Education in Northern Ireland is at a “crossroads”, with swingeing budget cuts leaving some schools facing deficits of over £1 million.
That was the warning issued by school leaders, governors and finance managers from more than 80 of the Province’s largest post-primary schools on Monday.
In a joint statement issued just before Northern Ireland’s budget was unveiled, the organisations claimed that the schools they represent are forecasting “major and unrecoverable” deficits over the next three years.
“Individual school deficits are predicted to range from £150,000 to over £1m over this period highlighting a crisis in the funding position for our schools,” they added.
Back in January, the then education minister Peter Weir said that between £200 million to £240 million was needed over the next three years to “plug the gap” in school budgets.
Monday’s joint statement – issued by the Association of School and College Leaders Northern Ireland, Governing Bodies Association Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Voluntary Grammar Schools Bursars’ Association, Association of Controlled Grammar Schools, and Catholic Heads Association – said the finances distributed to schools have “already been stretched to breaking point” by successive cuts in recent years.
It also warned that all reasonable cost reducing steps have been “exhausted” by schools.
“The lack of funding is having a direct and significant detrimental effect on the quality of education currently offered to pupils”, the statement continued.
It said budget cuts had already led to a reduction of about 10% of the teacher workforce across post primary schools, and warned that without investment in the education system, further cuts to staffing will be “inevitable”.
“We believe that the financial pressures will lead to dramatic reductions in the quality of frontline classroom provision,” the statement added.
“Collectively, we argue that Northern Ireland education is at a crossroads.
“In the absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly, we call on the Secretary of State and the Department of Education to urgently address this funding crisis within schools.
“There is a need for major and urgent reform of the educational estate and administrative structures across Northern Ireland to develop greater financial efficiency and flexibility with a clear and direct benefit to pupils.”