SDLP spokesperson on education matters and Assembly candidate Gerard Diver says a hike in National Insurance contributions for local schools could lead to redundancies.
Mr Diver criticised Education Minister John O’Dowd for “failing to take action to address financial pressures on education budgets.”
“That the department has left schools to pick up increased National Insurance contributions for staff, when this was previously the responsibility of the department shows a level of financial disregard which is hard to fathom. School pupils now seem set to pay the price for this lack of financial preparation and flawed accountancy,” said Mr Diver.
He went on to say that one local principal told him the added pressure could lead to job losses.
“It’s right that school leaders have taken a stand against the onslaught of austerity that they have been strong-armed into. School budgets have effectively been reduced by some 6 per cent. The outworking of this is that many teachers are wondering if they have jobs to return to in September, while school governors are forced to discuss shorter school days, abandoning some traditional subjects and increasing class sizes.
“One principal I spoke with fears ‘substantial redundancies of both teaching and non-teaching staff.’ That decisions are required before the end of the current academic year shows just how these decisions have been forced upon principals.”
“This is not the way to build for pupils’ future, or ours.
“The Minister has overseen successive crisis, in fact many would say he has created more than he resolved.
“It is simply not good enough and another reason there must be a change come May 5.”
Mr O’Dowd has defended his budget, which, he says, was produced in “very challenging” financial circumstances.
“My priority has been to ensure that there is minimum impact on the classroom and I have done everything possible to maximise the allocation to the department in 2016-17 and protect the Aggregated Schools Budget as far as possible.
“However, it has been impossible to fully protect the schools budget. As a result there will be 0.8 per cent reduction in the next financial year,” he said.