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NI principals demand MPs take action to address school funding crisis

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In a response to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee inquiry into school funding, school principals have condemned the lack of government leadership in Northern Ireland and have urged Westminster to provide democratic oversight and scrutiny of education funding in the absence of a functioning Stormont Assembly.

Geri Cameron, NAHT(NI) President and Principal of Loughshore Educational Centre said;

“School funding is in crisis. Without a functioning local assembly, Westminster must intervene to stop any further damage to our education system.

“In Northern Ireland a much greater percentage of the education budget is retained at centre than any other part of the UK,* our civil servants already have far greater decision making powers when it comes to education than their UK counterparts, we don’t have the same transparency of funding as colleagues in England, Wales or Scotland. 

“Following Karen Bradley’s announcement that she intends to bring forward legislation to allow civil servants to make decisions in the absence of devolution, our members contend that it is not realistic or fair to expect civil servants  working away from the front line to be able to understand the needs of the children in school. Front line professionals in our schools must be able to avail of funding directly to meet the needs of children in our class rooms, our report highlights that many schools have been forced to make drastic cuts to provision including reducing their curriculum offer, introducing composite classes and cutting classroom support, this situation is only going to get worse. 

“We are demanding that MPs to use this inquiry to instigate a programme of reform that will see our education system receive increased funding to meet pupil need, as well as ensure that more funding reaches our classrooms directly.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “school leaders in NI surveyed by NAHT expressed high levels of dissatisfaction across all key areas and concluded that the Education Employers, the Department of Education and the Secretary of State need to initiate a process of urgent reform of the education system in order to protect the future of children and young people. It is essential to determine the true picture of education spending, accountability and need in Northern Ireland. We urge the committee to directly meet with school leaders and we invite them to visit schools in NI to understand the daily challenges they face.”

*In stark contrast to other areas of the UK where around 2-10% is retained at the centre, schools in Northern Ireland only receive a maximum of 59% of the overall education budget directly. This means that direct investment in schooling in Northern Ireland lags significantly behind other systems; spending on pre-school, primary and secondary education per pupil is 46% higher in Scotland, 18% higher in England and 31% higher in Wales.  See NI Children's Commissioner (2017) The cost of Education , Available at: http://www.niccy.org/costofeducation.

Details of our Inquiry report:

The NI Affairs Committee launched an inquiry into education funding in Northern Ireland, on August 2 2018, deadline for written responses was 14 September. https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/northern-ireland-affairs-committee/news-parliament-2017/education-funding-northern-ireland-launch-17-19/

See attached response from NAHT that includes the findings of a survey that was carried out in August 2018 with school leaders in NI, key points include;

  • Current funding for education in NI is not sufficient to improve educational outcomes, 98% of school leaders surveyed stated they had not received sufficient funding for the coming academic year.
  • Additional funding from the confidence and supply deal must go directly to schools.
  • Capital funding investment is not sufficient to support investment in improvements to NI schools. Essential repairs have not been carried out and temporary classrooms, some of which were 40 years old, have not been replaced.
  • The areas of greatest need of investment in the education sector in NI are special education needs, early intervention and professional retention.
  • It was highlighted that in contrast to England where each child receives £10,000 core funding for their Special School place, the Education Authority applies no such formula, schools are left in the dark concerning the amount that they will receive per pupil, making planning impossible and leaving children in NI at a disadvantage to their counterparts in neighbouring jurisdictions.
  • Many Principals said that they were considering leaving the profession, citing that the additional stress of having to deliver a high quality education with fewer resources was becoming impossible

 

First published 19 September 2018