‘Together Towards Entitlement’.. and Beyond!

An area-based planning strategy for the Northern Ireland post-primary schools’ estate was a key recommendation of George Bain’s 2006 report and the, now capitalised, “Area Based Planning” featured in the NI Education Minister, Sinn Féin’s Caitríona Ruane’s “visionary” proposals to reform the education system – as announced in December 2007. In February 2008 the minister responded to criticism of delays in producing that strategy

“I believe in the benefits of designing local solutions to address local circumstances and that is why I will shortly be bringing forward the detail on an area-based planning approach. This will enable local communities to decide on the structures that will be most appropriate for their areas.”

In March 2008 the minister set up a central group and five area groups “to bring forward proposals on the future of education”. As her statement at the time says

“I will, therefore, form a representative central group of educational stakeholders, independently chaired, to drive this change. This group will be complemented by five area groups involving a representative from each of the sectors and from FE. These groups will consult within – and between – their areas and submit preliminary area-based plans for approval by the central group. “In addition, schools in local areas, acting collectively, could bring forward their own proposals to the area-based groups for consideration.”

Yesterday the minister announced the publication of the groups’ central group’s final report – which she received in July this year. You can find the report and ministerial statement here.Here’s what the 6 groups involved came up with. From the Together Towards Entitlement document [pdf file]

Summary of ABP Recommendations

1. DE, in collaboration with DEL, should give priority to promoting a wider understanding of the rationale for and implications of an area-based approach to planning for the delivery of the curriculum and the ways in which their other policies support this approach.
2. When developing the area-based planning policy to be implemented by ESA, DE should ensure that it is informed by the principles that a curriculum to meet the needs and aspirations of young people is a key driver in this process and schools are the principal providers by and through which access to this curriculum is made available.
3. DE and ESA should seek, through area-based planning, to enable schools to build a shared vision for a wide range of educational experiences that meets the needs of all the young people and leads to both a shared responsibility for the delivery of sustainable curricular provision and shared accountability for the outcomes achieved on an area basis.
4. The area-based planning process to be implemented by the ESA should include a “forum for engagement” with all key educational stakeholders in an area.
5. School owners and promoters should explore innovative, creative and shared solutions for sustainable school provision on an area basis by engaging collaboratively in the planning of such provision from an early stage.
6. ESA should also use the recommended “forum for engagement” to secure wider participation in the area planning process by interested parties, such as local councils, the business community and other community and voluntary groups.
7. The DE and ESA, in their respective roles and in the initial stages of the implementation of area-based planning should assist the key stakeholders and other interested parties to understand the area-based planning process and how they can best participate in it.
8. The DE and ESA, in their respective roles, should ensure that the maximum use is made of technology in the development of the area-based planning approach.

The Irish News’ Simon Doyle is somewhat puzzled by the “Long-awaited report full of jargon, short on detail” [subs req]

It was thought that the report would detail exactly how schools should be organised at local level – but it did not contain one single area plan.

No schools or groups of schools were singled out in the way the Catholic sector has been conducting its post-primary review.

Instead the report more or less said area planning was a good idea and schools should collaborate to make more subjects available to student.

This is something schools already know they will be required by law to do.

The group further said the “area-based planning process” would be implemented by the new Education and Skills Authority. The authority is due to begin life on January 1 but this is looking unlikely.

Simon Doyle continues

The group recommended the creation of another group – a “forum for engagement with all key educational stake-holders in an area”.

“The ‘forum’ is broadly based on the ‘area group’ approach developed in this exercise,” the report read.

Ms Ruane told the assembly that she wanted to see a change of pace from schools, yet the system is exactly where it was when this whole exercise was launched.

And how are those “cost-neutral” reforms going?