As our MLAs refuse to compromise (and head for their holidays) our children are suffering

Parents from disadvantaged families depending on school uniform grants this year have been struck a major blow this week as the Education Authority (EA) are intending to slash the money available by over 61%.

In 2016/17 £4.9m was given out to 98,000 pupils across the country.  This year that budget has been reduced by £3m to just a meagre £1.9m.

The EA claim they were instructed by the Department of Education to implement the cuts, but with no Stormont Assembly and our politicians on “holiday” over the summer who will step in to fight for the poorest people across the country?

Speaking to the BBC the Department of Education claimed that the 2017/18 budget year is facing “major financial pressures”. It added:

“Consequently options to reduce spending across all programme areas are being explored, including the clothing allowance (uniform grants), extended schools and the entitlement framework.”

Clearly, we haven’t heard the last of these devastating budget cuts. What’s horrifying about this news isn’t just the fact that once again the poor are penalised but the fact that this particular budget cut is so staggering.

To slash it by over half with no warning less than a month before the deadline will pass for families to get their forms lodged begs the question as to why no one seemed to know it was coming.

Many families are totally dependent on uniform grants, free school meals, buss passes and other practical assistance packages.  But this news won’t just cause financial stress and pressure but practical issues that schools across the country may not be able to deal with.

Every year we hear of cases where schools have been rigid in their uniform policies, punishing children for not having the right schoolwear, and in some cases penalising children with threadbare clothing.

The NI Direct website says schools should be mindful of reasons behind why children might have issues adhering to the uniform policy. It states:

“Schools should be considerate if a pupil does not keep to the uniform policy and try to find out why it is happening. If a family is having financial problems, the school should allow for this and give the parents time to buy the right items.

“Pupils should not be made to feel uncomfortable if parents cannot provide them with the right uniform.”

But is this likely to be the case?  Regardless of the financial pressure on parents what will the psychological and emotional pressure be on children forced to go without while their peers are fully equipped.

According to a survey by the Health & Wellbeing Company school pupils in Northern Ireland are already “stressed out” more than we think.

The firm, which promotes a holistic approach to healthcare, found that 77% of the young people they surveyed said they felt “stressed” at various times in their daily life.

Figures also showed that of the school pupils questioned a staggering three-quarters (75%) were “stressed out” in school.  Whilst 40% cited their homelife to be stressful.

Other times when their stress levels spiked included when they are with their friends (18%), when in the company of strangers (25%), at family events (18%) and when talking to their teacher (15%).

Add to this having to answer to their teachers, friends and peers why they’re still wearing last year’s uniform or have pieces of their uniform missing – we’re standing by and allowing excess stress to be piled upon them.

This latest budget cut will, quite simply, plunge disadvantaged Northern Ireland families further into debt and poverty – it certainly isn’t in the interests of the electorate.

Meanwhile, in recent weeks the DUP celebrated the sale of their Westminster MP votes to the Tories for a whopping £1bn set to be invested into Northern Ireland.  Of that money, it was estimated that £100m would go to education and health and £100m to severe deprivation.

To get some context, £1bn is a million pound multiplied by one thousand, yet 98,000 pupils will go to school in the 2017/2018 school year potentially with missing uniform elements, old and worn clothing or simply none at all.

So, while our MLAs take off on holiday this summer on full pay and expenses whilst being unable to do most of their duties as the Stormont deadlock remains, parents across the country will be slashing their own paltry household budgets looking for enough money to send their children to school in pristine uniforms like their classmates.

Both the DUP and SF have professed in their policies to want to make education more accessible to everyone in Northern Ireland, however, their inability to put an Assembly together means that school uniforms won’t be the only thing to go.

Already commercial companies and voluntary organisations have been forced into closure due to Stormont budgets being on hold, no longer in existence, slashed and/or undecided.  Morale across the country is at an all-time low and confidence in our political structure is waning.

As our MLAs tackle their partisan politics and refuse to compromise with each other our children are suffering – in more ways than one.

Government departments and civil servants are left behind picking up the pieces and making the difficult decisions as to which budgets will be cut whilst trying to hold the country together on a shoe string.

Where are our publicly elected representatives now?

Is this what we voted for?

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  • Stephen Elliott

    The Education Authority is led by Gavin Boyd a CEO who was previously responsible for the introduction of the non-evidenced Entitlement Framework in post-primary schools. The cost of this EF project and the attendant transport costs dwarfs the entire expense of the Uniform Allowance by many multiples yet there has been no attention directed to reducing the expense of another in the long list of Mr Boyd’s failed initiatives.
    It is also an embarrassment for the political representatives on the EA board not to have raised the alarm or expressed concerns about the judgements and decision-making priorities of unelected, unaccountable civil servants. This attack on the most vulnerable in our education system is reprehensible and says much about the importance of hypocrisy and self-service amongst those who are trusted with the public purse.
    Parents concerned about the announcement should make contact with their MP and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr James Brokenshire to voice their protest.

  • Zeno3

    Someone is making a fortune out of these children’s Parents.
    If around 25% are entitled to free school meals and uniform grants that means nearly £20 million a year being spent on School Uniforms.

  • Zeno3

    “In 2016/17 £4.9m was given out to 98,000 pupils across the country. ”

    How does this work? That only works out at £50 per Pupil on average.

  • Tina Calder

    There’s a severe lack of accountability in Northern Ireland 🙁

  • Tina Calder
  • Zeno3

    £50 would hardly be enough for a Blazer alone. Then you have shirts ,skirts, pullovers, Gym Kit. Shoes and in some cases coats. The prices for a lot of school wear is scandalous.
    The whole thing stinks. Maybe it’s time to investigate why uniforms are so expensive and why some schools are pushing Parents towards certain shops rather than what appears to be a relatively small loss of less than £20 to £30 per child per year.

  • Tina Calder

    I absolutely agree, I went to a grammar school where you had to have very specific brands and types of clothing and blazer etc…there was only 1 or 2 shops that sold them etc….doesn’t allow for a competitive market.
    There should be a cap on what uniforms can cost….

  • Zeno3

    I don’t see the problem as being a loss of £20 to £30 per pupil a year. The more obvious problem and cause of real hardship to many families is the extortionate cost of school uniforms.

  • Tina Calder

    I think you have to take into consideration that some families will have multiple children who are in receipt of uniform grants

  • Zeno3

    I understand that, and again I say the problems are not being caused by these “devastating staggering cuts” but by the extortionate prices charged by suppliers and supported and aided by the schools.

  • Tina Calder

    100% I agree with you, I think it’s a disgrace

  • Brian O’Neill

    They should just standardise all school uniforms to a range of simple colours that can be bought in any of the high street shops. Then the other thing that needs to be bought from the schools is the crest and tie.

  • Korhomme

    That’s fair enough, though I’d go further and omit any school ‘branding’; that acts as a ‘tribal marker’ and I don’t think it’s appropriate in NI.

    And I’d prefer if there was no requirement for any school uniform; that and policies send messages about what is ‘correct’ and don’t encourage the freedom to express oneself — a subtle form or control, perhaps. However, parents are keen on uniforms; one argument is that uniforms prevent any form of ‘catwalk’ behaviour, where those with money can afford to dress more extravagantly than those with more modest means.

  • DB McGinnity

    What about the laws of economics;supply and demand; if you can’t afford it, don’t but it? Ireland is acapitalist society; why not shop in the Republic of Ireland: Dundalk, Letterkenny, Monaghan, Cavan or go to Dublin? Do not forget that Sinn Fein is planning to spend £3.5 million on:“Acht na Gaeilge”. The money for “Acht na Gaeilge”, would be better spent on school uniforms and children’s essential educational needs that on Sinn Fein’s dreamed up, bizarre, nonsensical Irish Language projects. More people speak Polish in Northern Ireland than they do Gaelic.

  • chrisjones2

    I agree. School Blazers in England cost about £30. Many schools run group buying schemes where they buy them in to order for parents so they get them wholesale.

    Tesco and Asda and M&S do huge business in grey flannels, skirts , trousers and blouses. Why do schools not specify these rather than direct parents to retailers who seem to cost a lot lot more.

    Do any donations flow back to the schools?

    On the surface this looks like a series of nice little monopolies in many areas

  • chrisjones2

    The reality is that they are mass produced in places like Romania and wholesaled nationally through a few big suppliers.

  • chrisjones2

    https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/permanent-secretary

    Try writing too to the new Perm Sec in Education and demanding an investigation. Collectively the rip is probably as big as the now reduced RHI overspend . But strangely our Masters don’t seem very interested in this

  • NotNowJohnny

    Indeed. And why stop at Irish language projects. I hear they’re still teaching German in schools. There’s more people here who speak Polish than German so let’s save the money spent on German teachers and use it to pay for school uniforms. What use is German anyway. German people understand English so what’s the point of spending money teaching English speaking people to speak German. And did you hear that they provide Polish interpreters in the courts? What a waste of money that is. There’s more money that could be spent on school uniforms. If you can’t understand English then don’t commit crimes. It’s also discrimination as British people who don’t speak Polish can’t apply for these jobs. These translator jobs should be open to everyone whether you can speak the language or not. I once applied for a job as a GP and didn’t get an interview because I didn’t have a medical qualification. Can you believe that? Whatever happened to equal opportunities.

  • hgreen

    Not wanting to indulge in whataboutery but you could say the same about the money wasted policing parades and cleaning up after the spide bonfires on 11th night.

  • Boyne

    Why are uniforms being subsidised in the first place? Surely public finances can go to much more deserving causes.

  • DB McGinnity

    It was very wrong of them
    not to give you a job as a GP. Your literary skills show that you could do anything. I am not clever enough to match your incisive discourse. I think that you might be better suited as a statistician, or a perhaps journalist. My argument about economic law did not impress you. Too bad! Do have another go at being a GP

  • Brian O’Neill

    I know what you mean but as a particularly lazy student I was very happy to roll out of bed and not have to think about what to wear.

  • Zeno3

    I don’t know about you but as someone who had to buy school uniforms I’m amazed something hasn’t been done a long time ago.
    The prices are extortionate.
    There is a monopoly operating among suppliers.
    Schools are or were strongly recommending certain shops.
    Schools are regularly changing sports kit.
    Some of them insist on embroidered badges on blazers rather than much cheaper stick in ones,

    It’s one of those situations where you know something dodgy is going on but you aren’t quite sure of the details.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “It was estimated that £100M would go to education & health and £100M to severe deprivation” That’s a fair point, can the DUP not draw on this money now to fund the scheme for 2017/2018 Term until we get some form of government up and running again either local assembly or direct rule to get a permanent solution to the issue.

  • murdockp

    I remember going out with a beer with my friend a head teacher. We watched a group consume a large amount of booze. My friend then told me that he had bought two of the group’s kids coats out of his own pocket and here were we watching the cost two coats being consumed in one evening.

    Many of our society just see the state as a cash point. This has to change.

  • DB McGinnity

    Did you mean “12th.Night”? I do not know what you mean; is there some sort of code of which am not aware?

  • Tina Calder

    I hear ya, on non-uniform days at a grammar school I literally spent half a day explaining I actually liked the Lee denim brand and that’s why I didn’t have Levis. Thing was I genuinely did, had I have asked for them my mum would have got me Levis because she wouldn’t have wanted me to feel “different”. However, I was one of the lucky kids who enjoyed being “alternative” and wasn’t worried about what others thought…I’m not so sure I would have been as confident had I have had to find an “outfit” to wear every single day to school !
    I do think the uniforms should be simplified to blue or black jeans and a branded jumper / t-shirt.
    I think school branding is important, in Northern Ireland the segregation of cultures and social groups is what is causing our divided society. What needs to happen is for young people to feel a pride in their school as they do in America for example and for schools to integrate more with each other.

  • Tina Calder

    What’s so interesting about this comment is the fact that the head teacher continued to consume alcohol in a place where his students frequented…most teachers I know would have run for the hills.
    As for young people consuming alcohol – I sincerely hope they were upper 6th and over 18 otherwise his concern should have been more than the coats.
    I realise the point the head teacher was making and I sympathise but are we now to deny young people a social life too?

  • Tina Calder

    I’m not sure, I’ve heard nothing about how Northern Ireland will access this money – but to be fair I haven’t really looked that hard either – I’d be interested to know though if anyone on the thread knows how it will be drawn down and the limitations placed upon it.

  • Tina Calder

    I suppose this really is a wider issue of why there is so much poverty and deprivation in our society. I’d be interested to know what “cause” would be more deserving in your eyes and why because I can certainly see a plethora of reasons why it’s important not to deprive young people of uniforms the same as their peers.

  • Boyne

    In the first instance people are having families beyond their means and secondly there are instances where parents are able to spend money on cigarettes and alcohol, yet are unable to purchase school uniforms.

    I would prefer to see the money going into our hospitals or infrastructure rather than being wasted like this.

  • Tina Calder

    I don’t think my liberal minded politics and your conservative politics are going to agree on this one no matter how much debate we enter into. I think you are being a little narrow minded in how you’re looking at the issue. It’s bigger than just uniforms, it’s indicative of how our country’s most disadvantaged people are being plunged further and further into poverty

  • Boyne

    Unusual for a liberal to resort to name calling, perhaps you should demonise me a xenophobic racist too?

  • jm

    The shops do give a percentage to the schools. I asked last year when I was in buying my son’s blazer and sports kit and was told yes, but understandably she wouldn’t give details.

  • Tina Calder

    “name calling”? are you telling me that your political views on this matter aren’t “conservative” because if so you really need to explain yourself further as the opinion you expressed above would be considered by many as a typically conservative stance. As for “name calling” I think you are probably being a little over-sensitive (although I’m now concerned that you will see me saying “over-sensitive” as name calling). I am within my right to believe and say that I find your response “narrow minded”, I’m unsure how you see any of my statement as “name calling”? Maybe you could enlighten me. I stated very clearly that I didn’t believe we were likely to come to an agreement on this subject given how polarised our viewpoints seem. I can only judge your viewpoint by what you have written above. If you have more to say that does not come across as a narrow minded conservative then I suggest you explain yourself further to save any further confusion about your perceived views.
    As for your accusation that I might be likely to “demonise” you as a “xenophobic racist” you’ve given me no cause to believe this of you. Demonising people really isn’t my bag. You do seem a little defensive on this issue, I wonder have you been accused of this in the past. I don’t know. I certainly have no views as to whether you may hold xenophobic beliefs or not. I sincerely hope you don’t, but you have every right to do so if you do.

  • Zeno3

    I’d like to know who the person or people who actually made this decision are and why it was made. Was it to save money or to put political pressure on our leaders to reach an agreement and return to devolved government?
    But who made the decision?

  • Boyne

    My perspective was different from yours, you were unable to comprehend this so you resorted to calling me “narrow minded,” this is a trait that is too often evident within the left wing liberal media.

  • Tina Calder

    I am allowed an opinion. My opinion is that what you wrote above seemed “a little narrow minded” that I felt the issue was bigger than how you were portraying that. I am sorry you are offended at someone not sharing your views.

  • Boyne

    I am not offended but you must be able to present your views in a more mature and considerate manner that does not resort to name calling.

  • Brian O’Neill

    I think he means the parents were drinking not the kids.

  • Barneyt

    Think you’ve answered your own question.

  • Barneyt

    Curious you extracted that from the above piece. Feels you found something to hoist your sactimoneous agenda open? Read it again and you will see he’s asking why a parent can find cash for copious pints and at same time have someone else buy clothing for their children…. who were nowhere near the bar or drinking in said bar it clearly seems

  • Barneyt

    It’s important that social status does not become evident through obvious means. It will show itself readily enough but let’s not exacerbate the matter by depriving them of this clothing. There’s a lot more at stake than looking uniform. You are spot on

  • Barneyt

    It’s akin to young girls deliberately get pregnant to secure social housing. Its just a gross generalisation. You were right earlier. Your comments are not going to land with effect on mr boyne.

  • Barneyt

    I saw maturity in Tina’s comment along with sense and human compassion.

  • Barneyt

    Are not the fires 🔥 ignited on the 11th my man?

  • Boyne

    I saw an aggressive left wing attack.

  • Barneyt

    Oh don’t do the polish thing. The established languages are English and Irish and we know there are many reasons why Irish faded and is not where it should be. Many are trying to bring it back. It may never be widely used but an act would help. Linda Irvine grasped the nettle and saw that she owned Irish much more that those that make politics out of it. We all use the Irish sounds daily so if you see this only as a sf thing, don’t. If you think sf have used it as a weapon to isolate unionism then don’t do the same by belittling Irish. There are many from all walks of life that love the language and see it being promoted without eroding unionism Britishness and orange culture. Look how long the British have been here? Are you saying many British did not take to the language at the time? Linda found that they did and is now claiming her bit of her heritage. If many feel Ulster Scots needs a place then let’s support that. The English I speak is infused with Irish and Ulster Scots. You too perhaps without knowing it. If your enemy comes up with an idea or decides to take someone else’s idea it does not make it a bad idea.

  • Zeno3

    Eh?

  • Tina Calder

    aaahhhhh thanks Brian, I clearly misunderstood that

  • Tina Calder

    WOW, not sure the aggression here on this particular thread is where you perceive it to be Boyne.

  • Boyne

    You were aggressive and when my views didn’t conform to yours I was labeled “small minded”.

  • DB McGinnity

    The Irish language (Gaelic) has a lilt and a musical;
    poetic tone when spoken with the grace and beauty it deserves. I speak and read Gaelic because I want to do so. Gaelic is not synonymous with wanting a united republic of Ireland or with being a Catholic regardless of what Sinn Fein may think. Gaelic is not owed by Sinn Fein and Gaelic should not be used as a weapon. Some of those in the news making a fuss about “our rights” to speak Irish do not speak Gaelic fluently or with flair or grace. They are not Gaelic
    scholars and know only a few, well chose, rehearsed rote-learned phrases. These people could not readily read or translate a randomly chosen page of Gaelic into
    English. This hypothesis can easily be demonstrated.

  • Zig70

    Spare a thought for those of us not linguistically blessed. Expecting a language to flourish based on the ability of scholars to absorb it is a bit naive? no?

  • chrisjones2

    And why blazers

    School “specialists” typically sell at £40 what can be bought on line for £20 – £25 .

    But why blazers at all – soft shell jackets look better are more durable and more fashionable, shower resistant and if required can be embroidered . Above all they are available from a wide range of suppliers. Many schools in England also offer buyers clubs where parents can order and the school buys in bulk …but that seems beyond most NI PTAs or Head Teachers. Why?

  • chrisjones2

    Just in Training for the Holy Lands?

  • chrisjones2

    ” is not where it should be ” surely you mean has sunk to the level of interest of the general population?

  • chrisjones2

    Nope…we are in stasis …..people will die on waiting lists as those we elect bank their pay

  • chrisjones2

    This is how NI works. We encourage a series of sectarian local monopolies that inflate the price of goods beyond a level people can afford,. Then we give the people money to bridge the gap as that gets us votes

  • chrisjones2

    Low standards in education in some areas, low expectations, parental neglect, drink and drugs and ‘legal’ highs

    It used to be low employment but we now have almost full employment

  • chrisjones2

    FOI request the accounts … the Head Teachers should be outed and shamed

  • chrisjones2

    Some retail prices :

    ASDA Blue gingham girls blouse £5

    TESCO 2 pack boys shirts £3
    2 pack grey trousers primary school £6
    Primary school girls cardigan £4

    Anyone have comparisons from the ‘specialists’

  • Zeno3

    You know the problem here as well as I do. There is little or no political capital to be made from this scam that extorts millions from Joe Public every single year. But if you can link the £3 million reduction in grants to TORY CUTS that’s much better fun.
    By the way the 2.5% in the local education budget is so 3% can be added to the Health Budget.

  • SDLP supporter

    No, we haven’t. Last figure I saw was that 312,000 people in the ‘economically active’ cohort (ages 16-64) were in neither employment, education or training. A lot of people have just dropped out of the labour market. It’s mad.

  • chrisjones2

    ie they dont want to work

  • Reader

    Korhomme: However, parents are keen on uniforms; one argument is that uniforms prevent any form of ‘catwalk’ behaviour, where those with money can afford to dress more extravagantly than those with more modest means.
    The run-up to a non-uniform day was always a bit stressful in our house…
    It’s not just money, though. Brands, styles, grooming, peacocking, gang-markers and clique-markers. It’s a minefield.

  • Reader

    Agreed. Properly managed, the uniform system could be a massive household saving – a practical, hard-wearing, washable, attractive outfit in standard colours bought from non monopoly suppliers. An outfit that clothes its owners through most of the daylight hours 5 days a week.
    The prudent and organised households should welcome it as a net saving in the long term. But disorganised or destitute households will fail to deal with the up-front costs.

  • DOUG

    Tina didn’t actually call you narrow minded, she said you were ” being a little narrow minded ” – that’s a description of your behaviour, not you.

    I have friends who aren’t idiots, but occasionally they can act like idiots.

    If I say they’re acting like idiots, it doesn’t mean I think they are idiots. It means that on this particular occasion, I think they should modify their behaviour.

    As to ” instances where parents are able to spend money on cigarettes and alcohol, yet are unable to purchase school uniforms ” – what about instances where they can’t?

  • DOUG

    25 years ago, my mother struggled to afford my school uniform.
    A blazer was mandatory and £45 ( insistence on an embroidered crest, not sewn on ), a jumper was optional and £25 ( could only be bought from the school and 1 specific shop ), the tie, I can’t honestly remember the price.
    But I grew substantially between 11 & 16 as many children are wont to do.
    At 15 I was disciplined for not having a blazer as my mother couldn’t afford a replacement when I grew out of it mid year. I ended up carrying around a blazer that was 2 sizes too small, just so I had a blazer in school if I was challenged by a teacher. Never wore it, couldn’t wear it, but had to have it with me.
    During the year I’d have gone through 3 or 4 pairs of trousers and shoes and several shirts easily.
    Size, wear and tear, football at lunch time etc etc.
    Sometimes it’s not just the initial cost of the items but the cumulative cost over the school year. I still remember my mother stressing because I’d come home with a ripped pair of trouses or because my shoes were too small with months to go.

  • DOUG

    Poor little snowflake.

  • Tina Calder

    Sadly this story is indicative of so many families across Northern Ireland 🙁

  • Tina Calder

    Thank you Doug, I was too exasperated to explain the intricacies of language with Boyne :/