Survey paints picture of impact of budget cuts

IEF chief executive Tina Merron
Tina Merron

Survey paints picture of impact of budget cuts 

THE responses from parents in this survey paint a picture of the impact of budget cuts in schools.

It is obvious that the budget could be used more effectively if it were spread less thinly. If school provision were reviewed and reformed, we could spend what we have where it is most needed:in schools, to ensure a good, all-round education in a well-maintained environment.

Parents are being asked to meet the costs of division in education and that is unsustainable and unacceptable.

The LucidTalk research gives a strong indication that parents would accept changes to the structure of the education system, if it meant that public money were used more efficiently to give all children better educational outcomes.

An important point to emerge from this poll is that, for most parents, the standard of education offered is their priority when choosing a school. This is closely followed in importance by the quality of the buildings and the distance from the child's home.

Parents want to see good sports and cultural provision and extra help to meet special needs - and all these come a long way above considerations of ethos or management.

So the assumption that it is important to sustain several sectors is holding us back from reform and improvement, and costing us dearly.

It is also impacting on other areas of public expenditure. Since education spending is prioritised (alongside health) isn't there a moral imperative for this money to be used wisely rather than spent on an inefficient and expensive structure?

Currently we are all paying for duplication of provision - resulting in thousands of empty school places - and for duplication of management bodies with claims on the Department of Education's funds.

There is evidence in the poll responses that the public acknowledges the need to change the way we deliver education. There is overwhelming support - almost 80 per cent - for merging schools on cross-community lines.

Streamlining schools provision would go a long way to easing financial pressures. Streamlining provision on a cross-community basis, with the appropriate development of curriculum and teacher training, could result in a pattern of education delivery where everyone feels a sense of both belonging and ownership regarding their local school.

This would support the aim in the draft Programme for Government of building a "diverse, harmonious and confident society".

Stormont politicians have failed to deliver this. Now we have a budget imposed from London and no NI education minister.

The recent Department of Finance budget briefing acknowledged the need for radical changes – "transformation" – to the education system. But there is no plan in place for achieving this. In the absence of progress it should not be surprising that the survey showed a strong call for a Bengoa-style review.

Asked "should there be an independent, root-and-branch review of the way that education is planned and delivered in NI, to make recommendations for improved efficiency and effectiveness", 90 per cent of those expressing an opinion said yes.

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