Leading article

Our children deserve a properly funded education system

Over the coming weeks thousands of young people will receive their exam results which will help them on to the next stage of their education or into the world of employment.

Getting them to this point has taken years of effort and commitment, not just from the students themselves but also from their teachers and wider school network which has shaped and guided them since their first day in primary school.

We cannot overstate the importance of education to our economy. Our future prosperity depends on having a workforce with the skills and knowledge demanded by the jobs market.

Businesses in financial services and IT which are seeking to invest in Northern Ireland are looking for staff with a high standard of qualifications and training and it is up to our education system to deliver what is required.

Spending money on education is an investment in the future yet we consistently hear of the financial difficulties impacting on our schools and colleges.

This is acknowledged by the department of education's permanent secretary, Derek Baker, who has written about the 'severe financial challenges' facing our system.

This year the Education Authority has overspent its budget by around £19 million but it is estimated that since 2011 there has been a reduction of £200 million in real terms.

Around 300 schools are facing a deficit in the current financial year with principals warning that cuts would lead to reductions in staffing levels.

Newly released figures show that almost 1,500 classroom staff have been made redundant in the past four years.

Since 2015/16, 692 teachers and 738 support staff have left their jobs, which should be a cause for deep concern.

Fewer teachers mean larger class sizes and fewer classroom assistants mean more children will not receive the support they need.

With schools under pressure to balance their books, the fear is that the list of redundancies will grow.

Parents will be rightly alarmed at the impact all this will have on their children's education.

They are entitled to ask if these cuts to front line staff are absolutely necessary or if money can be found from elsewhere.

Ultimately, it should be our politicians deciding how much cash is allocated to schools but of course the current impasse at Stormont means that crucial strategic decisions cannot be taken in the absence of a minister.

It is a profoundly unsatisfactory situation and places principals in an invidious position.

It also creates enormous uncertainty among teachers and support staff who will wonder what the future holds.

When it comes to public spending priorities, education and health are at the top of the list.

Our children deserve an education system that is properly funded and managed.

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