Education budget cuts of 7% will seriously affect young people's education and future opportunities in life, it has been claimed.
The impact of the proposed cuts will mean a reduction of £161 spent per child, causing small rural schools to lose one or more members of teaching staff.
A group of six rural primary schools in south Down have joined together to urge parents and the wider public to voice their opposition in responses to the Education Minister's consultation process, which closes on December 29
The principals of St Colman's and All Saints' Nursery, Annaclone; St Michael's, Finnis; St Mary's, Dechomet; St Mary's, Rathfriland; St Patrick's, Drumgreenagh, and St Paul's, Cabra, have called the extent of the cuts "Draconian" and questioned the timing of the consultation period during such a busy school time.
Speaking on behalf of the group, Kevin Donaghy, principal of St Colman's, said last night: "We are astounded by these drastic cuts, the timing of the announcement and the limited time we have to respond.
"This is the first time that we as principals have ever spoken out but these cuts will mean job losses, as well as affecting our work with pupils with special education needs, our home-to-school transport and school building, maintenance and repairs.
"This reduction will jeopardise such high quality provision and will seriously impact on our young people's education and future life chances."
A Department of Education spokesperson said that minister John O'Dowd's focus was protecting front line services where possible. "The scale of the budget reductions means they cannot be delivered through efficiency savings alone," she said. "It is not realistic to protect all key front line areas in their entirety from the impact of these reductions."