The Education Authority (EA) has given an assurance that school crossing patrols will be in operation when children across Northern Ireland return to school in the coming days.
A spokesperson for the EA offered the assurance in response to media coverage revealing that the authority had considered removing “lollipop men and women” in a bid to save money.
A letter obtained by BBC News NI revealed that the EA faces an estimated funding gap of £58 million in 2018/19.
It highlights a number of “difficult choices” the authority is faced with in order to cut costs, including the possible removal of school crossing patrols, withdrawing uniform allowances and making compulsory redundancies in schools.
According to the BBC, EA board members regarded the possibility of scrapping school crossing patrols – and other potentially controversial savings measures – as “unpalatable” and decided that any decision to make such cuts should be down to the Department of Education.
The letter also suggests that “traffic control measures” are not the EA’s responsibility, but that of the Department for Infrastructure and the police.
Reacting to media reports about the future of school crossing patrols, a spokesman for the EA said: “The Education Authority does not intend to make any changes to the current arrangements for school crossing patrols in the current financial year.”
Manned crossings are seen as a vital for the safety of children crossing busy roads, and the DUP’s education spokesman said any move to remove lollipop men and women would be “unacceptable.”
“While undoubtedly the Education Authority and the department have to explore every option to live within budget, this idea cannot be regarded as a serious suggestion and it is clear that the members of the Education Authority would reject any attempt to propose it,” said Peter Weir MLA.
“The safety of our children must be paramount, and there is no need to remove the current process for assessing individual placements of lollipop people provision.”
The Strangford MLA continued: “This bizarre suggestion does however highlight two key issues. Firstly, the extent to which education is effectively subsidising other elements of government particularly on road safety and transport and there needs to be a debate about where financial responsibility is borne.
“Secondly, it further shines a light on the heavy pressures facing education in Northern Ireland, and the need for strategic changes and reform which need commitment on an Executive-wide basis, which again highlights the damage being done by a single party putting their narrow interests ahead of proper decision making and the restoration of government.”