Cuts to education are `personal' union claims
When it comes to fighting for children's educational future, it's up close and personal, according to Lewis Love, former head of Omagh High and official with the Ulster Teachers' Union
What is it finally going to take for someone - anyone - to do something about the crisis in our education system?
But please, don't glaze over. This isn't just another pay and pensions saga. This is about the very fabric of our society. For while pay and pensions can be thrashed out, our children's future is non-negotiable.
That is what's at stake unless someone finally acknowledges the reality of the financial meltdown facing our schools. In fairness, parents have been wonderful in their support but there is only so much they can do to sustain a system which is grinding inexorably towards implosion.
For as teachers prepare for the festive confection of anarchic angels and irritable inn keepers so beloved of the school nativity play, the warm fuzzy feeling families will enjoy in assembly halls is as far removed from the reality of the classroom as the cardboard camels and tea towel turbans on stage.
I can't help thinking that if the wider community appreciated the true extent of the dire outlook for our once enviable education system, I very much doubt there'd be much heart for festive frivolity.
But that's just it, you see teachers would still make it happen; parents would make it happen; people who really do give a damn would undertake everything humanly possible to make sure the children didn't lose out.
And that is the cynical thinking which seems to have underpinned the decisions taken, or not, in recent years when it comes to schools.
As cut after cut pulls the fiscal belt ever tighter, schools have struggled to breath. As media reports have gained ever more momentum we have watched as their rhetoric has accelerated from ‘challenges' and ‘crises', through ‘unsustainable' and ‘unprecedented' to ‘critical mass' and ‘collapse'.
Elected representatives too have surely watched from their constituency lairs, well behind the chalk front, secure in the knowledge that we as vocation teachers will do everything possible to ensure our children get the best educational experience available.
However, when cuts are made, it is the most vulnerable targets which are picked off first - children with additional needs lose their classroom assistants, special schools are forced to cut their hours, young people with creative talents are stifled because their school can no longer afford to offer the extra-curricular classes which help develop fully rounded individuals ready to take their place in tomorrow's society.
Already we've seen ‘begging letters' going home to parents while schools struggle - not to break even, for that Utopian spreadsheet was spiked by many long ago - but just to keep their deficits in six figures.
Let's remember too, it is these young people who will be in charge when it's our turn to be the vulnerable, the elderly – and some would say what goes round comes round.
Without an intervention, the inevitability of this situation is calamitous; and it's not even like watching a train wreck in slow motion for all this is happening at terminal velocity – and we're in the front carriage.
What is it going to take for someone to put the brakes on this nightmare juggernaut?
So far it's been the softest targets which have borne the brunt; but who's next? Well, the reality is children are next. Bigger class sizes will be the norm and school buses will be consigned to Transport Museum, while a truncated week will be unavoidable.
The goodwill gauge is in the red and the engine's stalling.
The politicians too have maintained their ‘not an inch' intransigency, preferring instead to gamble our most valuable asset – children's educational future – on sectarian party politics.
Not convinced? Well the evidence is empirical; so far everything foretold by teachers has, come to pass.
Indeed, so determined are we to halt any further erosion of our educational system that local teaching unions have taken the unparalleled decision to stand together to ensure pupils get a better.
And we have also pledged to renew our efforts to resolve the issues that are adding to our workload and robbing us of precious time to our pupils. 2018 could be a make or break year for Northern Ireland's educational system. Let's make sure it's the former rather than the latter and give teachers the support they need. This time it's not just about pay and pensions – this time it's personal.