The Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has been blasted by a teachers’ union as being “out of touch” after saying the Department of Education needs to cut its planned spending trajectory.
Mr Heaton-Harris said the department would receive a cash increase of £286m compared to last year’s baseline, but that it would need to take action to live within its budget.
He said the department was “one of those departments where spending did seem to be going along almost unchecked”, adding “some of the projects they had at the very start of this year will have to wait a bit longer”.
Gerry Murphy, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) Northern Secretary slammed the announcement as a “further slap in the face for teachers, school leaders and their co-workers”.
“Schools’ budgets have been subject to relentless cuts for over a decade,” he said.
“They have been forced to par back their year-on-year spending in order to protect basic funding for the essential staffing and utility costs.
“This budgetary calamity, which Mr Heaton Harris is now visiting upon education, could be the final nail in the coffin for many schools.
“His announcement means, we are going to see further staffing cuts with schools being unable to meet the diverse needs of the children and young people in their care.
“We will also see schools being pushed into unprecedented levels of debt which will threaten their very existence.
“What the education sector needs is not cuts, but rather, an immediate and substantial cash injection which addresses the previous decade of austerity and insulates schools against the current inflationary pressures which they are subject to. The Secretary of State appears content to allow our children and young people to be educated on the cheap which is not acceptable.”
He added: “The Secretary of State, like so many of his predecessors, is woefully out of touch.”
NASUWT General Secretary Dr Patrick Roach described education in Northern Ireland as being “in a state of crisis”.
“If education is not protected and budgets continue to fall in real terms, we can expect to see increased class sizes which will have a detrimental impact on both the learning experiences of pupils and the health and safety of teachers and students,” he said.
NASUWT National Official Northern Ireland Justin McCamphill added: “Cutting spending on the Education Authority’s block grant and the aggregated schools’ budget will hit the poorest children hardest.
“The Secretary Of State needs to explain how he expects the EA to meet its statutory obligations in relation to the education of special needs children if its budget is to be slashed.”
“Similarly, if the aggregated schools’ budget is cut, we can expect schools closures, increased class sizes, cuts to the school day, teacher redundancies and pressure on teachers and support staff to work outside their contracts and Health and Safety legislation.”
“The Secretary of State must go back to Westminster and seek proper funding for education in Northern Ireland.”