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Cutbacks 'placing increasing pressure on already stretched budget' - School principal

Thursday, 7 September 2017

SCHOOL budget cuts are "playing with the economic and academic futures of our children". 

Those were the strong words of McClintock Primary School, Seskinore, principal, Sam Dennison, yesterday, who was speaking out after it was revealed that local schools are to receive 56 less per pupil.

This school year, all nursery and primary schools in Northern Ireland are set to receive 2,004.71 per pupil, compared to last year's figure of 2,061.21, according to reports.

Mr Dennison said his school will lose over 5,000 this academic year, while Gibson Primary School in Omagh will lose close to an astonishing 20,000.

"Last week I met with the Board of Governors as we looked at financial projections for this year and the following two years," Mr Dennison explained.

"The Governors were horrified to learn that the Department of Education won't allow us to access our savings, which were generated from some good 'housekeeping' such as low sickness, fundraising etc.

"In other words, our budget projections will be solely on the amount we have been given this year. This is quite frankly ridiculous - we are a professional organisation, but we're not treated as such.

"This is compounded by the fact that we will receive 56 less per pupil compared with last year. In total, it's over a 5,000 cut - a substantial amount of money. The Department say they have always been warning about cutbacks, but we have never been consulted."

Mr Dennison continued: "Teachers work very hard in this school, they go way over and above. But the latest cuts means I will be asking more of them, to deliver the same high level of cirruclum as they have in the past. The Department wants a world class education system, but how can this be achieved without the proper funding?"

Mr Dennison said there had been a number of "great initiatives" which have recently been cut back, such as the Primary Languages Programme - which allowed pupils at McClintock to learn Spanish - as well as the Community Sports Programme Funding.

"We have to plug those gaps and do so with 56 less per pupil. It's becoming very difficult to manage a school and keep raising standards. I think children are easy targets - they don't have a voice and are being denied their best chance," he continued.

Asked if he believed there would be job losses at the school, Mr Dennison responded: "I don't envisage any immediately, but if the knife cuts deeper then it's something the Governors may have to look at. It is a possibility, not this academic year, but who knows what the future brings?

"We need a working government, people who will make decisions for the next generation as at the moment we are playing with children's economic and academic futures here."

Meanwhile, Keith Sterritt, principal of Gibson Primary School, Omagh, said more cuts "continue to place increasing pressure on an already stretched budget."

He added: "For example, previously when a school was planning on developing a specific skill or aspect of the curriculum there would have been courses arranged or expertise within the Education Authority who could have supported schools. This support network is no longer in place which means that there are increasing demands on already stretched schools budgets.

"As with all schools Gibson's budget is an area of concern, however as pupil numbers have increased in our school over the last five years we will be able to manage with no planned redundancies or staff reductions. However, the cuts of almost 20,000 will have a significant impact on what resources we will be able to buy, the training we will be able to avail of and activities we can provide for our pupils.

"We are extremely fortunate to have a fantastic Parent Teacher Association and incredibly supportive parents who will continue to raise funds for our school which will offset some of these cuts. However, it is a sad indictment of the political situation in Northern Ireland and education in particular that we continue to rely on the good will of our school community to be able to provide the high quality education which we are renowned for."

Nigel Frith, principal of Drumragh Integrated College, said: "At Drumragh, we have cut back on classroom assistants and certain resources. Right now, it is our main priority to keep a teacher in front of every class, and to ensure classrooms can stay at a moderate level. However, it is getting harder and harder to do this.

"I feel that in the future, we willl look back and realise these cuts shouldn't have happened. We will realise they only served to damage education in the long term. At the moment, the last thing we need is more cuts."

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