Leona O'Neill: Time to stand up against education cutbacks

Primary school children are being let down by our politicians

TWO of my children are still at primary school. Both of them came to me during last week and handed me a letter, jointly signed by all primary school principals in Derry warning of the damaging impact of budget cuts to my children and every other child who attends their schools.

The letter co-signed by principals from across the Catholic, controlled, integrated and Irish medium sectors was stark, hugely worrying and spoke of a crisis in education, cuts to staff numbers, increased class sizes, longer waiting lists for special educational needs services and higher charges for after school clubs and activities.

It said that the high standards we have all come to expect in our schools were being threatened by lack of support. The principals, in one voice, called on our politicians to get back to Stormont and help solve the matter.

These frankly frightening scenarios were spelled out to us all in an A4 letter, handed to us by our own children, the people we would fight hardest for in the entire world, the very people who it is ingrained in our DNA to protect above all others. And for that reason, it felt like a punch in the gut.

The letter said: "As educationalists we have always been proud of the high standards that we have been able to deliver in all of our schools in Derry throughout the year.

"However, all of this is being compromised and threatened by the lack of financial and political support that we are being given to run our schools."

Every child that walks through the door of a school has a level of funding attached to them. The principals outlined that this amount of funding has been reduced by four per cent during the last four years.

They called on parents to put pressure on our politicians to get back to Stormont to fight for our children's futures. They said that the amount of funding received for each child needs to be restored to assist them in delivering high quality education to our kids.

Although these letters only went out across Derry, this issue is not solely confined to our city. It affects your kids in your schools in your town or city.

Every single principal, in every single school across the north is struggling right now to make things work, to provide our kids with a good education that will set them up for life. We cannot let them down.

Of course our politicians, who have not worked in Stormont for nearly two years, were falling over themselves to blame one another and the Tories for the issue.

Deflecting blame seems to be our default setting here and it is

the reason nothing ever gets done. The fact of the matter is, nothing will change, or indeed will continue to get worse, if our politicians boycott working for the people who elected them and leave Stormont to gather cobwebs.

The Tories may well have imposed austerity upon us, but we have no one – not one single voice – fighting for us and standing up for our children while schools fall down around their ears.

How, in all good conscience can we allow this to happen to them, to


As far as the ceaseless crises that we face – be that Brexit, welfare cuts, a crisis in our education or health systems – goes, it is the job of our paid politicians to work at them and sort them out, not leave us, our children, our schools, our hospitals, to shoulder them by ourselves.

Our children are being put into classes with up to 40 other pupils, our learning support services – which help children struggling with dyslexia and other issues – are being cut, we are losing good teachers and classroom assistants.

School budgets are being slashed and opportunities for our children are being slashed with them. It is tragic now, but the impact might not be felt for years to come for these kids.

Our schools are drowning, genuinely, and it is up to us to save them. It is time the people spoke. Either get back to Stormont and fight our corner, or let's have an election and vote in people who will.

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