Education Authority warning to local heads over cuts

Education Authority warning to local heads over cuts

17 May 2017

THE Education Authority has fired a dramatic warning shot at local primary school principals.

A teachers’ rebellion against the Education Authority over increasingly stretched budgets is gaining momentum after officials penned a letter to dozens of head teachers from Newcastle to Killyleagh insisting savings must be made.

The move is part of an increasingly bitter battle between officials and a significant majority of local principals who are refusing to accept budgetary cuts and instead are planning to go into the red.

The unlikely revolt began in November when over 100 members of the East Down Principals’ Group, representing over 80 per cent of local primaries, submitted bleak projections of mounting debt to the Authority.

Following a series of crisis meetings to discuss the economic strain, they officially rebelled, refusing to enforce redundancies needed to reduce costs with the warning that such a move would be to the detriment of education.

Following months of silence, the Education Authority has now written to principals rejecting their planned deficits and saying they may be required to make “difficult decisions” because of the current financial climate.

Drawing their attention to official Guidance on Financial Arrangements, the Department of Education’s Finance director, Mr Gary Fair, warns, in the letter referring to the rebellion, that deficits must be avoided.

“The Guidance states that no school may plan for a deficit without the consent of the Education Authority,” he says.

“While the responsibility of agreeing a financial plan rests, first and foremost, with the Board of Governors in each school, it is important that, following their robust review and challenge, any outstanding concerns are immediately brought to the attention of the Education Authority to ensure that any actions that can be taken are taken, to avoid such situations arising.”

Jason Milligan, headmaster and chairman of the East Down Principals Group, which represents schools in the wider Downpatrick area, said there had been an “unusual silence” from the Education Authority since they made their move several months ago.

Mr Milligan, a school principal for 12 years in both Crossgar and Killyleagh, said principals needed to publicise imminent cuts and planned to establish a steering committee to co-ordinate the battle against those cuts.

He said they also planned to contact Newry Mourne and Down Council seeking a motion of support.

“We are saying enough is enough,” he said. “We are all on board fighting the cuts.

“Schools are faced with two options, we make the cuts the Education Authority is insisting upon or we go into deficit.

“The only way we can make appropriate cuts is a reduction in classroom assistants and teaching posts. Special needs, class sizes, standards of provision - everything will be in a downward spiral if we agree.

“We are not asking for more money out of the public purse, we are asking for a redistribution of how education money is spent, as currently 40 per cent goes to organisations other than schools.

“There is a lot of uncertainty, parents are asking what is happening. I have never known principals coming together to make a stand like this.

“There was angst over this. The principals’ body is a compliant group, not by nature rebellious, but to make those redundancies would compromise that standard of education provision.

“Our message to the Education Authority is ‘you have just reduced the size of our shelf, something now has to fall off the shelf. You tell us what has to give.

“We are not prepared to make the cuts if they are going to have a significant effect on the provision of education.

“That is the message we are trying to get across and the overwhelming majority of schools are on board.

“Principals are disgusted at the suggestions made by Gary Fair on how schools might make reductions. It shows a complete lack of understanding on how primary schools operate.”