Education news

School principals speak about funding pressures at NI Affairs Committee

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee will hear about budget pressures from principals

THE heads of schools are to tell MPs about funding and staffing pressures as part of an inquiry into education funding in the north.

Primary and secondary principals will give evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in Westminster.

The inquiry is examining whether the levels of funding allocated to education in the Northern Ireland budget are sufficient to meet the challenges facing the sector.

It is also considering what the spending priorities should be for the money allocated to Department of Education.

An audit report warned that the north's education system was coming close to a tipping point. Auditor General Kieran Donnelly's report this month highlighted pressure on budgets, increasing pupil numbers and schools with sustainability issues.

He found that while funding had increased between 2012/13 and 2016/17, there had been a 9.3 per cent reduction in real terms. In that time, more schools have found themselves in the red.

Since 2012/13, the number in deficit increased from 197 to 315. In that same period, those with a surplus decreased from 856 to 711.

Deficits at individual schools were highest in the post-primary sector. Seven were in excess of £1 million at March 31 2017.

In the first evidence session for the inquiry, the Education Authority told the committee that schools in Northern Ireland had seen their spending power fall by £233m since 2011 leading to "financial difficulties" for many schools.

EA chairwoman Sharon O'Connor also told how the financial situation was having an effect on principals.

"We are working very closely with school leaders in particular, who are under tremendous strain and pressure," she said.

"We recognise that. We have invested a lot of time in talking to them about what we can do in the reality of the situation that we jointly face. There is a real shared sense of purpose and endeavour around facing these difficulties.

"We recognise the stress and strain. We have recently been running wellbeing conferences for school leaders, who are very beleaguered in terms of trying to deliver almost impossible financial budgets."

Today, the committee made up of Conservative, Labour, DUP and independent members will hear from four principals.

The session will focus on hearing real experiences of the funding challenges faced and how they affect schools' ability to provide effective education for their pupils.

Witnesses include Deirdre Gillespie, principal of St Mary's Grammar in Magherafelt, Dr Graham Gault from Maghaberry PS, Jo McColgan from Ashfield Boys' High School in Belfast and Nigel Frith, head of Drumragh Integrated College in Omagh.

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