Schools warn of teacher job losses

TEACHER redundancies in Larne will be “unavoidable” as a result of multi-million-pound cuts to the school budget, a local principal has warned.

The Department of Education has announced that £180m is to be slashed from school coffers in Northern Ireland by 2014.

And while Education Minister John O’Dowd has pledged to re-allocate £40m back into the budget over the next three years, Larne High School principal John Armstrong said it will not be enough to prevent a swathe of job losses at schools throughout the Province - including his own.

Mr Armstrong told the Larne Times that the only way he would be able to balance the books would be to axe some of his teaching staff. “We are talking at least six redundancies over the next three years, and even then we will still be facing financial difficulties,” he added.

“In the five years I have been principal here, the school has never been in the red, thanks to careful management of our resources. Suddenly, we are faced with this huge hurdle and the only way we can survive is through redundancies. This in turn will lead to bigger classes and have a negative impact on the quality of education that pupils receive.”

Mr Armstrong said he was “shocked” when the learned full scale of the cuts in the education sector and believes the Stormont Executive “has not really thought the situation through”.

“It is one thing to cut funding for something like a dual carriageway, but this is quite another. The country will never get out of this economic slump if the Government doesn’t invest in our young people,” he said.

Mr Armstrong also believes that secondary schools will be hit harder by the cuts than grammars, as each school’s budget allocation is dependant on the number of enrolled pupils.

“Secondary schools generally have been experiencing falling pupils numbers in recent years, but grammar schools are able to achieve a full compliment of pupils by lowering their standard of intake.

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“We have a capacity of around 750 pupils, but have never been close to that and currently have 500 pupils at the school,” said Mr Armstrong, who recently met with a local MLA to discuss his concerns.

Larne Grammar School principal John Wilson also voiced fears about the impact of the cuts locally. He said some difficult decisions lay ahead, but promised to explore every possible avenue to ensure that job losses at his school would be “kept to a minimum”.

“Schools across the Province are facing a 20 per cent reduction in staffing levels over the next three years due to these cuts”, Mr Wilson explained.

“Unlike a number of other schools, we do not have any debt to contend with as we have managed our resources and staff carefully over the years. These cuts will force us to tighten our belts significantly if we want to stay in the black.”

One local school that looks set to escape the cuts – in the short term at least – is Roddensvale, which is financed through a separate budget.

Mr O’Dowd has described the reduction of the school budget as an “unsavoury but necessary decision”. The Sinn Fein minister added: “The harsh reality of the cuts imposed on this administration by the British Government is that we are going to face job losses among our teaching staff, among our school staff, going into the future.

“I will continue to argue the case for further investment in the future to help alleviate pressures on the education budget. I will also continue to explore options for alternative savings.”