Ulster Unionist Education Spokesperson Rosemary Barton MLA has warned that the rapid increase in the number of pupils in Northern Ireland’s primary schools highlights the funding peril that the local education system finds itself in.
Rosemary Barton, a former teacher with over 30 years’ classroom experience, said:
“Enrolments in our local primary schools have increased sharply over the last number of years. As of October 2017 there were almost 174,000 primary school pupils; the highest number since 1999/00 and an increase of almost 20,000 over the last 7-8 years.
“Whilst this increase has undoubtedly relieved some of the pressure of empty school places in our smaller primary schools, the reality is many of these additional pupils are attending schools in our towns and cities which were already oversubscribed and overcrowded. I had hoped the over-reliance on temporary classrooms would have ended by now but in the ongoing absence of a local Executive many of our primaries are still urgently awaiting decisions and approval for expansion plans.
“The increase in pupil numbers is also further exacerbating the funding pressures on many schools. Last year it was revealed that primary schools had their funding cut by £56 per pupil while secondary schools faced a £15 reduction. We were told that the overall increase in the number of pupils was largely to blame so I now fear the next cut will be even worse.
“With increasing pupil numbers it is likely now that many class sizes are going to swell beyond sustainable levels. That mustn’t be allowed to happen and schools should instead be given the support they need to ensure they have the appropriate staffing levels in place to meet the needs of this increase in pupil numbers.
“Only last month over 600 schools had their draft funding plans rejected. Schools which had been relying on reserves over the last few years are now seeing those dry up. There is a major challenge in education funding right across Northern Ireland at present and it’s clear the current model is no longer fit for purpose. It is outrageous that schools here continue to receive only 60% of the actual education budget, far behind the levels of other UK regions, with the rest increasingly being consumed by a swathe of growing administrative bodies such as the Education Authority. At times like these we must remember where the spending priorities should rest.”