A Derry primary school teacher has appealed for an increase in the education budget, so that children “can become the future leaders, become doctors or invent something new that can change the world.”
In a passionate plea at a public meeting earlier this week, Steelstown Primary School teacher, Aoibheann Flood, said the situation was ‘getting to crisis point and if it doesn’t change now, it is going to have a bigger impact on your children and your future and their learning.’
She said that school principals, boards of governors and parents are ‘bending over backwards’ to make sure cuts to the education budget doesn’t impact the children in a negative way.
The public meeting in the Holy Family Primary School was facilitated by the National Association of Head Teachers (NI).
It was one of a number of meetings that will be held across the North to highlight the funding crisis in school budgets.
The association is collating information from these meetings which it hopes to present to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which is currently undertaking a parliamentary inquiry into education funding in the North.
The public meeting comes weeks after head teachers of over 30 primary schools in the city sent a letter to parents warning them of the funding crisis and informing them of the potential impact.
It was attended by local principals, teachers, elected representatives and parents.
The president of NAHT, Derry woman Geri Cameron, also addressed the packed Assembly Hall of the Ballymagroarty school.
She revealed that direct investment in schooling here lags significantly behind other systems; spending on pre-school, primary and secondary education per pupil is 46 per cent higher in Scotland, 18 per cent higher in England and 31 per cent higher in Wales.
Ms Cameron said: “Our children are being shortchanged, that is not good enough.”
“Our schools seriously need this under funding to be dealt with very, very quickly. There are all sorts of issues vying for attention but there can’t be many more important than our children and young people.”
The meeting heard from a number of teachers and classroom assistants about the impact the funding crisis is having on the classroom.
Aoibheann Flood said that principals, governors and parents are currently ‘bending over backwards’ to make sure the cuts don’t impact the children.
“I came into teaching to make a difference to all the children that I work with and it is getting harder and harder every year.
“We can’t afford to replace books anymore so if your child loses a book and the parent can’t afford to replace it what do I say to that child? You can’t practise your reading anymore?”
“What will happen to the child who is struggling in an area of maths and I have to move on with the rest of the class and I can’t take time out with that child?”
“What about the child who is a high achiever, who has so much ahead of them, and I can’t give my time to them because it is spread so thinly to further their curiosity and understanding of things? That is what they are supposed to be getting from us.”
Ms Flood also raised concerns about schools being unable to fund ICT tools when we live in a digital age, and said ‘our children are worth more, not less.”
Local mother Aisling Leonard, whose social media post about the letter sent home to parents earlier this year went viral, said the funding crisis is “something I feel so angry about.”
She said: “One of the things that struck me most about the letter was the unity. It was from all aspects of the community. We live in an area where we cannot get anyone to agree on anything. The fact we have an entire community coming out and saying this isn’t good enough should ring alarm bells that we are in serious, serious trouble.
“The children are going through school system now and are being affected by this are never going to get this time back.
“It is going to have life long effect on them, on their opportunities and a lifelong effect on our town which already suffers from really poor employment prospects and mental health issues.”
She added: “A child from NI is worth less, my child is not worth less if you tell them that often enough they are going to start to believe it.”