Parents around NI are seeing the evidence of budget cuts in schools – and they want action to deal with the financial crisis. A poll commissioned by the IEF and carried out by independent company LucidTalk resulted in hundreds of comments describing the impact of the financial crisis in the classroom including staff cuts, lack of support for special needs, reduced subject choices and a lack of basic educational equipment. The research found that most parents would support cross-community mergers of schools if it meant the budget were spread less thinly and resources were better used. There is also overwhelming support for an independent review of the education system in Northern Ireland.
The survey results showed:
• Good educational standards are by far the most important factor for parents when choosing a school
• The overall view is that political leaders have done little or nothing to facilitate and encourage integrated education in the years since the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement
• Politicians and the influence of churches are identified as major factors holding up the growth of integrated education in NI
• The majority of parents questioned have seen the impact of budget cuts in their child/ren’s school with reduced hours, reduced staffing and more requests for money from families all cited as common evidence
Asked “What evidence, if any, have you seen at your child/ren’s school that there are financial pressures?” The hundreds of replies included having to supply basic stationery items, pupils being sent home early, teacher redundancies, and fundraising requests to pay for painting and maintenance.
One parent said “I am head of a fundraising committee as there are 30-40k of cuts coming to the school next year”
with another listing:
“Lack of books. Asbestos untreated. Girls’ changing rooms are disgusting. Poor canteen facility. Parents required to give additional funding at start of school year”
Other comments included:
“Parents are asked to volunteer as there are not enough classroom assistants.”
“Staff not being replaced. Less activity out of school hours. Parents asked to contribute more resources, ie whiteboard markers, glue sticks etc”
“Asking parents to contribute to painting the outside of the school. Also a lack of provision for special needs children.”
The majority of the 1520 people responding to the survey would support changes to the system to make better use of the budget. In answer to the question “How do you think the Department of Education and Department of Finance should act to ease the pressures?” the most popular option was merging small and/or undersubscribed schools, followed by reducing administration costs at the Department of Education or Education Authority, and then by simply cutting the number of schools.
Significantly, in response to a further question, 78% said they would support cross-community mergers of schools to tackle over-capacity and use resources better. Most felt that offering a good education was the most important aspect of a school, above any issue of ethos or management type.
Commenting on the results of the poll, IEF CEO Tina Merron said
“The responses from parents in this survey paint a picture of the impact of budget cuts in schools. It is obvious that the budget could be used more effectively if it were spread less thinly. If school provision were reviewed and reformed, we could spend what we have where it is most needed: in schools, to ensure a good, all-round education in a well-maintained environment. Currently, parents are being asked to meet the costs of division in education and that is unsustainable and unacceptable.
“Interestingly, there is overwhelming support – almost 80% – for merging schools on cross-community lines. This would bring both economic and social benefits, allowing children and young people to learn and grow beside others of all backgrounds and traditions in well-resourced and well-maintained buildings.”
The poll was carried out online and by telephone from 15th to 23rd February 2018. The project targeted the established Northern Ireland (NI) LucidTalk online Opinion Panel (10,482 members) which is balanced by gender, age-group, area of residence, and community background, in order to be demographically representative of Northern Ireland. This resulted in 1,520 responses being considered in terms of the final results.
A summary of the poll can be found here.
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