Ulster Unionist Party candidate for Strangford and Finance Spokesperson, Philip Smith, has welcomed the intervention made by Head Teachers in his constituency which raises awareness of the dire financial situation in the Department of Education.
Mr Smith said:
“I am pleased to see Head Teachers starting to speak out on the issue of school budgets, deficits and proposed cuts. The letter has been sent out by head teachers from 15 schools in the Newtownards and Comber areas highlighting concerns that the ‘dire financial situation is not being addressed by either the Department for Education or the Education Authority’. Head Teachers are the foundation of the education system and no one knows more about how a school budget is managed than head teachers themselves.
“It is always extremely troubling to hear that schools are being asked to look at teaching numbers to balance their books, but unfortunately this is nothing new. The Education Authority has been actively advising schools to look at teaching numbers and hours for some time now. Ultimately, those who will suffer are children in the classroom and the teachers who have to shoulder the extra burden. After all the work still needs to be done.
“The Education budget is the second largest budget, after the Department of Health, and there are many complex ways that money is allocated to schools and other youth services. What is very clear is that neither Sinn Fein nor the DUP have managed to create a sustainable funding model for schools. The result is that the Department is in a state of budgetary crisis. Hundreds of schools are projecting deficits for 2018/19 amounting to a total of £76.5million. We must look at how money is allocated across the board, with £38.7million sitting as surpluses by 31 March 2016 there is clearly something very wrong here.
“Our first priority would be to look at deficits and surpluses and rebalance the allocation of funding to stem the deadlock in the Education budget. Then we would look at decentralising money and authority from the Education Authority to schools. Schools have been telling us for a long time now that they could use this money more effectively by procuring goods and services in a more cost effective way. We trust schools to do this and to put the resulting savings into the classroom.
“Peter Weir stated on Good Morning Ulster this morning that he was able to invest £14million in front line services in schools. He failed to say that he achieved half of this small amount by cutting £7million from teachers pay resulting in the ongoing rolling strike action from Teaching Unions. I would hardly call this a successful resolution.
“Peter Weir’s plan to deal with the budgetary crisis has been an agenda of slash and burn. Not only is it completely unnecessary at this stage, it will be devastating to the quality of our education. That is not our agenda – we will invest in education to give our young people the best start in life.”