Belfast Telegraph

Budget crisis forces Larne principal to cut school hours

Stewart Dickson
Stewart Dickson
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

A decision to cut teaching hours at a Co Antrim school shows the "desperate plight" faced in education funding, an MLA has said.

East Antrim Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson made the comments after the principal at Larne Grammar said he was forced to cut the school day by 10 minutes.

It is also cutting teaching staff by a further 1.4 full-time equivalent positions, and will be unable to replace its vice-principal who is retiring at the end of the year.

Head teacher Jonathan Wylie hit out at our "failing politicians", saying schools had suffered budget cuts of 10% in real terms since 2012.

Mr Dickson (right) said: "It's a very serious situation and I'm aware that a number of primary schools have had to do the same.

"I think it's indicative of the desperate plight of school budgets. I know only too well about it in East Antrim from meetings with principals."

He said many found themselves in a "critical situation".

"This is the time of year headteachers need to review their staffing. So I have every sympathy with Larne Grammar School, but the reality is we need an education minister back to make strategic decisions on the budget."

He said the Stormont impasse made it harder to scrutinise decisions taken by the Education Authority.

In a statement released to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Wylie said the only way to manage cuts and maintain educational standards was to cut staff.

"Individual schools have been attempting to manage this significant cut, whilst at the same time maintaining the quality of educational provision on offer to their pupils. This has resulted in schools being forced to reduce staffing levels, both teaching and support, cut back on spending on resources and facilities maintenance and extra-curricular provision," he said.

"Many of these cuts have been absorbed by schools and school staff with the result that they have not been noticed by parents and the wider community."

Mr Wylie said boards of governors were now being faced with "unpalatable choices".

"School leaders are angry and frustrated that they are being placed in this position due to the failure of politicians and, through them, the Department of Education to ensure appropriate levels of funding for schools in Northern Ireland," he said.

He added that a range of options had been considered, but reducing class times to cut 10 minutes from the school day from September would have least impact.

"The Governors and staff of the school remain steadfast in their commitment and determination to ensure that the pupils of Larne Grammar School receive the best possible educational experience, and have access to a broad and balanced curriculum, in spite of the many external pressures to which schools are being subjected," he added.

One parent of a pupil at the school told the Nolan Show yesterday she did not blame the principal. "But what I was interested to find out, and my point in contacting the show, is other schools in wealthy areas charge a much higher voluntary fee, and I am wondering, are schools that can draw on parental financial support... are they able to shelter themselves from the cuts?"

The Department of Education had not responded to a request for comment by the time of going to press.

Belfast Telegraph

From Belfast Telegraph