School principals in Derry are up in arms at planned cuts to the education sector which could result in staff redundancies and a reduction in class sizes.
The heads of both primary and post primary schools in the city say the scale of the proposed cuts will have profound consequences for schools.
The North’s education sector is facing a “very significant reduction” of seven per cent to the ASB (Aggregated Schools Budget). This means that schools stand to lose thousands of pounds from their annual budgets.
One teachers’ union has warned that schools in NI will become “inoperable” and say up to 2,500 jobs could be lost.
Local schools which have voiced concern at the plans include Lumen Christi College, St Mary’s College, Foyle College and Oakgrove Integrated PS.
Patrick O’Doherty, of Lumen Christi, says the planned cuts will, inevitably, have an equally direct and adverse impact on the quality of the educational provision experienced by children in the classroom and in the wider life of the school.
In a letter to parents, he says: “For all post-primary schools this may well mean a reduction in extra-curricular activities, a reduction in the curriculum offer to students at GCSE and A-Level, increased class sizes and fewer option choices at post-14 and post-16. The cuts for our own college will impact upon staffing, on the curriculum offered and on the quality of resources provided to your child both within and outside the classroom.
“In addition, capital expenditure on projects such as school maintenance and improved sports facilities will also be severely curtailed or withdrawn altogether.”
This is a view shared by Marie Lindsay, principal of St Mary’s College, who believes the cuts will have a negative impact on her school and its educational provision.
“The NI Assembly needs to realise that the work our school does is important and must be funded,” she says.
She added that, over a number of years, St Mary’s has continually reviewed its staffing provision and budgetary impact on resources.
“It is the governors’ concern that they will have to review the provision further,”
It’s a similar situation at Foyle College with principal Patrick Allen branding the planned cuts as “savage”.
He added: “Northern Ireland’s sustained economic recovery will not be secured by savage cuts to education.
“The education service is already in a fragile state with teacher redundancies, rising class sizes and increased workload. These proposed cuts will only exacerbate this situation and compromise high educational standards.”
Oakgrove Primary School has also written to parents about the planned cuts.
In its letter, the school brands them “devastating” and says they will have a significant impact on children.
It adds that the estimated reduction of more than £77,000 to its “current very tight budget “will mean staffing cuts, a possible increase in class sizes (currently 30 in most year groups) and a possible reduction or loss of Nurture Centre support.
This week, a delegation of pupils from post primary schools in the city spoke at a meeting of the Foyle Learning Community - a partnership of local post-primary schools - where they warned of the long term consequences of the proposed cuts .
They said they were already a generation who would carry “a burden of debt” inherited from the mistakes of others.
They argued it “simply wasn’t fair to the young people of the Foyle area which already suffers the highest unemployment and social deprivation in the UK.”
The consultation process ends on December 29.