Education news

Classroom assistant hours cut due to budget reductions, principals warn

Principals say austerity cuts mean redundancies of teaching and support staff

BUDGET cuts in schools have caused a reduction in classroom assistant hours for children with specific needs, principals have claimed.

The heads of almost 40 primary schools in Co Fermanagh are the latest group to warn of a funding crisis.

The overall education budget, announced in July, was £24m less than the closing 2016/17 budget.

An additional £10m was found, but schools and education bodies are still being forced to make savings.

The extra money came from the reallocation of cash across Stormont departments, although heads say they are yet to see a penny.

The Northern Ireland budget for 2017/18, published this month, showed an increase in education spending of 1.5 per cent.

But principals have warned that this extra money is unlikely to have any impact in classrooms.

Now, the heads of 39 integrated, Irish-medium, Catholic and state controlled primary schools in Fermanagh claimed austerity cuts would mean redundancies of teaching and support staff.

"Jobs are under threat. Fewer teachers will mean bigger class sizes, more composite classes and split year groups," the Fermanagh Primary Principals Group said.

"More and more classrooms will have 30 or more pupils as the norm. This will also be the reality for larger schools which may not have had this set up in the past.

"Larger class sizes will have a negative impact on the quality of education provision for children."

Schools were already beginning to feel the impact of the cuts in relation to support services available to them from the Educational Psychology Service, the group added.

"For example, there has been a reduction in the number of psychologists available to this service.

"This has led to even longer waiting lists for referrals and assessments of need and also a reduction in the allocation of time given to each school on a yearly basis.

"For children who are allocated extra resources to support their learning, waiting lists have become lengthy which delays vital intervention programmes.

"A worrying development in recent times has been the reduction of classroom assistant hours allocated to children with specific needs. This has been imposed in an attempt to cut costs with little regard to the needs of the child being considered."

The heads added that costs of classroom assistants were being met from the school budget, which "draws resources away from other crucial areas including everyday resources and principal release time".

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