Almost half of NI’s schools are in budget deficit, according to new figures obtained by BBC News NI.
The Education Authority (EA) has analysed the financial position of about 1,000 schools for 2018/19.
Its figures show 446 schools are projected to be in the red in 2018. Out of those 446, exactly 352 have seen their deficits increase since 2017/18.
All schools are expected to submit their financial plans for each school year to the EA.
In 2018, for the first time, the EA has put schools into a number of categories depending on their budgetary situation.
In the most serious category, 97 schools have increasing deficits of more than 5% of their total yearly budget and do not meet key sustainability criteria.
Meanwhile, 130 schools have increasing deficits of more than 5% of their total yearly budget but are judged to be sustainable.
As a result, the EA is to appoint specialist staff to work with each of those 227 schools on their budget.
The EA has said the category given to a school “is not a judgement on their financial management or stewardship”.
“The categorisation is to enable EA to target its support to those schools at most financial risk,” it said.
The EA had previously warned that schools in Northern Ireland were set to overspend their budgets by about £33m in 2018/19.
The NI Audit Office has also said that school budgets have reduced by 10% in real terms over the past five years.
Meanwhile, a number of school principals have said they cannot afford to send teachers to training that would enable them to help pupils with speech and language problems.
‘Beyond a joke’
The EA’s language and communication service has organised over 30 training courses for teachers in the next five months, but cannot pay schools for the cost of substitute teacher cover to enable staff to attend.
As a result, a number of principals have said they cannot afford to pay for their staff to take the training.
The principals of Dromara Primary School, Comber Primary School and Maghaberry Primary School are among those who cannot send their teachers to the training.
They estimate that it would cost them about £200 to send a teacher to one session of the training.
The principal of Dromara Primary, Andy Armstrong, said the situation was “beyond a joke”.
“I just felt so deflated, that while courses are being offered we can’t afford to send anyone,” he said.
A spokesperson from the EA acknowledged that schools faced “unprecedented pressures”.
“Many school leaders have told us of the intolerable strain that the deteriorating financial position has placed upon them,” they said.
“EA will continue to advocate for additional funding for schools and services to support schools, children and young people.”
‘Spiralling out of control’
Deidre Gillespie, principal of St Mary’s Grammar in Magherafelt, said there needs to be a “root and branch review” of how money is spent within the education system.
“Over the past six to seven years, schools have embarked on a series of cost-cutting measures and we’ve got to the stage now where there are no longer any savings to make within our budgets,” she said.
“Ninety per cent of our costs go to staffing, which increase every year and upon which we have very little control.
“It means that last 10 to 15% of our budget, where we’ve made those cost-saving measures over a number of years, we’re really not able to create any more cost-saving.
“We’re in a crisis situation and we’re getting to the point very, very soon where the system is spiralling out of control.”
The principal of Comber Primary, Chris Logan, said that the funding relied on by the EA was being pared away.
“Our school, like many others, would also be unable to attend due to lack of funding and the need to closely monitor and limit expenditure due to our deficit position,” he said.
“I look forward to the time when we are able again to access incredible training opportunities and not turn them down due to lack of funding.”
Graham Gault, of Maghaberry Primary School, had previously told a Westminster Committee that parents were donating toilet roll to his school due to budget cuts.