Education body chiefs meet Minister of State
In January, leaders of the seven bodies representing sectoral interests in education wrote to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Permanent Secretary for the Department for Education regarding their grave concerns surrounding proposed funding cuts to the education budget. Having met the Permanent Secretary last month, the group met with Minister of State, the Rt Hon Steve Baker MP on Wednesday 8th March, as figures from the Education Authority show 50% of schools will face financial deficit by the end of this month.
Despite funding being already significantly lower than that received for the education of children and young people aged 3-19 in England, Scotland, and Wales, indicative figures signify that education in Northern Ireland is now facing additional cuts. These will result in a reduction in outcomes for children and young people across Northern Ireland, and diminish their opportunities to contribute to society. The group also warned that failure to address the problem immediately, would have a negative impact for many generations to come and lead to higher spending in other government areas including health and justice.
The group is made up of the chief executives and chairs of the Catholic Schools’ Trustees Service, Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta, Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, Council for Integrated Education, Controlled Schools’ Support Council, Governing Bodies Association NI and the Transferor Representatives’ Council (TRC).
Speaking after the meeting, TRC Chair Dr Andy Brown said, “£100 million annually is needed to ‘level-up’ education provision in Northern Ireland to the lowest of Scotland, England, and Wales. We have listened to our school leaders, fifty per cent of whom have stated they will face financial deficit from 31 March 2023. Further cuts are simply not the answer.
“Northern Ireland is a very different place to England, Scotland and Wales and has had significant periods without government, without strategy and without substantial investment in education. There is a strong argument to be made that there is more need in Northern Ireland for that reason. The prosperity that was promised to all children and young people in a post conflict situation since the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement requires an investment in the education sector. The time to redress this historical underfunding and put our young people on an even footing to England, Scotland and Wales is now. The time to invest in and enable our young people is now.”
Dr Brown continued, “A generation of school children is missing out. Whilst their schools find creative ways of educating and inspiring the next generation, they do so under the spectre of systemic underfunding, with scant resources and often in buildings not fit for purpose. School leaders, teachers and other education professionals are struggling; they, and the children and communities they serve, deserve better.”
Following the meeting, the group issued the education spokespersons of Northern Ireland’s main political parties an invitation to an urgent meeting on funding.