Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Schools are in crisis and need help now

Editor's Viewpoint

At the start of a new school year the bad news is that the massive funding problems are still there, and may get worse.

These difficulties were highlighted at a recent meeting between school principals and Derek Baker, the permanent secretary at the Department of Education.

The message was blunt. Despite inflation the money available is not being increased, and there is no more on the horizon.

The message was the need for " firm financial management", as if school principals had not been maintaining a firm grip already.

They have had to make many difficult decisions, including cutting subjects, increasing class sizes, and even laying off staff in desperate attempts to balance the books.

Parents have been asked to provide financial help, and there are reports that even some teachers are funding equipment themselves.

Despite all these painful measures, some schools are still running a deficit. One teaching union describes the situation as unworkable, and has underlined the large amount which it claims is being spent on central administration.

The short-term pressures remain intense, but the Department of Education states that "radical transformation" is needed. People are entitled to ask how this can be done in an already highly stressed sector?

Not for the first time, it is clear that there is an urgent need for our politicians to return to Stormont to provide stability and encouragement for our schools.

Much good work had been done before the collapse of Stormont which further underlines the need to get it operating again. The question is whether they really care about the damage which their absence from Stormont is creating in many sectors, including education.

It is reassuring that the NI Affairs Committee at Westminster has launched a formal enquiry which will focus attention on education funding.

If our overpaid politicians fail to return to the work they are paid to do, the British government must step in to prevent any more damage to our schools and to our young people.

MLA Daniel McCrossan summarised the current situation in stark terms: "Education here is broken, it is at a cliff edge and about to plunge into the unknown." That must not be allowed to happen.

Belfast Telegraph

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