NIO Minister Maria Eagle has taken some time off from the all-important campaign to give the government’s official response to George Bain’s Independent Strategic Review of Education. The statement is on the NIO site and, in more detail, as a PDF file.. the detail is probably worth examining closely..Perhaps most interestingly, given the atatement by the Catholic Bishops, is the acceptance of the “central recommendation” to “move quickly to a system of area based planning.”
But, while the NIO statement emphasises the point..
The Minister said a detailed implementation plan will be published early in the new year, setting out how action will be taken on the Review, but that work needs to commence now in a number of areas:
“I accept fully the Review’s central recommendation that the education system should move quickly to a system of area based planning. This will deal with the problems of over-provision and lack of co-ordination created by the current system, in which each sector generally plans its schools in isolation from the others. I have asked my Department to establish a working group involving the relevant sector groups to start work on area based planning.”
..the statement of response, sent to all schools and education bodies in Northern Ireland today, appears to be slightly more ambiguous. [PDF file]
That is why the Government is accepting the broad direction of Sir George’s recommendations. Some of the recommendations do require further detailed thought and consultation. Government will be publishing an implementation plan early in the New Year, setting out how we intend to take forward action on the report. However, there are several areas where work now needs to commence.
A central recommendation of the Review is that the education system should move quickly to a system of area based planning, so that we can tackle effectively the problems of over-provision and lack of co-ordination created by the current system. I have asked the Department of Education to establish a working group consisting of the relevant sector groups to examine how best to progress the area based approach.[added emphasis]
The Review explained clearly that Northern Ireland has too many schools. It was equally clear that the guiding principle in any school rationalisation programme should be the quality of education provided by any school, with which I fully concur. I am accepting the Review’s recommended minimum enrolment thresholds at which schools should be reviewed. I have asked the Department of Education to consult with the education authorities early in the New Year on a policy for sustainable schools, taking account of A Shared Future and the Review report.
However, this is not an agenda to close small schools. I want to reassure all schools that the approach to new thresholds needs to be and will be planned carefully and with the educational interests of pupils remaining paramount. It is clear from the Review that proposals for funding of future capital projects for the rebuilding of schools must be considered in the context of area-based planning.
We must also consider capital projects, which have been previously announced for funding and for which planning is underway. It will be important to review the sizes of these projects. This exercise will be undertaken quickly: we do not wish to introduce unnecessary delays or uncertainty to projects, but we must take account of the new context through which there may be greater potential benefits from a different approach.
The Review recognises the distinctive contribution of integrated schools in the fostering of a shared future for Northern Ireland. It also highlights the broad range of other approaches to integrating education. It calls on Government to provide tangible support to schools that are actively engaged in sharing with other schools, or schools that are developing an inclusive environment in recognition of the diversity of their pupils’ religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The Government will be examining this issue carefully in the coming weeks in deciding how best to respond. As an early response, following last week’s Pre Budget Report by the Chancellor, the Secretary of State has signalled that Government is ready to provide capital investment to develop a shared future in Northern Ireland’s schools.
Adds Just spotted in the Notes to Editors
The Education and Skills Authority will have responsibility for the functions performed currently by the five Education and Library Boards (ELBs), the Council for the Curriculum Examinations and Assessment (CCEA), the Staff Commission for Education and Library Boards, the Youth Council for Northern Ireland, and the Regional Training Unit (RTU).
It will also be responsible for the front-line support and related functions currently undertaken by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS), the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) and Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta (CnaG).[added emphasis]
ESA will be in place from 1 April 2008 (subject to Parliamentary approval of the necessary legislation) and, until then, the Chief Executive Designate will work within the Department of Education.