Warning over spiralling school debts

Written by: Simon Doyle | Published:

Dozens of secondary schools in Northern Ireland are falling into debt after schools overspent their budgets by more than £62 million in 2019.

There has been a real-terms cut of about £245 million in the Department of Education’s (DoE) budget since 2010.

Growing pupil numbers, increasing demand for SEN provision and overall growing costs have combined to create “a perfect storm”, teachers have warned.

In August, it was announced that the UK government had allocated £500 million for education in Northern Ireland over the next three years. But more and more schools are struggling.

The DoE’s opening budget for 2019/20 also included £16.5 million secured through the Conservative and DUP’s “confidence and supply” deal. It will specifically enable current programmes which target severe deprivation to be maintained in areas including literacy and numeracy and nurture provision.

Ulster Unionist assembly member Rosemary Barton says the revelation that more than half of local schools are now in debt “debunks the myth” that confidence and supply is removing pressures.

She says many school leaders claim not to have seen a penny of the extra funding.

She added: “From regularly talking to school principals across the country I know that they have cut costs in almost every area – class sizes have grown, extra-curricular activities have been cancelled and valued staff have unfortunately been let go.

“Yet, despite all those actions, a record number of schools are now being left with no choice but to spend money that they simply do not have.”

The Education Authority says schools and other services to children need more money.

It said: “We have been highlighting and acknowledging the financial challenges facing schools and the wider education sector for some time.”


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