One Fermanagh Principal has described the education system in Northern Ireland as being at crisis point and has hit out at politicians who he has accused of “letting children down.”

Maurice Collins, Principal at St Fancheas, was speaking at the school’s recent prize night when he stated that schools are facing the most difficult “financial challenges” in over 70 years.

It comes at a time where a report has revealed that almost 70% of parents across the province are being asked to contribute financially to the running of their children’s school.

“These are very turbulent and challenging times in education. Changes in demographic trends, and more importantly, draconian cuts to school budgets are negatively impacting on the quality of education across all sectors. All schools in Northern Ireland are now facing unprecedented financial pressures. Some would argue that schools have not faced financial challenges like today since the introduction of the Education Act of 1947. Make no mistake, we are at a crisis point,” Mr Collins explained.

He went on to say that in his opinion the vast majority of schools currently not in deficit will be forced into deficit by the end of the academic year due to a funding crisis in the system and he argues that it is the children among the most vulnerable who will be most affected.

“It is this generation of school children, particularly the most vulnerable children with special educational or mental health needs, who will be directly affected by the current chaos in Northern Ireland’s finances and as a result of the ongoing political stalemate at Stormont. Let everyone be clear, our politicians are letting us and our children down,” Mr Collins stated.

While Mr Collins painted a positive picture of school life and was complimentary of pupils and staff and their endeavours he did not pull any punches with respect to the pressure that the school is under.

“Schools, like St Fancheas College have no more scope, no more wriggle room to generate further savings and cuts in running costs. In reality, if schools are expected to work within the budgets projected by the Education Authority for the coming financial year, we simply will not be able to sustain the academic and vocational curriculum that our pupils have a fundamental basic right to have in order to meet their learning needs. The elastic band is at breaking point.”

Mr Collins comments are an echo of those from the Fermanagh Primary Principals Group. In a response to budget cuts earlier in the year, Marie O’Shea, Principal of St John the Baptist Roscor Primary School, stated:

“If we don’t have adequate funding how can the system expect us to sustain the same outcomes? Staff levels will fall to challenging levels and not all children will receive the support they require.”

In a recent survey carried out by the charity, Parentkind, it was revealed that over a quarter of parents stated that schools had reduced the number of classroom assistants and that they had been asked to pay for school clubs which used to be provided for free.

Ms O’Shea, in her response on behalf of the Fermanagh Primary Principals Group earlier this year had foreseen such a scenario when she explained

that there would be a greater expectation on parents to “contribute directly to school funds to pay for books, classroom resources, utilities, transport to sporting and school events and many more things as well.”