Principals speak out on budgets

Trevor Carruthers
Trevor Carruthers

Primary and nursery school principals in Lisburn have spoken out about the serious impact budget restraints are having on local schools.

Riverdale Primary School Head, Mr Trevor Carruthers, on behalf of the Lisburn Association of Primary and Nursery School Principals, said outgoing Education Minister John O’Dowd’s observation that school budgets would be ‘challenging’ this year, was an understatement.

He said: “The reality for many of our primary and nursery schools across Lisburn is that, under current funding levels, our primary schools are going to be faced with cutting provision to children and, in particular, to the children in our schools who need most support.

“The problem has arisen because schools are having to pay the rise in Teachers National Insurance and Superannuation costs from their school budgets without any additional allocation from Department of Education.

“This significant cost increase means that schools are having to make cuts to front-line provision in order to stay within budget.

“Invariably, in the primary school, savings of this magnitude can only be made by reducing staff, and for most this will mean reducing staffing, learning support or classroom assistant hours in the school.

“Budgets for learning resources and teaching materials will also be seriously diminished.

“Currently, schools with high numbers of children in receipt of free school meals attract significantly more funding than others so they can absorb the increased costs in the first couple of years, yet the money to meet these additional costs is being taken from an allocation given to schools to meet the needs of disadvantaged children.

“Schools with low numbers of free school meals are feeling the effects immediately, with staff redundancies imminent, and children no longer receiving their much-needed additional support.

“The Lisburn Association of Primary and Nursery School Principals is concerned that, as their primary role is the care and education of children, they are finding it impossible to make the cuts without significant loss of provision to children.

“Principals feel this is a wholly unacceptable situation and one which needs urgent redress if provision is to remain the same.

“Our primary School leaders will always put the needs of their children before all else.

“Being forced to reduce teaching hours or classroom support in order to pay for additional government costs is simply not an option and certainly one which schools are not prepared to make.”

Edwin Poots, meanwhile, said urgent action had to be taken to address the concern of local schools.

“I have spoken to many school teachers and principals over the course of the last two weeks regarding Minister O’Dowd’s funding proposals and I believe them to be wholly unacceptable,” said Mr Poots, now seeking re-election as Lagan Valley MLA.

“The First Minister concurs with my assessment and has assured me that this is a matter that will be revisited as soon as the new executive is established.

“Placing the unnecessary burdens on the schools of budgets that were previously absorbed by the Department of Education would have a hugely detrimental effect on the education of children.”