Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Investment in new school buildings welcome but children still suffering

1 March, 2006

Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Michael Ferguson commenting on British Direct Rule Education Minister Angela Smith's announcement of £380m for a new build schools Programme said:

"Sinn Fein welcomes the announcement of investment in new schools estates because the schools estate across the Six Counties has suffered from historic under funding by successive British Direct Rule Ministers.

"Sinn Fein does not accept the Angela Smith‚s excuses for cuts to schools services. Falling pupil rolls are an opportunity. The British Government has used these as excuses to punish our schools and reduce the educational entitlement of our children.

"I welcome today‚s comments by Angela Smith that she is not attempting to undermine the different educational ethos that exist because both Peter Hain and Angela Smith comments in recent times were divisive and have been used by Unionists to sectarianise the debate around cuts to educational services.

"However, Angela Smith is still citing falling pupil rolls as an excuse to cut services. She is currently trying to force the Belfast Education and Library Board into making £4 million pounds of cuts to front line services such as Special Needs and clawing back another £4m from schools that will inevitability lead to the loss of more teachers and class room assistants. Falling rolls should not impact negatively on the needs of those within the education system. It should not be used as an excuse to impose cuts. Rather it should be viewed as an opportunity to improve the quality of service and enhance best practice.

"Almost a quarter of our children left school last year without any qualifications, many left barely able to read, write or count. Falling rolls offers us the opportunity of addressing that literacy and numeracy deficit. It offers us the opportunity to improve the teacher-pupil ratio in our classrooms. It should allow us to improve support for special needs.

"The announcement of investment in new school estates will not help schools who can not support children with special needs, children with numeracy and literacy problems and will not help one school in my own constituency that can not even pay for the maintenance of rubber safety flooring on the school staircase.

"I am again calling on my political colleagues from other parties not to police bad British budgets and to support a speedy return to an Assembly administration in which we can have our own local accountable education minister prepared to deliver a real budget to support Education and Learning." ENDS

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