Education news

Schools plunged into financial crisis, union warns

More than 600 schools have had their spending plans rejected

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SCHOOLS have been plunged into a financial crisis after having their spending plans rejected, head teachers have warned.

The Education Authority (EA) has refused to authorise budgets for 632 schools across the north.

It said they were unable to show how they could avoid going into the red.

Rejection of the plans effectively means that schools have no approval to spend all the money they need to spend.

The majority goes towards salaries for teachers and non-teaching staff. Financial plans also factor in sick leave cover, assessments and maintenance.

Schools are struggling to tighten their belts because millions of pounds have been taken out of the system.

It is estimated that more than 300 schools are facing a deficit in the current financial year. In addition, those that have been saving money are seeing their surpluses being reduced.

The NAHT union said it had been inundated with calls from school leaders in response to letters from the EA.

Northern Ireland president Paul McClenaghan said governors had worked hard on their three-year plans.

"Despite the most drastic cuts to their budgets and the lateness of the information provided by the EA to schools, the vast majority of plans allow schools to live within their budgets with the inclusion of the small amounts school leaders were able to bring across from the previous financial year," he said.

"The correspondence received by these schools from the Education Authority states that they are refusing to allow schools to include this amount to be included in budget calculations.

"It is the Education Authority's actions that have plunged schools into this crisis. The present budget crisis is exacerbated by the Education Authority's budget problems. It is very unfortunate for school children to suffer in this way and then be told that the EA would support schools."

An EA spokeswoman said the education sector was facing significant financial pressure.

"At this stage, 239 schools have had their spending plans approved. 632 have not yet had their plans approved as they were unable to demonstrate that they could live within their budget allocations for 2017/18," she said.

"EA welcomes the recent announcement of additional funding which will help schools who are planning to access previous surpluses to meet the challenges of the current year. However, we continue to highlight the increasing financial challenges facing the education sector and the growing demand for services."

The INTO union said it wanted to know why the £8m allocated to allow schools to access surpluses was not being made available now.

"If this money was made available rather than being withheld for reasons known only to EA it is likely that the 632 figure would be significantly reduced," said northern secretary Gerry Murphy.

"Cuts that schools are being forced to make in this 2017/18 year could be avoided and the level of provision available to our children and young people could be maintained at present levels."

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