Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Education left facing some tough choices

Editor's Viewpoint

Education, along with health, is one of the fundamental services provided by government. As such it is imperative that the education system is kept functioning at as high a level as possible.

Every year we see our brightest young people out-perform their peers in other parts of the UK in GCSE and A-level examinations, although it has to be admitted that far too many pupils still leave school with no or very few qualifications.

The current squeeze on the public purse has hit education hard and the Education Authority, along with the Catholic, integrated and Irish-medium sectors, have to attempt to improve efficiency given the budgetary constraints.

A review of the system has found 27 schools which could face closure or merger due to sustainability issues. These are on top of 40 schools which were similarly judged last year.

While any action will have to go to public consultation, and will be fiercely resisted by parents and probably politicians in affected areas, an even more emotive proposal is also on the cards.

The Education Authority has said that seven out of 10 special schools in Belfast should shut. This has so appalled parents that there are suggestions they could take legal action to challenge the proposal.

It is easy to understand the parents' anger. Children with special educational needs require intensive assistance in the classroom and many parents feel this is best delivered in schools designed to cater for such pupils.

They fear that their children will be upset if they are moved into mainstream schools and will not get the same intensive help due to competing demands from other pupils.

There is no doubt that the education authorities face dilemmas in the current financial climate.

Head teachers have warned that some subjects may have to be dropped or other school activities jettisoned because there is not enough money to go around.

Reducing the size of the schools estate is a tempting answer, but it will not be a quick fix as any closures or mergers would take a considerable time to implement.

This is exactly the sort of issue that needs the firm hand of government and a locally elected Education Minister to oversee. Of course, there is little likelihood of that post being filled in this school year, and even if devolution is restored the parties may regard it as a poisoned chalice.

Belfast Telegraph

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