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Northern Ireland teachers face compulsory redundancy

By Kathryn Torney

Northern Ireland’s schools must prepare themselves for a financial battering, to include compulsory teacher redundancies and cuts in front line services later this year, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today

The five education boards are running out of time to make crucial spending decisions as they wait for Caitriona Ruane to confirm their budget allocation for the period from April 1 to the end of December.

It is understood this notification process normally takes place around Christmas.

It is also understood that the boards will be forced to make cutbacks totalling millions of pounds after the Education Minister failed to secure any additional money from the Executive to pay for “inescapable pressures” — including staff pay regrades and teacher pension and redundancy costs — totalling £60m for 2009/10.

The Belfast Telegraph has learned that Belfast Education and Library Board's budget could be down by as much as £7m.

And Ulster Unionist education spokesman Basil McCrea said that he understands there could be up to 40 compulsory teacher redundancies in each education board area in a bid to save cash.

This year the boards must pay out £11.6m to cover job evaluations of cleaners, music tutors, education welfare officers and domestic assistants, and £22.7m for teacher redundancy and pension costs — which used to be covered by the Teachers' Pension Scheme, but now must be paid by the employers from their existing budgets.

The boards have been struggling to prepare for a tough financial year without confirm- ation of their exact budget figures.

The Department of Education has confirmed that the information will be released “shortly”, leaving just a matter of weeks at most for board members to determine how they will spend their allocation.

The department's “inescapable pressures” emerged during the Strategic Stocktake exercise commissioned by the Department of Finance and Personnel and carried out by all government departments.

The financial pressures registered for Caitriona Ruane's department were £60m in 2009/10 and £50.1m in 2010-11.

Capital pressures of £90m in 2010-11 for major school building projects were also submitted. No additional funding was awarded. Mr McCrea said: “This money has to be found from somewhere and it looks like the buck will be passed to the boards.

“It is likely that school maintenance work will not be carried out as one way of saving money but there is already such a backlog in this area that the school fabric is falling to pieces.

“Boilers are inefficient and windows are not replaced. The school estate is decaying rapidly.

“I understand that compulsory redundancies are on the way and this will probably hit younger teachers first as they are cheaper to get rid of.

“There must be four months notice given so it is likely that many teachers will receive bad news before the end of next month to ensure that they finish up at the end of this school year.

I understand that compulsory redundancies are on the way and this will probably hit younger teachers first

“Morale is going to plummet in a system which is already subject to so many changes. These cuts are going to lead to mayhem.

“The Minister should explain the problems to the people. This economic downturn affects everybody and we need to agree priorities.”

A Department spokeswoman said: “As a number of inescapable pressures on the education budget had been registered with DFP in the Stocktake exercise, this has meant that the Minister has had to consider how to address these pressures and ensure continued delivery of key services across the education sector from within available resources.

“This is a difficult process in which decisions have to be considered in the context of competing priorities.

“The Minister is currently considering proposals and it is expected that these will be confirmed shortly.

“All five of the education and library boards have been developing plans for the delivery of their services in 2009-10 and these will be finalised on confirmation of agreed allocations.”

Ms Ruane's funding bids also included £6.4m to maintain the Extended Schools Programme at its current level in 2009/10, £17.9m over the next two years to cover rises in energy and utility costs and £3.1m to extend a scheme which provides funding for school uniforms for post-primary children with parents on low incomes to primary schools.

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