School leaders meet with MPs over education funding
PRINCIPALS met MPs yesterday to highlight concerns over a massive shortfall in the education budget.
Members of Westminster's Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which is holding an inquiry into education funding, hosted a discussion at Holy Cross College in Strabane with school leaders.
The cross-party committee was told that many schools were at "breaking point".
It is examining whether the level of funding allocated to education is sufficient to meet the challenges facing the sector.
A report from the auditor general found the north's education system was coming close to a tipping point.
Kieran Donnelly 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.
The Controlled Schools' Support Council (CSSC) is among groups that have given evidence to the committee. It warned that many schools were struggling to deliver the essential curriculum.
Grace Trimble, principal of Kilkeel Nursery School and CSSC's nursery sector representative, said pre-school was recognised as providing the best start to a child's education and also their preparation for life.
"Nursery principals and staff face unprecedented challenges, exacerbated by the current financial difficulties, and many are almost at breaking point," she said.
"With the ever-decreasing budgets, the nursery sector often has only the bare legal minimum of staff to deal with more and more children who have not had their needs identified, and to try to support parents in their role."
Robin McLoughin, principal of Banbridge Academy, said there was insufficient funding to sustain the schools estate and the quality of education on offer.
Raymond McFeeters, head of Castle Tower School and Ardnashee School and College, said the special school sector also faced challenges.
"I am concerned that special educational needs provision and the classroom assistants who provide this support are one potential area that will be cut back on as a result of budget restrictions," he said.
"This would be particularly damaging for children with special needs and learning difficulties.
"While I fully appreciate that SEN has a relatively large budgetary allocation, special school staff are dealing with the reality of funding decisions that are being made remotely. Special schools continue to need highly trained staff to deal with the increasing complexity of pupil need."