Belfast Telegraph

I sit with my head in my hands: School principal warns of 'impossible' budget situation

Education Authority warns no more room for savings

Maghaberry Primary School principal Graham Gault
Maghaberry Primary School principal Graham Gault

By Eimear McGovern

A primary school principal has said his job has become "impossible" due to a lack of money.

His warning comes after the Education Authority said some schools could do no more to make savings.

Dr Graham Gault of Maghaberry Primary School said he has spent many days sitting with his head in his hands due to the shortages faced by schools.

He said the sector was crying out for political leadership and the outcome of the General Election had to be the formation of a new power-sharing executive.

He continued: "Every politician sympathises on a local level but local councillors saying positive things isn't what we need. What we need is a functioning executive. We need this immediately and it has to be a result of the General Election."

The head of the Education Authority (EA) Sara Long, has written to all school principals acknowledging their "growing frustration" through the lack of adequate funding.

EA figures show that more than 450 schools in Northern Ireland could not balance their books in 2019.

Dr Gault, who gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on education funding last year, said the situation had deteriorated because of cumulative deficits due to consistent deprivation.

The father-of-two said parents were still having to contribute basic essentials toward the running of his school.

"We're talking about the most basic and essential needs of our children that can't be taken care of through basic funding," he said.

"We write to parents at the beginning of every year. We are grateful if they donate essentials like soap right through to basic stationery like pencils and crayons.

"We also ask parents to contribute money towards children's mental health to secure things like counselling."

In November, head teachers and school leaders who are members of the National Association of Head Teachers (NI) (NAHT) voted for action short of strike.

Ms Long said principals and school leaders had been working in "challenging circumstances," due to ongoing action short of strike by teaching unions.

Dr Gault, who is the vice-president of the NAHT, said principals have raised issues around workload, wellbeing, about the financial crisis and services to children with special needs for years.

"Many days I face completely impossible positions and I sit with my head in my hands wondering how I can possibly meet the needs of my children, the most basic needs, particularly those of my most vulnerable children," he said.

"It's impossible with no money."

He said children who were to leave primary school had been without a government since they were in P4 and have experienced declining funding since they were in nursery school.

"Those children have gone through school with increasingly unacceptable financial provision and they've suffered for it," he said.

"That's it, their chance at a primary school education is gone."

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