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‘Catastrophic’ cuts for Northern Ireland schools

Northern Ireland’s schools are facing job losses and a cut in classroom funding due to a serious budget crisis at the Department of Education, it can be revealed today.

In a letter to the education committee, Education Minister Caitriona Ruane has warned that action needs to be taken during the 2010/11 financial year to secure significant budget savings and that this will involve “pain”.

The letter, dated January 14, asks committee members to give their views on possible savings.

Mervyn Storey, DUP chair of the committee, described it as a “crisis situation”, and UUP education spokesman Basil McCrea said it was “catastrophic”.

The minister stressed in her correspondence: “...the scale of the pressures facing education is such it will simply not be possible to avoid some reduction in funding direct to the classroom.”

Explaining the scale of the problem, the minister added: “The extent of savings to be delivered from the education budget in 2010-11 is significant with some £51.7m (2.6%) to be found from current expenditure and £22m (11.5%) on capital investment.

“In addition to this there are a number of other pressures on the education budget totalling around £40m which need to be addressed.”

She said it is clear there are no additional resources available to the Executive.

In her letter, Ms Ruane said a key issue will be to “reduce bureaucracy and streamline delivery of administration in education”.

Overall, the department will have to find savings amounting to 5% of its current expenditure budget for next year.

The minister added: “It simply will not be possible to do without pain and as over 70% of the education budget is salary costs there may inevitably have to be staff reductions to deliver reductions on this scale.”

She requests the committee forwards its ideas by February 12.

Mr McCrea, an education committee member, said: “The financial situation within education is absolutely dire and catastrophic.

“Cuts to frontline services appear inevitable but we need to focus our attention and do our best to minimise the damage.

“People need to be aware of this issue and should not underestimate the pain coming down the line.”

Mr Storey said: “This is a very serious financial crisis and puts the commitment we have given to build new schools in desperate need under serious question.

“However, having ignored the education committee over the issue of school transfer, I think it will be difficult for the education committee to be constructive in dealing with a problem that Caitriona Ruane should be dealing with as minister.”

Mark Langhammer, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in Northern Ireland, said: “Before anyone starts scalping resources from the front line, we need to look very closely at administrative costs.

“Almost 40% of the education budget in Northern Ireland is spent on administration. There needs to be a radical shift to free up money to go to the frontline.

“It would be indefensible to fund sectoral bodies in advance of funding education in the classroom.”

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