Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Plea for parents to bridge gap of budget cuts

Parents of pupils at a Newry Primary School  are being asked to pay for basic classroom supplies in the wake of devastating cuts to the Education budget.

Principal of St Ronan’s Primary School, Kevin Donaghy, took the decisive step of sending a letter to parents on Thursday appealing for donations towards basic items such as pens, pencils and rubbers.  In his letter, Mr Donaghy blames “the failure of political parties to set a budget which will fund primary education fairly” for placing schools in “drastic” financial difficulty.  He also warned that the cuts will mean reductions in personnel at the primary school.

Outlining just what the budget cuts amount to in real terms, the Principal explained,

“The Classroom budget for buying items for classes this year is only £10 per pupil.  This equates to 10p per day.  This is to buy items such as paint, pencils, glue, rubbers , photocopying paper etc. You can see that is nowhere near enough to cover what we as a school would like to spend on your child to support them in their education,” his letter read.

Mr Donaghy said the school had been denied over £22,000 in this year’s budget and, with an increase in the number of pupils at the school, he said it is impossible to make the budget stretch.  Classroom essentials are not the only things the parents are being asked to pay for – they are also being asked to contribute between £10 and £20 towards music lessons which have been free until now.   

The Newry Principal also urged parents not to be “misled” by the Secretary of State’s August announcement of an increase of £30m in the education budget.

He stated that “this money has already been previously announced, accounted for and spent” and added that the education budget needed to be increased by an additional £80million each year for at least three years “just to stand still.”

He also warned that the lack of funding would mean cuts to services the school receives from the Education Authority such as psychology support and the signature teaching programme, which helps students struggling with literacy and numeracy.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph on Friday, Mr Donaghy added,

“Unfortunately I’m in the process of looking at cutting hours of classroom assistants because there are no statutory requirements for them. But they are needed to help run our intervention programmes to help children who are maybe underachieving.”

Later he told the BBC, “We’ve had to go to the parents to say that in order to supplement what we can buy in here to school, we need you to financially contribute to it.”

St. Ronan’s parent, Kevin Magill, agrees with the Principal’s damning criticism of Stormont politicians.

“We have one of the best education systems in the world.  We have great dedicated teachers and they’re trying to teach with one hand tied behind their back,” he said.

“We’re being told the Conservative government is giving us a  billion pounds but it’s not here, it’s not feeding down and this is the price that is being paid.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said the it was fully aware of the challenges that the budget cuts will present to some schools but he added,

“It is essential that, where this has not already been done, schools must make the difficult decisions required to allow them to live within their budgets as a matter of urgency.”