Northern Ireland

NI school leaders in 'budget crisis' warning

childrens' hands up in classroom Image copyright Getty Creative
Image caption Many schools are in a 'critical situation', facing budget deficits of as much as £1m, principals warn

Schools will offer pupils fewer subjects and could cut the school day due to a "budget crisis," school leaders have said.

The warning comes from the leaders of 80 of Northern Ireland's largest schools.

It is part of a joint statement from organisations representing principals, governors and school finance managers.

Many schools are in a "critical situation," they said, facing budget deficits of as much as £1m.

Their caution came on the same day that the 2017-18 education budget was published by the secretary of state.

'Significant detrimental effect'

Schools have exhausted "all reasonable cost reducing steps", says the 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.

"The schools we represent are forecasting major and unrecoverable deficits over the next three years.

"This will have a direct and significant detrimental effect on the quality of education currently offered to pupils.

"The lack of funding is having a direct and significant detrimental effect on the quality of education currently offered to pupils."

Image caption 'If our education system is going to be a first-class education system it must have the right resourcing,' said Dermot Mullan, the president of the ASCL

The statement also said that without proper funding, further cuts to school staff are inevitable and will lead to:

  • A reduction in subjects offered at GCSE and A-Level
  • Larger class sizes
  • A potentially shorter school day and/or shorter school week

The joint statement called for the secretary of state and the Department of Education to address the funding crisis.

"There is a need for major and urgent reform of the educational estate and administrative structures across Northern Ireland to develop greater financial efficiency and flexibility with a clear and direct benefit to pupils," it continued.

"Surely Northern Ireland's priority must be to invest in the future of our children."

At £1.943bn, the Education budget for 2017-18 is similar to the opening 2016-17 position of £1.947bn.

However, due to inflation that is a real-terms reduction.

'Young people disadvantaged'

Dermot Mullan, the president of the ASCL in Northern Ireland, said that austerity had gone on too long.

"If our education system is going to be a first-class education system it must have the right resourcing," he said.

"We are finding ourselves, as school leaders, unable to manage in the interests of young people.

"If additional funding is not found over the next two or three years, we'll see schools closing early and that's not to be alarmist in any way but schools can't going the way they are going.

"It has to go back to our politicians and to the treasury to find more money for education in Northern Ireland or our young people will be disadvantaged.

"I don't think morally or financially we can accept such a position," he added.

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