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(UK) NI: 'Devastating' $136M to be cut from ed budget; 64.5K student with special needs

Jan 18, 2023, Belfast Telegraph: Education Authority refusing to support ‘devastating’ £110m saving plan proposed by NI Secretary

N. Ireland

The secretary of state has been told he must find more money to fund education in Northern Ireland or the jobs of teachers will be at risk.

In November, Chris Heaton-Harris informed the Education Authority (EA) that a further £110m [$136M] had to be saved from the budget.

The EA has refused to support the cuts, saying it cannot make the savings and any further cost cutting will cause “highly unacceptable and detrimental risks” to children and young people. It said schools will be left with little option other than making slashes to staffing levels.

Unions have already said the cuts demanded by Mr Heaton-Harris are “undeliverable” and “ridiculous”, with the EA expected to ask schools to save more by spending less on staff and resources, meaning hundreds of jobs could be at risk when teachers are already on the verge of strike action over pay and workloads.

The Northern Ireland Teachers Council, the umbrella body for the five recognised unions, said Mr Heaton-Harris must immediately withdraw the budget, adding that the financial crisis will have “ever-lasting negative consequences” for learners.

The five unions met for the first time earlier this week since the secretary of state’s budget announcement.

NI Children’s Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma said the plans to further cut funding would be “catastrophic.”

The EA board has explained it cannot make £110m in savings without “highly unacceptable and detrimental risks” to children and young people.

A revised plan to save a reduced amount of £43m by the end of the 2022/23 financial year, which would still have seen cuts to frontline services, has also been rejected. …

She said the board had identified draft savings of £43m, but “the savings proposals presented remain draft and have not been approved”….

A further internal EA document following a board meeting on Tuesday added: “The majority of the options available to save £110m in less than three months of the remaining current financial year would lead to highly unacceptable and detrimental risks to our children and young people and therefore could not be recommended for implementation.

“Whilst we continue to work with Department of Education in relation to the pressures facing the system, it is highly unlikely a balanced budget can be delivered in 2022/23.

“We remain very concerned about the ever-growing, unprecedented, pressures facing education, which will carry into the next financial year and the potential detrimental and significant impact this could have.

“For example, on the day-to-day running of schools, special educational needs support, transport and catering, and ultimately on the educational experience and outcomes of our children and young people.

“There simply is not the funding available to adequately deliver many core frontline and support services.”

Ms Yiasouma said she was “alarmed” at the scale of the cuts that the EA was being asked to deliver.

“The EA has refused to back an unacceptable savings plan, which could only be achieved by reducing essential core services and placing a greater burden on teachers and other educational staff who are already struggling,” she said.

“Schools serving our most deprived communities and children with special education needs will be paying the price for the absence of an Assembly and Executive.

“There is widespread agreement of the need for improvements which inevitably will require investment, but instead cuts are being proposed.

“There are around 64,500 children here who need extra support due to special education needs, which could now be at risk. It is heartbreaking that some of the most vulnerable children in our society are yet again expected to bear the brunt of budget pressures.

“School staff providing for pupils in the most challenging of circumstances are now being asked to somehow keep going with even less. It is simply unacceptable…..

"The previous Executive failed to agree a Budget and the NI Ministers who remained in their posts during the 6 months from May to October 2022, left Northern Ireland’s public finances with a budget gap of some £660m,” they added.

"With no Executive in place, the Secretary of State has had no choice but to step in to deliver a budget for Northern Ireland.

"The Secretary of State introduced the Northern Ireland Budget Bill on 12 January that will implement the budget that was set on 24 November.

"The budget has increased Education funding by giving it a total allocation of £2.64 billion [$3.26B] which is an additional £286 million [$354M] on top of last year’s spending."…

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