News

Fair Hill Primary School Under Pressure

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Cuts to teaching staff, cancelling school trips and managing on basic resources are just some of the challenges facing Fair Hill Primary School one month into the new school year.

The Kinallen school has made a number of significant changes given the financial cuts and straitened budgets facing all primary schools in Northern Ireland.

Principal Jim Brown says his school is facing "financial pressures" due to the school receiving 56 less for each child for the 2016-17 year and the failure of political parties to set a budget to "fund primary education fairly".

Mr Brown is trying to keep the school afloat within his budget and manage these cuts however it has meant some changes.

"I have had to cut a member of teaching staff and cut the hours of my auxiliary staff, such as the school secretary and the caretaker.

"Our P5 school residential trip to Cultra has also had to be cancelled as we cannot afford the substitute cover." Mr Brown said he would have to employ two substitute teachers for a four day period in spring time to allow the children to attend Cultra, however, as this would cost 1600, it is money the school does not have.

Parents of the disappointed P5 pupils had offered to go along on the trip but this was not an option on the residential stay due to child protection issues.

Meanwhile, Dromara Primary School principal Andrew Armstrong said: "At this stage any cuts that have been made are minimal, we have not gone down the route of making redundancies or reducing staff hours.

"How long that may continue, we do not know as the budget is unacceptable.

"The shortfall in budget in the next couple of years could impact very heavily on the school and pupils and at this stage we can not say how or where we will be next year," said Mr Armstrong.

He added that in the meantime the school has asked parents for voluntary contributions to help with classrooms resources such as pencils, packets of wipes and stationery.

Mr Brown from Fair Hill said that some of the changes can be attributed to school's "stability" in numbers for the past two years.

The school now has three composite classes compared to two last year and Mr Brown said it is the first time that only two classes have numbers under 30.

However, he said in that instance the school could have potentially survived that but for the educational cuts and costs.

There has been an increase in the pension and NI contribution costs by the school in addition the school receives 56 less for each child for the 2016-17 year.

"The teachers used to get 1000 for requisition each year, but that has been reduced to 500 and they are struggling to keep it up.

"We have had to reduce the amount of money we can give our teachers to supply resources to children this year. While 500 is not a lot per teacher, some schools have had to work with less than that. There is no way that I could afford new school text books at the minute." Mr Brown added that in addition to the resource cuts, there is also a human cost with staff hours cut.

"I could cut more cleaning hours and have a dirty school or cut the classroom assistants in primary one but to me that is beyond what is imaginable.

"The parents have also been affected. This year the parents whose children are in P2/3, now have their children in composite classes while we have had to cut the extra staff hours for three of our special needs children." Despite all these cuts, Mr Brown says the school is "thankfully in a better position than a lot of schools".

"There are other schools who are already in the red. We are certainly not the worst school but even with all these cuts that we have made, we will still be minus 50,000 in three years' time.

"All this has all been done to leave me 50,000 in the red in three years time. If these cuts were not made it could have been 100,000." Mr Brown does not want to think of what may happen in the next two years but he has said that he cannot rule out further cuts to teaching staff.

"We are working off an indicative budget at the moment. We do not know if that is a true budget or do not know if we will have more money or less than we started.

"I could be meeting up with the Board of Governors in two months' time and saying that we did not need to cut a teacher but at the moment we do not know what is happening and cannot do nothing.

"I do not blame the Education Authority. The situation at Stormont needs sorted as there is not only a lack of money in education but the whole system, including roads and health." That view is echoed by Dromara Primary School principal Andrew Armstrong who told The Outlook that "the Department of Education has an obligation to give schools a budget that is measurable and manageable".

"At this moment in time, the Board of Governors have taken the stance that we feel we need to provide best practice education for the children.

"The Board of Governors are in financial planning and have made every effort to ensure that there are no cuts are being made in the school as they feel it would impact on the pupils.

"At this stage any cuts that have been made are minimal, we have not gone down the route of making redundancies or reducing staff hours.

"How long that may continue, we do not know as the budget is unacceptable.

"The shortfall in budget in the next couple of years could impact very heavily on the school and pupils and at this stage we can not say how or where we will be next year," said Mr Armstrong.

He added that in the meantime the school has asked parents for voluntary contributions to help with classrooms resources such as pencils and other stationery items.

"We are not making any major cuts but are hoping for a mild winter to try and cut back on monies like that.

"We have asked parents for contributions for basic materials for school, for example sending in a packet of wipes, to try and ease pressure off the school budget.

"The Board of Governors are resistant to making cuts. They do have a statutory responsibility to live within budget but the Department of Education also has an obligation to give us a budget that is measurable and manageable and at the moment it is not," said Mr Armstrong.

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