Education leaders in Larne have delivered a stark warning that swingeing budget cuts will prove “catastrophic” for local pupils.
With unprecedented cuts of 4.2 per cent leaving schools facing mounting deficit, local principals have claimed the situation is “approaching crisis point”.
And they cautioned it could lead to shorter school days, larger class sizes, fewer teachers and a reduction in subjects.
Larne High School principal, John Armstrong described the extent of the cuts as appalling and claimed:“This is the biggest challenge I have faced in my 10 years as principal.
“Education Minister John O’Dowd announced in March that the Aggregated Schools Budget was being cut by 0.8 per cent, so we made allowance for that in our budget.
“Then we were told that, schools must also fund a 3.4 per cent rise in employer National Insurance contributions, which came as a major shock.
“I have a combined staff of about 50, both teaching and non-teaching roles.
“My budget is around £2m and the bulk of it is taken up by staffing costs.
“I have not been able to set any money aside for maintenance or additional resources.”
Mr Armstrong warned that schools could be forced to cut jobs over the next two-three years in a bid to reduce their deficits.
“The only way to make savings is through redundancies,” he added.
“This will impact directly on pupils, as schools will have to explore the possibility of larger class sizes, shorter school days and a shrinking of the curriculum.
“I am alarmed there has not been more of an outcry about this situation. The education minister needs to recognise that National Insurance costs should not be laid at the feet of schools.
“Make no mistake; these budget cuts will be catastrophic for schools and will directly impact the quality of education pupils will receive.
“We are approaching a crisis point and I would urge the Department to reconsider these plans.”
Meanwhile, Larne Grammar School principal Jonathan Wylie has called for a “radical rethink” to the way school’s are funded.
He claimed Northern Ireland’s education system is “at a crossroads” due to ongoing financial pressures, adding that the cuts “will impact all schools, from the smallest nursery to the biggest post-primary”.
Mr Wylie said: “The Board of Governors has been very prudent in managing the Larne Grammar’s finances in recent years. But for the past five or six years we have had continual cuts to our budget, while costs have been increasing.
“On top of absorbing cuts of 0.8 per cent this year, schools have now been told they must fund a 3.4 per cent rise in employer National Insurance contributions, which equates to an extra £50,000 for Larne Grammar.”
Mr Wylie revealed that Larne Grammar has five fewer full time teachers than it did in 2010, which represents a drop of 10 per cent in staffing levels.
And he warned that further cuts would have a “significant detrimental impact” on the quality of education schools can deliver.
“ Without proper funding further cuts to staffing will be inevitable,” Mr Wylie said.
“This will have a direct impact on class sizes, length of the school day and the range of subjects which can be offered at GCSE and A Level.
“There needs to be a radical rethink in the way schools are funded. Currently, only 59 per cent of the Department of Education’s budget goes to schools.
“The money spent centrally needs to go directly into schools to protect our front line services,” Mr Wylie concluded.
When he announced the 2016/17 budget earlier this year, Education Minister John O’Dowd said: “My priority has been to ensure that there is minimum impact on the classroom and I have done everything possible to maximise the allocation to the department in 2016-17.”