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Only a radical change can save education

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 22/04/2016

Provision of education is one of the fundamental duties of any administration, and if our policymakers fail in that task then they will not be readily forgiven, nor should they be
Provision of education is one of the fundamental duties of any administration, and if our policymakers fail in that task then they will not be readily forgiven, nor should they be

The quality of education delivered to our children - albeit with some reservations over performances in parts of the non-grammar sector - has always been a source of pride. Annually, those coming out of the grammar schools have been among the highest achievers in the UK.

Therefore, warnings delivered from an influential and representative group of organisations from all sectors of post-primary schools that quality could be compromised by swingeing budget cuts should set alarm bells ringing right across the province.

Provision of education is one of the fundamental duties of any administration, and if our policymakers fail in that task then they will not be readily forgiven, nor should they be.

Consider the impact that the organisations which represent 80 schools say the £72m cut in the Department of Education's resource budget will have in the coming financial year: shorter school days, a restricted subject list at A-level and GCSE, larger class sizes, greater use of non-specialist teachers, a poorer learning environment and reduced educational opportunities.

Their description of the future facing education here as a crisis is not over-stating the depth of the problem, which is exacerbated by increases in staff national insurance, superannuation and cost of living payments.

The generation of children going through our education system at present will be the wealth generators of the future. Increasingly, Northern Ireland is trying to build a knowledge economy, and that depends on children being given the best quality education possible. It is the knowledge and skill sets of this generation which will help create new enterprises and attract inward investors.

It is crucial that the STEM subjects are taught to the highest level, but education is also about equipping children with life, as well as employment, skills. So any diminution in the range of subjects available to pupils can only be to their detriment as rounded, well-informed and questioning young adults.

The education bodies have called for Stormont to step in to prevent a crisis developing, but given the finite resources available to the administration it is impossible to totally ringfence the education budget.

More radical ways of using the funding available need to be sought. Continuing to run a dual, duplicated system of education can only be seen as a waste of resources which, quite simply, we cannot afford.

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