Pupils return to substandard schools as budget cuts put repair work on hold
THOUSANDS of pupils are returning to sub-standard classrooms and worn-out mobiles because a cash crisis means there's no money for repairs.
Around 250 schools across the north have been forced to stall essential repair projects due to a multi-million pound budget shortfall.
Money is in such short supply that vital maintainance on toilets and windows is also being shelved.
Savings of almost £200 million must be made across the education system in 2015/16 and there have already been repeated blows to schools as Stormont budget pressures bite.
New buildings are on hold, classroom jobs are at risk and reading schemes are being slashed. Other casualties include a drive to improve the reading, writing and counting skills of the 'poorest' pupils, language classes for primary children and a cash fund to help schools tackle obesity and dental decay.
Now, the Department of Education has said `minor works' applications from 250 schools cannot be progressed.
About £25m has so far been made available to complete works already approved - slightly more than a third of what is actually needed.
Unable to wait for entirely new schools, hundreds have applied to carry out projects costing less than £500,000 "for the betterment of the estate".
These are prioritised according to greatest need, such as roof repairs, disabled facilities and security systems. About 450 schools have asked the department for minor works money in recent months.
The department said about 200 schools across all sectors would be benefiting from its £25m investment, but added that works at another 250 schools had not been approved.
The initial estimate of cost for these 250 schemes is more than £40m.
"Typically, applications for minor works are not 'rejected', rather they are prioritised with highest priority projects proceeding as budget becomes available," a department spokeswoman said.
"Schools requiring work associated with a rationalisation or area planning decision are likely to have minor works applications prioritised if these works are essential to implementing the area planning decision.
"The initial minor works budget allocation of £25m for FY15/16 has already been fully committed. Currently the Department is holding a list of over 250 minor works applications awaiting budget allocation. The list contains a range of minor works such as refurbishment and upgrade of toilets, windows, classrooms and replacement mobile accommodation."
INTO northern secretary Gerry Murphy said he was "extremely disappointed".
"This is only going to add to the stress and burden that principals are having to carry as this crisis continues."