Belfast Telegraph

562 Northern Ireland schools in deficit as number doubles in three years, says UUP

Former teacher Rosemary Barton said schools are in crisis
Former teacher Rosemary Barton said schools are in crisis

The number of schools with a financial deficit has more than doubled since Stormont collapsed, according to an Ulster Unionist MLA.

562 schools across Northern Ireland are now operating under a deficit, an increase on 239 in 2015-16.

The number of schools in a surplus position has fallen from 785 in 2015-16 to 451 in 2018-19.

The Ulster Unionist Education Spokesperson, Rosemary Barton MLA said this is the first time there have been more schools operating under a deficit rather than a surplus.

"This is an incredibly perilous situation and I fear that with the combined deficits now totalling a shocking £62.6m, the Education Authority has lost control of the situation.

"There has been a real terms cut of 13% - £245m - in the Department of Education’s resource budget from 2010.  Growing pupil numbers, increasing demand for special educational needs provision and overall growing costs each year have combined to create a perfect storm for local schools.

"From regularly talking to school principals across the country I know that they have cut costs in almost every area – class sizes have grown, extra-curricular activities have been cancelled and valued staff have unfortunately been let go. Yet, despite all those actions, a record number of schools are now being left with no choice but to spend money that they simply do not have.

"The revelation that more than half of all our local schools are now in debt debunks the myth that the Confidence and Supply arrangement between the DUP and Conservative Party had removed the pressures on school budgets. Many of the school leaders that I talk to tell me they haven’t seen a penny of the extra funding."

In August, it was announced that the government had allocated £500m for education in Northern Ireland over the next three years.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said it had been confirmed by Education secretary Gavin Williamson that the money will be on top of the additional funding already delivered through the party's Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Conservative government.

Former teacher Mrs Barton said that extra funding must be used to help relieve the pressure on schools locally.

"The financial crisis in our schools is now so serious, and the debts for some individual schools so large, that I’m genuinely fearful that the situation for some may be unrecoverable," she said.

The DUP and the Education Authority have been approached for a response.

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