The education minister has rejected claims he has placed unnecessary financial hardships on schools and caused a “budgetary mess” as a result of his policies.
John O’Dowd was responding to criticism from a number of sources, including a group representing school principals, governors and finance managers.
In a statement, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), Governing Bodies Association Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Voluntary Grammar Schools’ Bursars Association, Association of Controlled Grammar Schools, Catholic Heads Association on School Budget Allocations, warn of “a critical situation facing schools” due to budget deficits.
“A new survey reveals that schools now face unprecedented financial pressures and will be running deficits of between £150,000 and £500,000.
“This will have a direct and significant detrimental effect on the quality of education currently offered to pupils,” they said.
The statement highlights a number of additional costs that schools will now have to meet from their own budgets including, increased payments into employee pensions and a rise in National Insurance contributions.
The educationalists claim this will lead to a reduction in subject choices; difficulties in delivering the statutory entitlement curriculum and even larger class sizes.
First Minister Arlene Foster said she had been contacted by a number of concerned school principals.
“Some schools are placed in a bureaucratic straight-jacket by DENI. This cannot continue. I find it difficult to fathom that DENI appoint head-teachers to schools, then do not entrust them to implement a budget in line with their schools’ requirements,” she said.
Sandra Overend of the UUP accused the minister of leaving behind a “budgetary mess” at the department and added: “This is a Sinn Féin/DUP budget and those parties who supported it must take responsibility for the latest budget crisis for schools.”
Mr O’Dowd said his budget reflects the “very challenging” financial situation.
“My priority has been to ensure that there is minimum impact on the classroom and I have done everything possible to maximise the allocation to the department in 2016-17 and protect the Aggregated Schools Budget as far as possible.
“However it has been impossible to fully protect the schools budget. As a result there will be 0.8 per cent reduction in the next financial year.”