Schools will suffer after cuts
The cuts proposed in the draft budgets for Government departments - if implemented - point to a public sector facing devastation. I believe that schools will feel the full force of this devastation - and this is just the beginning.
The system cannot function effectively with a loss of £78.7m, or 7% of the money which goes directly to schools.
Already, schools are facing a range of challenges from previous reductions, including increased class sizes through teacher redundancies, non-teaching staffing cuts, limitations in subject choices, and reliance on non-specialist teachers.
My concern is that these cuts will have the greatest negative impact on those with specific needs and from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Education is the key to prosperity. It is the means to the future outlined in the economic strategy envisaged by the Executive. It is illogical to cut off the supply line to the high-level skills needed to drive our economy.
Common sense creates a link between early years support, formal schooling, further and higher education and the skills-base we need to foster indigenous growth, innovation and social inclusion and to encourage inward investment.
Securing jobs for which Northern Ireland does not have a skills-base is counter-intuitive and ill-advised. The budget needs to protect all our education services in order to ensure that the foundations are laid for future prosperity.
That means preventing failure and providing a modern skills-based curriculum in our schools, which, in turn, should lead to sufficient places in relevant subjects in further and higher education.
This environment would help ensure that we might have the conditions for high-skilled job creation.
Additional resources must be used by the Executive to look to the future and prepare a rational path towards creating an inclusive society underpinned by a high-skills economy.
Only through protecting the investment for our young people in schools, colleges, universities and training can we have any real hope of the brighter future to which we all aspire.
Jim Clarke is chief executive of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools