A recently retired principal has warned that children currently being educated in the Province may miss out on the opportunities afforded to their predecessors due to school budget deficits.
Lex Hayes, who retired earlier this year as principal of Glengormley High School, was commenting as the Education Authority (EA) chief executive Gavin Boyd predicted a £350 million funding shortfall within two years.
Mr Boyd also said by the end of this financial year, 399 NI schools would be in the red, to the combined tune of £50 million. He estimated since 2010/11 there has been a reduction in education budget of around £200m in real terms.
Mr Hayes said he took retirement earlier than planned as he felt he was being restricted in delivering the best possible service to his staff and pupils due to a shortfall in his school’s planned budget.
He said: “I think at the moment principals – in the grammar sector, non-selective sector and indeed primary school principals – are all feeling the strain of trying to manage a budget that is patently not fit for purpose. It’s a perfect storm for schools going into the red, day and daily.”
The education budget of £1.943 billion was passed by Westminster in the absence of an NI Executive and although very similar to the previous budget due to inflation it represents a real terms reduction.
With schools’ planned budgets not able to be met by the EA’s allocation of government money, Mr Hayes said cost-cutting options available to schools included cutting the length of the school day, increasing class sizes and cutting post-primary subjects.
He said: “Governors are making decisions they don’t want to make in order to live within their means.
“It doesn’t matter for me as a principal any more, but I have a child in the system and it worries me the sort of opportunities they will have in the future which have been taken for granted in the past 20 or 30 years.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Education has published school enrolment figures for 2017/18 which suggest NI’s baby boom of recent years has slowed down.
Figures show that the number of pupils in schools as of October 2017 (344,000) was up significantly on the previous year.
The increase was almost entirely within the primary school age group (Years 1-7) where the number of pupils has risen by more than 2,000 to 173,745 – the highest number of primary pupils recorded since 1999.
However, the number of children in funded pre-school education (reception classes and nurseries) has dropped slightly to 23,501.
The number of pupils in post-primary schools was 140,550, an increase of just over 100 pupils on last year, while decreases were seen in the number of pupils in sixth form in schools.