A good education equips the children of today with all the tools they need to build a better tomorrow.
Is that not what we all want?
But a good education needs good funding. The cries for help have been ringing through the heavens for more than a decade. Like that phone no one wants to answer, the calls continue to ring and ring.
It’s no secret that education in Northern Ireland has suffered from decades of underinvestment. Still, despite constant pleas from the sector, the spend per pupil falls well short of elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
A three-year budget announced by Finance Minister Conor Murphy at the start of this year seemed to pave the way for better planning. That has now been thrown into doubt and the plans to start planning are once again on the backburner.
Across Northern Ireland school leaders will be left wondering what else can politicians throw in their direction to knock them off the tightrope they walk every school year. They have withstood so much. They have, if anything, overachieved and that could have had a negative affect, created an impression that things are ticking over smoothly. The reality is that they’re not. Time and again politicians have stepped forward with words: ‘Education of our children is our number one priority’.
Quite honestly, those in the education sector are sick of hearing it. Eyes roll and heads shake at every utterance of the phrase, then they get on with the job of educating children with even less resources than before.
The stress was there long before Covid hit. Three years without a functioning Executive hit hard. The problems have been highlighted even more in the past two years. Covid has added to it.
Now there’s the prospect of heading back into the void of no Stormont. How much further can the education system be pushed into the ground by the boot of underfunding before it finally breaks is a question no-one wants to find out the answer to.
In 2019, pre-pandemic, more than 450 schools in Northern Ireland could not balance their books, according to Education Authority (EA) figures.
“No more” can be done in some schools to save money, the head of the EA said. Sara Long made the comments in a letter to all school principals in Northern Ireland three years ago.
“We acknowledge your growing frustration with the lack of adequate funding to enable you to fully deliver high-quality learning experiences for all children and young people,” Ms Long wrote to principals.
“We realise that for some schools, there is no more that can be done to affect further savings.” That further savings are now going to be needed comes on the back of that warning. If there was nowhere to go three years ago, when principals were telling stories of parents donating toilet rolls, pens and pencils, then where on earth is education heading to now?
That schools have been able to tread water these past two years is more down to the Covid support money heading their direction rather than any new insight into how the needs of the sector can be met in the long term.
Uncharted waters are the most difficult to navigate. That’s where we’re heading and with no-one at the helm thousands of children are at risk of being cast further adrift.