By Chris Wilson, Chair of Voice's Northern Ireland Executive Committee
The recent talks about restoring Stormont ended in deadlock. However, for many schools and colleges in Northern Ireland, any restoration of democratic oversight would already have been too late.
According to the BBC, school funding has been slashed by £7 million, a reduction of £53 for every primary school pupil and £15 for every secondary school pupil. This difficult financial climate is made even more challenging by an increase of 3,000 in the number of children attending primary schools in Northern Ireland.
Further education colleges are now cutting courses, with cuts focusing on the all-important Level 1 and Entry Level courses, diminishing already limited life chances for students who desperately need them.
The DUP and Sinn Féin must take the main responsibility for this rapidly deteriorating situation, not least as cuts could be reversed – or at least mitigated – by a functioning Executive. Pressure will now increase for rationalisation across schools and colleges and other education institutions. But this 'easy' solution is not the answer; this is still a divided society and whilst considerable progress has been made towards integration, rationalisation of provision will only work when community consent is first worked for and achieved.
The real answer is increased funding for education across Northern Ireland. As the Education Authority knows only too well, schools are already struggling to set agreed budgets (632 schools have had their proposed budgets rejected so far) and so unions, parents and politicians should combine to press London to properly recognise the real and distinct funding needs of education in Northern Ireland.
Voice – as the union for education professionals – will play its part. Northern Ireland needs properly funded schools and colleges, and we will continue to speak out for them. Voice will work with others who share this objective; but local politicians need to act now. We need Stormont restored – failure to do so will only further damage the interests of education, pupils, students and our members.