Action needs to be taken now on a looming crisis for school budgets - with a warning classes could become overcrowded and school days shortened as educators struggle to ‘make ends meet’.
That was the stark message from Lurgan College principal Mr Trevor Robinson, who said schools were being stretched to breaking point “having exhausted every cost saving measure possible”.
Mr Robinson, speaking at the school’s annual prizegiving, said: “I must highlight... an issue which has the potential to threaten the capacity of every school in the province to deliver NI’s year on year high outcomes for their pupils.
“I refer, of course, to the deepening financial crisis facing all our schools.
“Last week the NI Audit Office reported that Northern Ireland’s education system, and I quote, ‘is coming close to a financial tipping poin’.
“The Audit Office found that over the four-year period 2013-2017, there has been a 9.3% reduction in school budgets in real terms.
“This is simply not acceptable as hitherto perfectly sustainable schools are now stretched to breaking point, having exhausted every cost-cutting measure possible, especially as pupil numbers are set to rise significantly over the next few years.
“I fear that unacceptably large class sizes, severely restricted, inappropriate curricula and even shortened school days are what lie ahead unless DE and EA heed the Auditor General’s timely warning that, and I quote again, ‘action needs to be taken as a matter of urgency’.
“Quite simply, as schools feel the tightening fist of fiscal austerity, they are being left to wither on the vine; if our society is serious in its desire that its education system meets its future needs and becomes, as Nelson Mandela believed, ‘the biggest weapon for change’, then there needs to be no more reviews, no more reports, no more dilly-dallying, but rather firm action in the form of a fundamental transformation of the whole schools estate; one which addresses, once and for all, the unaffordable number of tiny unsustainable schools, small sixth forms and costly sectors; contingency funding, however, needs to be made available now, in the short term, in order to ensure that pupils currently enrolled in our schools will continue to attain the remarkable academic success which I am pleased to share with you now.”