter reads.

"In short, should school budgets not improve, there will be fewer teachers and fewer resources for these teachers to use."

Representatives of the boards of governors at two of these schools have distanced themselves from the letter.

Ulster Unionist Strangford election candidate Philip Smith welcomed the principals speaking out.

"Head teachers are the foundation of the education system and no one knows more about how a school budget is managed than head teachers themselves.

"It is always extremely troubling to hear that schools are being asked to look at teaching numbers to balance their books, but unfortunately this is nothing new.

"The Education Authority has been actively advising schools to look at teaching numbers and hours for some time now. Ultimately, those who will suffer are children in the classroom and the teachers who have to shoulder the extra burden," he said.

Education Minister Mr Weir said that, while he did not accept everything in the letter, schools were facing "very major pressures".

"Within education we need somewhere in the region of about £200m to £240m cumulatively over the next three years in terms of resource budget into schools," he said.

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