School budget allocations in Northern Ireland

13 November 2017

Press statement on school budget allocations from the Association of School and College Leaders Northern Ireland, Governing Bodies Association Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Voluntary Grammar Schools Bursars’ Association, Association of Controlled Grammar Schools, and Catholic Heads Association.

The organisations representing the governors, school leaders and finance managers of over 80 of our largest post-primary schools are releasing this statement jointly to draw attention to the public of the critical situation facing all schools across Northern Ireland. The financial challenges facing every type of school are real, urgent and will have a significant impact on the learning opportunities for the current and future generations of pupils in our schools.

We note the comments made in January 2017 by the previous Education Minister, Mr Peter Weir, re additional funding required for the sector: “Within education we need somewhere in the region of about £200m to £240m cumulatively over the next three years in terms of resource budget into schools. That is what is needed to plug the gap, that is the major challenge that is going to be there for the Executive.”

The finances distributed to schools have already been stretched to breaking point by successive cuts in recent years and all reasonable cost reducing steps have been exhausted by schools. The schools we represent are forecasting major and unrecoverable deficits over the next three years. Individual school deficits are predicted to range from £150k to over £1million over this period highlighting a crisis in the funding position for our schools.

The lack of funding is having a direct and significant detrimental effect on the quality of education currently offered to pupils. The schools we represent have already been extremely proactive in managing significant cuts in real terms to their budgets in recent years.  Due to the considerable nature of these cuts we have already observed a reduction of approximately 10% in our teacher workforce across post primary schools. Without proper funding further cuts to staffing will be inevitable.

The lack of funding means:

  • A reduction in subject choices at GCSE and A level

  • Even larger class sizes

  • A potentially shorter school day and/or shorter school week

  • Poorer learning environments with cuts in maintenance, administration, technical support, cleaning and resources

  • An increase in non-specialist teachers delivering the curriculum

  • Reduced educational opportunities for a generation of pupils

Over 80% of schools’ budgets are allocated directly to staff costs, therefore schools have found themselves in crisis because of financial pressures totally outside their control – including increases to employer National Insurance contributions and cost of living pay rises for staff (which have not been funded by the Department of Education), and employer superannuation contributions which have not been fully funded. These costs must therefore come out of individual school budgets.

We believe that the financial pressures will lead to dramatic reductions in the quality of frontline classroom provision. Collectively, we argue that Northern Ireland education is at a crossroads. In the absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly, we call on the Secretary of State and the Department of Education to urgently address this funding crisis within schools.

There is a need for major and urgent reform of the educational estate and administrative structures across Northern Ireland to develop greater financial efficiency and flexibility with a clear and direct benefit to pupils. Surely Northern Ireland’s priority must be to invest in the future of our children.