Northern Ireland

Education bosses set to face difficult choices after budget funding revealed

Education in Northern Ireland is to receive £2.6 billion in funding
Education in Northern Ireland is to receive £2.6 billion in funding

EDUCATION bosses look set to face difficult choices ahead after it was revealed that the sector is to receive £2.6 billion in funding - a cut of 2.5 per cent on last year's allocation.

The figure was confirmed on Thursday by secretary of state Chris Heaton-Harris in his funding plan for 2023/24.

Teaching unions have described the announcement as "an additional insult to teachers, education workers, children and parents".

Recent weeks has already seen numerous warnings from the Department of Education about the savings it needs to make in the forthcoming year.

Several schemes have already been affected, such as the 'holiday hunger' payments, a mental health and counselling programme for children in primary schools called Happy Healthy Minds and the Extended Schools programme.

Further cuts are anticipated amid other rising costs faced by schools for food, transport and energy.

Mark Baker, chief executive of the Controlled Schools’ Support Council (CSSC), said the "critical financial pressures facing education in NI are already starker than elsewhere in the UK".

"Our concern is that the secretary of state does not recognise that education in Northern Ireland is significantly underfunded," he said.

"The impact this underfunding has on the lives of all our children and young people is lived each day by our school leaders and their staff.

"We note that Barnett consequentials are being withdrawn which results in education in NI missing out on any increase in funding for schools linked to the recent £2.3bn increase in England.

"Again this further undervalues our children and young people in comparison to those in England."

Mr Baker added that the budget announcement means the department of education "will have no choice but to continue to make difficult decisions as a result of the continuing shortfall in funding being made available to education in NI". 

Mark McTaggart, INTO northern secretary, also said the "announcement of a 2.5 per cent cut to the education budget is an additional insult to teachers, education workers, children and parents, and represents a further failure by those who hold the purse strings to value all in this society".

"Such a cut, and the fact that the lack of protection for the pressure on school budgets from inflation costs and the ever-increasing fuel costs will lead to a reduction in the number of teachers, an increase in class size and ultimately an erosion in the quality of the education that our children and young people can receive.

"Such a short-sighted policy must continue to be challenged, and we again call on government to stop using our young people and educationalists as pawns in their political games, and for our absentee politicians to be allowed to return to Stormont to begin to take the necessary decisions to ensure that we have the world class education system our society deserves."