Thousands of secondary school students awaited A-level and GCSE results anxiously last month. Again it was another record-breaking year for Northern Ireland students who again improved on the previous years results. But even pupils who have achieved top grades will be forced to compete for the miniscule amount of university places on offer. This, and the fact that the education budget faces cuts of 25% this year, leaves tens of thousands of young people in the North without any access to education or a decent job.
By Patrick McGeown, Socialist Youth Lurgan
This year’s figures show there was roughly 53,000 applicants to Northern Ireland universities, but only 8,500 places were available. University applicants are left dejected having missed out on their preferred course or, in a lot of cases, unable to attend university at all. Earlier this year the Con-Dem government announced massive cuts to education across the UK. These cuts will only result in poorer standards in schools, less university places, and pay cuts for teaching staff. This comes at a time when teaching staff are already stretched to breaking point. Teaching staff in secondary schools are already finding their job too hard. Most teachers now have to deal with six or seven classes with many containing over thirty students – a whopping 200 pupils per teacher. Blair’s “promise” of 50% of students attending university and smaller class sizes never materialised. Further cuts will only result in the exacerbating the skills shortages.
Cuts are also affected school buildings themselves. Hundreds of schools in Northern Ireland are in dilapidated states. Roofs collapsing, holes in walls, and damp are commonplace in many schools. Yet over seventy schools were turned down by the Minister for Education Caitriona Ruane for new buildings. Staff and students are under threat of injury and health problems if they continue to work and study in unfit buildings.
An overhaul is needed in education. Massive investment is needed to provide a better learning environment for students with the best learning equipment. Major recruitment is needed to ease the burden on teachers and fight rising unemployment. Tuition fees must be scrapped to allow everyone who wishes to, to go to university. Specialised cheap student accommadation must also be provided. Students should not be forced to pay extortionate rent to private landlords for substandard accommodation. All this would help students to learn in a better environment, help teachers to be more efficient and better at their jobs, tackle unemployment and open the door to a brighter future for young people. Socialist Youth and the Youth Fight for Jobs campaign will be campaigning on these issues and making sure young people have a voice to make sure we are listened to!