At this time of the year school management in secondary schools across the country is busy planning next year's timetable. The task this year has become much more difficult as a result of the Government's decision in Budget 2012 to remove the additional allocation for guidance and counselling in schools.
The Joint Managerial Body (JMB), representing the management of almost 400 voluntary secondary schools, has expressed disappointment at the Government's failure to honour its promise to protect frontline services in education as outlined in the Programme for Government in March 2011.
The removal of the special allocation for guidance and counselling means in effect that a school of 400 pupils will have one less teacher next year compared to this school year.
Fewer teachers means fewer subjects, with subjects such as physics, chemistry and accounting being taken off timetables, and programmes such as Leaving Certificate Applied removed from the school curriculum.
Section (9) (c ) of the Education Act 1998 requires that each school must "ensure that students have access to appropriate guidance to assist them in their educational and career choices".
Decisions to reduce subjects and/or the provision of guidance services means that the most vulnerable pupils will lose out as the staffing levels will be such as to prevent the school giving these pupils the attention to meet their learning needs but also provide pastoral supports.
This problem is compounded by the loss of numerous year head posts in schools due to the moratorium on filling posts of responsibility which was introduced in March 2009.
It is a stark reality that the Government also cut capitation grants to post-primary schools by 2pc in Budget 2012 on top of a cut of 5pc in Budget 2011. The effect of these cuts to date sees €31 per pupil less each year being granted to already underfunded schools. Parents cannot afford to make up the deficit.
For the past four years we have been told that the country is broke and we must all learn to survive on fewer resources. School management has striven to meet this challenge through a range of innovative approaches to the provision of a timetable and other services.
School management is now faced with the reality that the loss of the guidance and counselling allocation makes it impossible for schools to maintain the same level of service.
Young people deserve better. They had no hand in creating the budgetary crisis. The Government has to realise that simply cutting resources to schools is a lazy and counter-productive policy. The JMB demands that education must be prioritised.
If it's impossible to maintain the education budget then the Department of Education and Skills must look at its entire budget and not take the easy option of reducing resources to frontline services in our schools.
A crisis calls for innovative responses. Our young people are our future -- we must provide them with the best possible opportunity to benefit from their time in school.
Ferdia Kelly is general secretary of the Joint Managerial Body/Association of Management of Catholic Secondary Schools (JMB/AMCSS)