20 March 2006

Shortfall ‘no excuse’ says SF councillor


by Damian McCarney

Figures released last week show that West Belfast primary schools have the second highest number of empty chairs in the North.

There are 3,450 surplus places in primary schools in the West of the city, which accounts for almost 10 per cent of 33,600 unfilled places across the North. The only parliamentary constituency area with more unfilled spaces is North Belfast, which has 3,500.

Falling pupil figures have left some of West Belfast’s 34 primary schools in a perilous position as direct rule ministers have in recent years pressed for cuts to education budgets.

If primary schools were to close or amalgamate with nearby schools it would result in substantial numbers of teacher redundancies.

Sinn Féin education spokesperson Michael Ferguson said that smaller class sizes should be used to improve levels of teaching, rather than an excuse to close schools.

“Falling rolls should not be used as an excuse to close schools and reduce services.

“They should be used to provide better teacher and pupil ratios, better mainstream special needs services, and to improve numeracy and literacy deficits.

“By closing schools they would result in much larger classes, and already, in one specific instance in a West Belfast primary school, there is a class with 29 children, 17 of whom have special needs,” said Mr Ferguson.

Referring to the situation regarding surplus places across the North, a Department of Education spokesperson said, “Secretary of State Peter Hain has recently announced a strategic review of education, which will be led by Sir George Bain and which will examine the funding of the education system, in particular the strategic planning and organisation of the school estate, taking account of curriculum changes and demographic trends.”

Journalist:: Damien McCarney

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