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Children are not getting education they are entitled to

PRINCIPALS from 17 primary schools across Strabane have united to voice their frustration at the current financial crisis faced by schools across the North.

A meeting of the Strabane and District Principal’s Group took place recently in St Mary’s PS, Strabane. Principals represented schools in Strabane, Sion Mills, Castlederg, Clady, Victoria Bridge, Cloughcor, Dunamanagh and Plumbridge attended the meeting which aimed to raise awareness of the dire situation facing cash strapped schools locally.

Following the meeting a letter was sent out to every parent informing them of the unprecedented financial pressures being placed on school budgets.

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The group highlighted that all schools have been negatively impacted by the four per-cent per child reduction in education funding and emphasised that this will have a detrimental effect on many children’s futures if changes are not implemented quickly.

“Schools were already struggling to address the educational and emotional needs of pupils before these funding cuts were made,” Bridget Wilders, principal of St Catherine’s PS told the meeting. “There has been a significant reduced spend on essential resources such as books and stationery. Many schools are being forced to scrap their extra curricular programmes such as swimming, music, arts and school trips, which are no longer affordable.

“Necessary school maintenance is not being carried out, this coupled with increased class sizes means school buildings will not be fit for purpose.

“Both teachers and parents are facing overwhelming pressure,” she continued. “All of our schools have seen a reduction in teaching and non-teaching staff, and children with extra or special needs are not getting the support they need. Morale is at an all time low.”

Colette Maguire, principal of St Columba’s PS Clady, said all staff are suffering from stress due to the immense pressures they are facing.

“Principals can’t afford any release time which is having a negative impact on their work-life balance. Our teachers are losing vital support staff in their classroom and are being left with very difficult decisions to make.”

Echoing her views Brian McGurk, principal of St Patrick’s PS, Castlederg, added, “People are not fully aware of the situation because of the good work teachers do, but this is not sustainable and staff are suffering the biggest cuts of all.

“This is a huge cry for help. We are dealing with eight years of austerity and principals are being forced to deal with an unrealistic reduction in funding and our pupils are not getting the education they are entitled to.

“In any disadvantaged community, money would first and foremost go into the education of children. But now everything is being stripped back. Our pupils are entitled to be taught the curriculum, but we don’t have the buildings or the staff to deliver that.”
Sandra O’Doherty principal of St Mary’s PS, Strabane who sits on the Strategic Principals’ Forum, which is made up of 590 principals from all over the North, says the education sector here desperately needs the government up and running.

“The Department of Education keeps 41 per-cent of its funding centrally but that can’t be filtered through if there is no minister. I would call on our politicians to get back around the table and do their job. Funding, and the allocation of funding, needs to be addressed urgently.”

Hoping to build momentum and support from parents through their letter, Mrs Wilders concluded, “Change is effective if everyone stands together. That is why we need to raise awareness to highlight the stark reality of this crisis. We need to unite all the people behind us and to coerce the MLAs back into government. Otherwise the future of our pupils, and generations to come, is uncertain.”

A spokesperson for the Education Authority (EA) said it will continue to advocate for extra funding for schools.

“The education budget has been reduced by £240m in recent years which has had an effect on school budgets,” the spokesperson explained.

“Schools have faced unprecedented pressures as a result of having to absorb increased costs such as pay and inflationary pressures for a number of years and increases in National Insurance.

“Many schools leaders have told us of the intolerable strain that the deteriorating financial position has placed upon them. EA will continue to advocate for additional funding for schools and services to support schools children and young people and for funding to support the system as it transforms.”

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The Strabane Chronicle is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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