Special needs school is braced for big budget cuts

Willowbridge Sch

FACING CUTS…Staff and pupils at Willowbridge School

FERMANAGH’S only special needs school could be facing teacher redundancies for the first time in the school’s history after the Department of Education warned of imminent budget cuts.

The principal of Willowbridge Special School in Enniskillen admitted they are preparing for the worst while they await another three months before the school’s budget is known.


Julie Murphy said it was a “scary time” for the school as any budget cuts or teacher redundancies would have to be made immediately to coincide with next year’s education budget in April.

The budget for special needs schools like Enniskillen’s Willowbridge is allocated differently from mainstream schools.

Ms Murphy explained: “Special education has been protected in the past but cuts are happening everywhere so I just don’t know. We are preparing for the unknown. Our children have special needs and require high staff/pupil ratio so it definitely will impact on them.

“It’s a scary time for schools. This is the first time ever we could face redundancies.

“I don’t have a contingency plan in place because I hope I don’t have to use it. If I can justify to the (Western Education) Board that our children need the staff then we will be OK. Our school also gets new children throughout the year, we had three new children start after Christmas.

“There’s cuts are everywhere and we won’t know our budget until April or May and that’s the time the cuts are implemented. I could be told to make staff redundant or told to hold on to what I have but don’t ask for more.

“At least secondary schools know that face a certain amount of percentage cuts whereas I won’t know until I’m told. We have prepared a business case for the amount of staff I have and need and I’ll present that to the board and hope to have no redundancies.”


The news comes as the Finance Minister announced that it has found an extra £150m for next year’s 2015-106 budget, most of which will go to education.

While a £60m lifeline has been thrown to schools around the North, money allocated for special education will still be reduced significantly.

Ulster Unionist councillor Robert Irvine, who sits on the Western Education Board, said all schools were vulnerable.

He said: “The whole of the budget for Northern Ireland is under threat, we saw from the talks with the government where there was a facility to draw down money for short time, they money they have now is going to go down over the next five years.  That’s not just welfare cuts but fiscal measures and that will impact across all departments.

“As much as we would like to protect education and health, these major departments will be hit. We never know what wriggle is at department level to soften or facilitate or lessen the burden.
“There is no further room to make further reductions. The seven to eight per cent is a real reduction of money coming into schools.”

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