As the BBC report says, Secretary of State for Wales etc, Peter Hain, while announcing a new Shared Future Accreditation scheme for schools, has pledged the full implementation of Sir George Bain’s Strategic Review of Education, beginning immediately, including the Education and Skills Authority – despite the declared opposition from certain quarters. He also appears to want to set the political course ahead, on education, for any subsequent Assembly..From the NIO statement
Turning to the planning and funding of schools, Mr Hain said: “There will be an immediate move towards area based planning, with the Education and Skills Authority playing a significant role in this work in its shadow form over the next year.
“In order to ensure that all schools are sustainable in terms of their size, we are publishing a consultation paper today, incorporating the minimum enrolments recommended by the Review.
“Until Area Planning is finalised, there will be no new capital building programmes that are not consistent with the Bain recommendations.
“This Government is making unprecedented levels of funding available for education. Tomorrow, Maria Eagle will announce record levels of funding for schools in Northern Ireland for next year. I want to give real power to school leaders, allowing them to ensure this money is used where it is most needed in their school to maximise its value for their pupils.
“The Department of Education will also now undertake a review of the factors that make up the Common Funding Formula to ensure that they reflect and are responsive to the main cost drivers faced by schools.”
Mr Hain also urged Ministers to be bold in the next stages of education reform once devolution is restored. He said: “They should complete the process of creating the Education and Skills Authority and let it get on with delivering on area based planning, minimum pupil numbers and the review of funding.
“They should use the opportunity of the Comprehensive Spending Review to continue to drive up funding, and continue to focus on direct payments to schools and the roll out extended schools to the whole of Northern Ireland.
“Serious consideration should be given to expanding dramatically the Specialist Schools programme; giving a school a specialism drives up an ethos of excellence and therefore results.
“They must give as much focus to vocational education as to traditional academic education, and they should investigate involving top companies in helping provide high quality vocational education for young people who know what they want to do and need help to do it.
“They should look at whether Northern Ireland could benefit from pupils taking the International Baccalaureate as an alternative to GCSEs and A Levels.
“Perhaps most important, the local politicians should work in partnership, across different traditions and entrenched opinions to take forward the method of post primary transfer. They should consider whether 11 is really the sensible age to force young people to make decisions, and if 14 is not a more reasonable point for such judgements.”
Given the opposition to aspects of the Education and Skills Authority from some, the Catholic bishops in particular, there are likely to be some interesting debates ahead.