NI schools facing budget crisis, leaders warn

According to leaders of 80 of Northern Ireland’s (NI) largest schools, fewer teachers and larger classes are a result of rising costs.

A statement issued by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the Governing Bodies Association, the Catholic Heads Association, the Association of Controlled Grammar Schools and the Voluntary Bursars Association warned that many schools were facing critical budget challenges.

It said school budgets are ‘already stretched to breaking point by successive cuts in recent years’.

The statement cautioned: “Schools now face unprecedented financial pressures and will be running deficits of between £150,000 and £500,000. This will have a direct and significant detrimental effect on the quality of education currently offered to pupils."

The groups claim that the budget crisis is due to an increase of more than four per cent in the amount schools have to pay into employee pensions, which is costing some schools over £100,000; a 3.4 per cent rise in employer National Insurance contributions, which means an average £70,000 increase in costs to schools; and the cost-of-living pay rises for staff of between one per cent and 2.2 per cent agreed by government and unions, which are not funded by the Department for Education (DfE).

The statement concluded: “Together we call on our politicians to reconsider these plans and find the cost savings in administrative and other areas which will have less potential impact on the futures of Northern Ireland's pupils.”

In response to the statement, NI’s Education Minister John O'Dowd said: “As a result of reductions imposed by the Westminster government, the overall executive resource budget for 2016-17 has been reduced in real terms. However, although the budget for education is challenging, the position is significantly better than previously anticipated.

"However, it has been impossible to fully protect the schools budget. As a result, there will be 0.8 per cent reduction in the next financial year. I have also allocated three quarters of the additional £20 million, announced by the finance minister and which will be made available to my department as part of the June 2016-17 monitoring round, to the aggregated schools budget.”

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