Northern Ireland news

Lack of funding heaping 'unmanageable pressures' on school

Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People Koulla Yiasouma.
Rebecca Black, PA

The Children's Commissioner has backed calls for Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley to act over the region's "crisis-hit" education system.

Westminster's Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has urged Ms Bradley to increase the education budget and to introduce regulations previously agreed by the Stormont Assembly before its collapse in 2017.

In a report published on Monday, the committee concluded that in the two-and-a-half year absence of devolved government a growing funding crisis has resulted in unmanageable pressures on school budgets.

It found that the rising number of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is a key driver of the trend.

The committee concluded that Northern Ireland's schools urgently need more money to address the growing pressures.

It heard evidence during its inquiry that some schools are under such financial strain that parents have donated supplies such as toilet roll and stationery.

Additionally, many schools have struggled to provide support to the growing number of students with SEND who require dedicated support.

The report calls for Northern Ireland's education budget to be increased in line with pupil numbers and to reflect the costs associated with caring for students with SEND.

Committee chair Simon Hoare said the Secretary of State can take action to improve the situation for SEND care by implementing regulations previously agreed at Stormont.

However, he concluded that "lasting change can only come from a Northern Ireland Executive".

Children's Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma welcomed the report.

"I support the committee's call to the Secretary of State to ensure that the education budget meets the needs of children, particularly those with special education needs, and I join the committee in urging her to bring forward secondary legislation to ensure the full implementation of Special Education Needs and Disability and the Children Services Co-operation Acts which were passed by the Assembly in 2016," she said.

"I am frustrated that this is further evidence of the impact that no Assembly or Executive is having on our children's education. I look forward to the response from the Northern Ireland Office and the Department of Education as to how they will implement the committee's recommendations."

Teachers' union the NASUWT said it "broadly welcomed" the findings of the committee.

However, general secretary Chris Keates said many of the issues identified by the committee "predate the collapse of Stormont and have their origins in decisions taken by the Westminster government".

Ms Bradley's office has been approached for a response.

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