Teaching unions urge crisis NI budget talks

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Representatives from five teaching unions say an impasse over education in Northern Ireland must be resolved.

The Northern Ireland Teachers' Council said politicians were treating proposed cutbacks "with remarkable disdain".

They also said the Education and Skills Authority, still awaiting Assembly approval, was "bogged down inexorably".

"We implore our politicians to recognise that they're stuck and move to agree a mechanism for dispute resolution," they said.

"A political summit is one way, binding arbitration another.

"Either way, our politicians need to act to allow the effects of this particular train crash to be minimised."

The officials represent the Irish National Teachers Organisation, the Ulster Teachers Union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the NAS/UWT and the National Association of Head Teachers.

The comments were made in an open letter to politicians.

The Education and Skills Authority (ESA) was due to take over the functions of the education and library boards and other bodies like the CCMS on 1 January 2010, but the necessary legislation has yet to go through the Assembly.

The DUP has refused to back the new authority, conceived as part of the Review of Public Administration designed to streamline bureaucracy, because it is unhappy with the treatment of controlled schools, attended mostly by Protestant children.

The union officials estimated the Northern Ireland education budget could be reduced by between £80m and £90m over each of the next four years.

They said the establishment of ESA "would assist the prudent strategic management needed for the education service".

They said the sticking points were "in essence issues of inter-communal difference, including historic issues relating to representational rights".

"Yes, they are important and serious, but they are 'second order' issues in relation to the scale of systemic educational damage which could be done by the rash deficit-slashing underway," they added.

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