Belfast Telegraph

Cash-strapped Northern Ireland schools voice fears over budget cuts and staffing levels

By Mark Bain

Post-primary school principals across Northern Ireland have united to voice urgent concerns over financial pressures.

In a letter to the Education Authority, the Department of Education and local MPs, they say they're facing increasing budget cuts and being forced to make experienced teachers redundant.

Deborah O'Hare, principal at Wallace High School in Lisburn, said: "It's unprecedented for all post-primary schools to speak with one voice, but that's the frustration we're all feeling.

"This goes right across Northern Ireland.

"The front line funding simply isn't coming through to the front line school budget.

"We're all left facing difficult decisions and being forced into making dedicated and experienced teachers redundant."

The letter was sent by schools' Area Learning Communities, which were set up by the Department of Education over 10 years ago.

Mrs O'Hare said: "These communities of post-primary schools share good practice and resources, and try to drive efficiencies, for example working together on the curriculum.

"But more and more the meetings, which are attended by all principals in their areas across the country, have focused on the lack of funding which is affecting the whole post-primary sector.

"And if the school budgets are suffering, the students and education in general is suffering."

She said class sizes were increasing as the number of teachers declined.

"We are all united in our concern about the inadequacy of our current funding and the associated levels of pressure being placed on current teachers and leadership teams in schools.

"Parents need to be aware that the quality of education provided by the Post-Primary Sector will inevitably be impacted by the reduction in teacher numbers," she continued.

The letter from the Area Learning Communities calls for immediate action to rethink the allocation of the defined budget for education, including a complete restructuring of the amount of money which is absorbed by non-front line services and a greater delegation of funds to post-primary schools.

Mrs O'Hare said: "This is a plea to the authorities to take urgent action to support education in Northern Ireland.

"We can all individually as principals complain about budgets and having to lose valuable teachers, but the size of the problem is much deeper than on an individual school level."

Responding, Chief Executive of the Education Authority, Gavin Boyd, said: "It is very evident that there is not enough money to continue to run our education system as currently structured, and schools are under severe pressure.

"Over the last eight months I have been meeting with schools, education partners, MLAs, councillors and many other stakeholders to ensure that the extent of the funding crisis in education is understood.

"It is very clear that for a significant number of schools, whilst they are doing all they can to reduce costs, there is little possibility of living within their budget without seriously impacting the quality of teaching and learning.

"Our focus now should be on working together to transform our education system to ensure that it meets the needs of all our children and young people.

"We need a new education model that is cost effective and sustainable for the future."

The Department of Education was asked for a comment, but referred to the reply from the Education Authority.

Belfast Telegraph

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