Northern Ireland news

Parents consider monthly lottery to raise funds for Banbridge school

An audit report this week warned that the education system was coming close to a tipping point

PARENTS at an under-pressure primary school say they are considering a lottery to raise much-needed cash.

An audit report this week warned that the education system was coming close to a tipping point.

More schools are finding 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.

The report followed a joint letter to parents from principals in Derry warning of the "profoundly negative impact" of budget cuts.

Deficits are highest in the post-primary sector although many primary schools are struggling.

Now, the parent-teacher association at St Mary's PS in Banbridge said it was considering a monthly lottery to help the school.

Figures from the Education Authority show St Mary's had a deficit of more than £75,000 in 2015, although this reduced to £61,521 a year later.

It receives an annual budget of about £1.3m, however in 2016 its staff costs were about £1.7m.

PTA spokeswoman Miriam McAleavey told the Banbridge Chronicle the "days of baking buns for sale at the school fair are dead and gone".

A lottery with prizes of up to £500, she said, was among the fundraising ideas being considered.

Teaching unions have, meanwhile, raised concerns about the audit report's findings.

The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) said it painted a picture of an education system in "an ever-increasing financial morass made worse by administrative and political failure".

Northern secretary Gerry Murphy said the level of funding provided to the Department of Education since 2010/11 has declined in real terms by 10 per cent, while the number of pupils increased.

"In cash terms this represents a reduction of £200 million, which by the 2019/20 financial year will grow to a £350m shortfall in education funding," he said.

"The audit office report is useful in describing the problem, and some off the operational recommendations it makes are worthy of consideration, however, INTO cautions against looking to the English education system for solutions.

"This re-arrangement of the deck chairs leading to even greater degrees of accountability and sanction will only have further negative consequences for our children, their teachers, the parents and those citizens who volunteer for the increasingly thankless job of school governance."

The Ulster Teachers' Union warned one wrong move "could stymie the educational future of Northern Ireland for a generation".

Deputy general secretary Jacquie White said the findings "paint the bleakest possible picture of the financial situation in our schools".

"The situation has reached critical mass. Children are not being served – they are not having their basic human rights to education met; it's as fundamental as that," she said.

"Education must be provided on the basis of need – not availability of budget, for instance. Yet the system is making that increasingly problematic thanks to cutbacks."

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