More schools will fall into deficit unless Northern Ireland’s education system is bailed out, a support body chief has warned.
Barry Mulholland served as the chief executive of the Western Education and Library Board before becoming heading up the first advocacy organisation for controlled schools three years ago.
The Controlled Schools Support Council (CSSC) advocates for more than 500 schools, the largest of the school sectors in Northern Ireland.
The controlled sector includes nursery, primary and post primary schools, as well as special schools, grammars, Irish medium and also integrated schools, which operate within the ethos of non-denominational Christian values and principles.
Some 95% of these schools are registered with the CSSC, which operates with a team of just under 20 staff led by Mr Mulholland.
The education veteran warned in an interview with the Press Association that the current financial state of the education system is the worst he has ever seen.
“It is just awful, in 38 years in education, through the Thatcher era, I have never experienced anything as bad as schools are facing at the moment,” he said.
“It will get to a situation where more schools will be in deficit than surplus, and yet all are doing their very best to live within budgets.
“This is a funding crisis. There is not enough money in the system.”
The warning comes almost a year after a primary school principal told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster that parents are having to “donate toilet roll” to his school due to budget cuts.
Mr Mulholland said additionally that the financial situation is as serious on the capital investment side of education as well as recurrent spending in schools.
“There is a dire need in terms of accommodation, schools that need new schools, they need substantial investment in terms of the fabric of the building, that’s a legacy of years of under funding,” he said.
“When education people talk of a crisis, people think they are just talking it up, this is a very, very real challenge to the whole education system.
“Our principals are losing sleep over this, they are working hard, meeting the challenges head on, attempting to live within their budgets, taking all reasonable steps to do so, and they are still finding they are facing a situation where they may overspend.
“Many are overspending and there is nothing they can do to stop it.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster announced in August that education in Northern Ireland could receive £500 million over three years.
Mr Mulholland welcomed any additional funding, but cautioned that it “must be targeted and invested, with minimal bureaucracy, to schools where it is needed most”.
“Should investment for education be forthcoming, I look forward to advocating on behalf of controlled schools, Northern Ireland’s largest education sector,” he said, pledging to work “collaboratively” with the Department of Education and the Education Authority.