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Belfast Telegraph Article: 14 February 2015

Monday, 23 February 2015

By Lindsay Fergus – 14 February 2015

Schools have been advised they will have to make difficult decisions because of budget pressures.

The warning was issued to schools this week by the Department of Education's finance director, Trevor Connolly.

In a letter to all grant-aided schools, he states: "It is essential that schools make the difficult decisions required to allow them to live within their budgets as a matter of urgency... put simply boards of governors cannot spend more than they receive without the express and advance approval of their funding authority and must not plan to do so."

The warning comes as the department faces a £99m funding gap next year.

Schools are due to find out this month what budgets they have been assigned for 2015-16.

However, the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) believes in real terms, schools will face budget cuts of between 3.5% and 4%.

The letter to schools says: "As a result of the minister's deliberate efforts to protect the schools' budget, as far as possible, the overall ASB (Aggregated Schools Budget) in cash terms, is marginally higher than 2014-15. However, in real terms, schools will have to factor into their financial planning the annual pay and non-inflationary pressures, which are unfortunately unfunded in 2015-16."

As a result of having to make those savings, up to 500 more teaching posts could be axed from the education system, according to INTO.

"It puts schools in a crisis situation," said INTO's Tony Carlin.

He continued: "This is the fourth year of cuts."

Although the union is grateful for the additional millions that Education Minister John O'Dowd has allocated to schools, it believes it is not enough.

We all know the cost of education, but what we really need to know is what is the value of education and what it contributes towards the pupil and the economy."

Mr Carlin has warned that unless the Executive values education, Northern Ireland will not be able to keep producing the skills needed to attract inward investment.

"INTO's message is that we need to invest in education - we are not doing that."