Special education needs and classroom assistants could be victim of cuts

Controlled Schools Support Council chief executive Barry Mulholland
Controlled Schools Support Council chief executive Barry Mulholland

Schools are facing unprecedented pressure in terms of finance, which will ultimately impact on the education of our children and young people.

There is uncertainty around budget approval, which makes planning even more difficult. We are also hearing that schools are now required to seek approval for capital spend of £200 and above, further adding to the bureaucracy which principals must now navigate.

CSSC fully appreciates that there is a finite pot of money for Northern Ireland, but if we don’t invest in our education system, then we aren’t investing in the future.

We asked controlled school principals what future steps they anticipated taking to alleviate the financial pressure caused by the recent reduction in funding, and many commented that it simply was not possible to cut any more without impacting on core activities and the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom; they are at ‘rock bottom’.

Shared education programmes, buying books, counselling services, IT provision, languages and music classes have already been cut in some schools, with curricular offer starting to be affected.

Special educational needs provision and the classroom assistants who provide this support were mentioned as one potential area to be cut back as a result of budget restrictions. This would be particularly damaging for children with special needs and learning difficulties.

I was very concerned to hear of the knock-on impact on mental health and wellbeing of both principals and school staff.

The financial crisis within education is having a significant impact on all staff; combine this with the worry of potentially having to make redundancies or even be made redundant yourself, and you get a real insight into the pressure people are under.

Principals in our controlled schools, which account for 48% of all schools in Northern Ireland and in which over 140,600 pupils are taught, are trying to deliver an enriching curriculum with ever decreasing resources, and parents increasingly being asked to contribute financially to basic school supplies.

This financial position controlled schools find themselves in is unsustainable. I would urge all leaders in education to sit down and work together to try and find a way forward.

Barry Mulholland is chief executive of the Controlled Schools Support Council