“The system is at breaking point”

Holy Family Primary School Principal Garry Matthewson speaking at a public meeting held in Holy Family Primary School, on Wednesday afternoon last, to discuss the school budget crisis. DER4518GS026
Holy Family Primary School Principal Garry Matthewson speaking at a public meeting held in Holy Family Primary School, on Wednesday afternoon last, to discuss the school budget crisis. DER4518GS026

A local principal who has warned that schools are at breaking point, has urged politicians to “get their backsides off their seats, get back into government and work to address the issues.”

Colin Torrens, the principal of Lisnagelvin Primary School, said that there are “politicians out there trying to make excuses for the shambles we have at the moment.”

Teacher Delma Boggs speaking at a public meeting held in Holy Family Primary School, on Wednesday afternoon last, to discuss the school budget crisis. DER4518GS025

Teacher Delma Boggs speaking at a public meeting held in Holy Family Primary School, on Wednesday afternoon last, to discuss the school budget crisis. DER4518GS025

He told a public meeting in Holy Family Primary School this week that all schools are affected by the budget cuts.

Mr. Torrens said his own school is not currently in deficit because he has made difficult decisions over the last five years.

“I have cut staff, administrative staff and ancillary staff, which means that I am spending more and more time each evening in my school. I have suffered myself health-wise because of that. I have teachers who are suffering health wise because of that.

“I have tried my best to keep within my budget. Next year I will have to make front line cuts. Classroom assistants will be cut, hours will be cut, jobs will be cut and the following year I will be looking at cutting teaching staff.

He said as a result of this uncertainty morale in the school is ‘very low.’

“We have made the system work. We have been dedicated so that the children have not suffered to date. We make it work by working harder, longer and putting in more effort with limited resources.”

“I am at breaking point, my school is breaking point and the system is at breaking point.”

Mr. Torrens addressed the elected representatives and said: “I am not interested in the politicians trying to score points off each other. I am interested in seeing them get their backsides off their seats, get back into government and work to address this.”

Gary Matthewson, principal of Holy Family Primary School, said that for the first time in the North more schools are in deficit than have a surplus.

“Our education system is in trouble and has been on pathway to big trouble for a number of years because of inadequate funding. Unless we rectify the situation now, it will become unsustainable and we will have significant staff reductions. The people who will suffer will be our children.”

Mr. Matthewson said the Department of Education needs to make ‘hard decisions.’

“The department is very good at saying schools need to make hard decisions; schools have been making hard decisions for this last number of years, so it’s about time the Department of Education starts making hard decisions.”

The local principal claimed that only 59 per cent of the education budget is distributed to schools and this needs to increase.

“It is really vitally important our voices are heard. Our children need every single person in this room pushing for the best for them.”

Aileen Tester, a classroom assistant, parent and chair of the PTA at Holy Family Primary School, told the meeting that parents’ groups are now spending money on classroom essentials.

“These groups were set up to enhance our children’s education, not to provide it,” she said.

“Principals and teachers are taking money out of their own pockets to subsidise our children’s education. It’s ridiculous and is not the society we are supposed to be living in at all.”

“We interrupt children’s education to elect political representatives. We had decided their jobs are so important we will close our schools to elect them. They need to do more to ensure teachers and classroom assistants have job security and that our children have an education and a future.

“At the minute that is not being delivered,” she added.