14 July 2005 Edition
Fighting the education cuts
Sinn Féin has been working to defend educational services following a British government onslaught on the system that has caused real hardship across the Six Counties.
British Direct Rule Minister Barry Gardiner and his Department of Education recently embarked upon a scatter-gun approach to imposing changes in the education system.
Cuts of £31.6 million for 2004/05 and £33.2mil 2005/06 were made to an already inadequate budget resulting in a loss of teaching, non teaching staff and services which hit at those most in need; children from schools in deprived areas and children with Special Needs.
In one case, St Mark's Primary School in Twinbrook, Belfast lost seven Classroom Assistants, a Caretaker, a Secretary and a School Crossing Patrol Service which saved the Department of Education all of £249. At the same time it denied children from four local schools safe travel across a main road that has claimed the lives of at least four people over the years.
Schools across West Belfast have lost music services, cleaners, canteen staff and leaking school roofs and a huge backlog of school maintenance work will not be addressed, increasing the health and safety to children.
In rural areas uneconomic kitchens are to be closed; school transport services withdrawn and 18 teachers of English as an additional language have already been paid off. Trade Unions NIPSA, UNISON, T&G as well as NUSWT took to the streets in protest supported by Sinn Féin.
Sinn Fein initiated a round of consultations, meeting, among others the Chief Executive Officers and Chairpersons of the North's five Education and Library Boards, Trade Unions, and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools. Education spekesperson Michael Ferguson also met Robert Herron the Presbyterian Convener for the Council Transferors Representatives to establish the impact of the cuts. It was clear there was a deep sense of concern across civic society at the attack on education.
On the back of a wide range of talks with educational stakeholders Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams led a delegation to meet newly appointed Education Minister Angela Smith conveying the concerns of parents, teachers and Trade Unions. Adams made it clear to the new Minister that a short-term solution would not be enough. The delegation called for immediate financial investment, a framework of consultation to agree a strategic approach to managing change, a halt to privatisation of School Services and flexibility in managing the financial deficit‚.
This week an additional £12.4million was provided to be spent on Special Needs and school meals. Commenting, Michael Ferguson MLA said: "This is a positive step but the British Education Secretary Ruth Kelly was able to invest an additional £640 million on Schools in England and has also promised to provide even more spend for additional literacy tuition for 44.000 children and numeracy tuition for 57.000 children. Irish children in rural areas aren't even sure if they are going to have transport to get to school."