Cuts threaten 3,000 teachers and 500 schools

The education system is in turmoil. In November 2011 John O Dowd, the Sinn Fein Education Minister, announced that school budgets would be cut by £220 million, an 11% reduction over three years. This will have a catastrophic impact on schools.

The INTO estimates that over 3,000 teachers will lose their jobs and for every one teacher, five classroom assistants will be forced out of the system. This will result in huge class sizes of up to 40 in some cases and a massive reduction in support for pupils with Special Educational Needs, who will have to be catered for in mainstream classes with little or no assistance.

The Ministers budget was non-discriminatory. It made no allowances for schools in disadvantaged areas. The swingeing cuts apply across the board. This puts schools and teachers in disadvantaged areas in an impossible position and is a draconian Thatcherite attack on the most vulnerable and needy pupils in our society.

In addition to the cuts to school budgets the Department of Education is also carrying out viability audits of all schools to determine their future. The Bain report has already determined that a viable primary school is one with 105 pupils and a viable post primary school is one of 500 pupils. It appears however that the latter criteria has now increased to 1,200 for a post primary school. Based on these numbers over 500 schools will close across Northern Ireland. This will have a catastrophic effect, particularly on small schools in rural areas and their local communities, not to mention the chaos for an 11 year-old pupil trying to make their way in a “factory” of over 2,000 pupils, possibly spread between two or three different campuses.

There appears to be no educational logic, forward planning or any rational thought about educational attainment in any of these proposals. They are all driven by the need to cut, rationalise and save money.

One of Sinn Fein’s educational promises in their manifesto was to keep money in front line services. They have failed miserably. They are now presiding over cuts of such magnitude that they will destroy education in Northern Ireland. Far from creating an education system fit for the 21st century, Sinn Fein and the Assembly are creating a Dickensian education system, where teachers will deliver nothing more than crowd control with little or no resources and thousands of children will be branded failures.

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