Belfast Telegraph

More Northern Ireland schools set to shut early due to budget pressures

By Claire Williamson

Schools in Northern Ireland could be forced to shorten the academic week due to budget pressures, it has been warned.

The claim comes after a south Belfast secondary school announced yesterday that it is to close at 1pm every Wednesday.

In a letter to parents, Breda Academy said it will be starting a “compressed day” from December 6.

Principal Matthew Munro said it was an “essential response to the ongoing budgetary pressures and associated action short of strike action that constrain all Northern Ireland schools to a greater or lesser degree”.

He said: “As you may be aware, schools in Northern Ireland are experiencing considerable budgetary pressures.

“In addition, the main teaching unions have continued and extended a programme of action short of strike action.

“This has had an impact on the arrangements that we can make for routine school activities, such as regular staff meetings and parents evenings.”

The school said it had been exploring all options and had reached agreement on a compressed day, which means lessons being shortened to 30 minutes and classes beginning at 8.35am instead of having a morning registration period.

All lessons scheduled for the day will take place and the school says this will mean the afternoon is available for “staff development and preparation activities”.

Mr Munroe said: “I appreciate this may represent an inconvenience for some parents and students but we have tried to select the day in a way that makes it easier for parents to adapt any routines in a simple and consistent way.”

Justin McCamphill of the teaching union NASUWT said that Breda wasn’t the only school he knew of that was looking at “shortening the timetable”. He said: “This is something I think we will expect to see a lot more of unless the money is put into schools to deal with the current budget crisis that is happening.

“I don’t expect schools to do it during the academic year, you never know, but maybe they’ll make smaller changes. When schools set their timetables next year in September, you may well see schools have shortened the academic week.

“Generally parents should be worried because the education entitlement for their children is going to be impacted.”

At an emergency meeting of unions last night, the Ulster Teachers’ Union (UTU), the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation and the National Education Union agreed to redouble efforts to stop the cuts to the education system “before it’s too late”.

UTU general secretary Avril Hall Callaghan said: “Cuts in the classroom have meant that the system has never before, since the Education Act of 1947, faced the kinds of pressures it is facing today — and back then we had just come out of a World War.

“Something must be done before we go beyond the point of no return and it’s too late — a point which is getting perilously close.

“We’re at a make or break point, make no mistake.”

South Belfast DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly said she had been in contact with a number of concerned parents due to the “mid-term nature of this change” at Breda Academy.

She said: “I am in contact with the Department of Education, the Education Authority and I will be raising this issue directly with the principal on Friday morning.”

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