“At time of recording this broadcast the Bill has still not been scheduled.”

The decision by the Northern Ireland Education Minister, Sinn Féin’s Caitríona Ruane, not to move the Consideration Stage of the Education Bill in the Assembly in October risks another vacuum developing in the education system. There’s also been a subsequent DUP amendment tabled which would appear to seek to restrict the Department’s ability to bring into operation some of the provisions of the Bill – by requiring a vote in the Assembly for each of the provisions not immediately enacted. The Bill is required to ensure the Education and Skills Authority is properly established to take over from the five education and library boards in Northern Ireland and four other bodies including the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) on 1st January 2010 – it had orginally been expected to take on that role in 2008. The latest extension was one of the issues agreed after the 154 day sulk last year. Since then a number of interested parties have raised concerns. Now, as the BBC report notes

The chief officers of the education and library boards have complained strongly to the Department of Education about the ongoing uncertainty. All employers have been told not to appoint new staff, and the chief executive of the Belfast board, David Cargo, has told the department his board has been blighted by serious staffing issues. By the beginning of January, the education board members will have been stood down so there will be no-one to take decisions on issues such as teaching appointments and contracts.

Additionally

CCMS chief executive Donal Flanagan has written to the Department of Education warning that he could not allow the continued undermining of staff morale to continue.

“My primary concern is to deliver services to schools,” he told the BBC.

“In the absence of a definitive date, in the context that I don’t at this point of time have a plan that enables me to merge my organisation into ESA, and also that a lot of negative energy is being focused on this at the expense of service delivery, it was a perfectly logical and legitimate decision.”

Mr Flanagan said he did not have any confidence that the required legislation could go through the assembly in time for the changeover.

“If I read the standing orders of the assembly correctly, it’s now impossible to put through the bill before 31 December.

“The assembly would have to set aside the standing orders, which could still happen, but my understanding of due process is that it is almost impossible.”

Sinn Féin’s favourite fire-fighter John O’Dowd is also quoted in the BBC report

Education Minister Caitriona Ruane of Sinn Fein is expected to outline her plans at an Association of Education and Library Boards conference on Friday, according to a party colleague.

Sinn Fein education spokesman John O’Dowd said he remained convinced “that we can and will have a smooth transition”.

And, today, ESA Chief Executive Designate Gavin Boyd has released a video message. Webcast script here [pdf file]

“In recent weeks there’s been a lot of speculation around the progress of the legislation. The Consideration Stage of the Bill had been scheduled to take place on 13 October, but this did not happen.

“At time of recording this broadcast the Bill has still not been scheduled.

“However the Minister has made it very clear that she remains focussed on the agreed implementation date of 1 January. She plans that the Education Bill will move to Consideration Stage as soon as possible, so that it completes its Assembly passage early next month and becomes law before Christmas.”

But the DUP’s Mervyn Storey has also released a statement

“The Education Committee has pressed Departmental officials regarding the issue of a contingency if ESA was not up and running by the 1st January 2010, but satisfactory answers have not been forthcoming. It has been quite clear for some time that the transfer from the current statutory bodies to ESA would not be carried out by that date but still we have dithering by the Minister creating yet more uncertainty in our education system. The Minister needs to make clear to the statutory bodies what will be the situation on 1st January 2010 and that adequate provision is made to ensure delivery of services.”

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  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Pete,

    good to see you are back to top form with

    “There’s also been a subsequent DUP amendment tabled which would appear to seek to restrict the Department’s ability to bring into operation some of the provisions of the Bill – by requiring a vote in the Assembly for each of the provisions not immediately enacted”

    as opposed to the BBC’s take

    “The Education and Skills Authority was due to take over the functions of the education and library boards and other bodies like the CCMS on 1 January.

    The DUP has refused to back the new authority, and the deadlock is unlikely to be broken by the end of the year.”

  • DR

    Sammy, It seems the minister hasnt tabled the bill yet so the DUP cant be blocking it, and even if they pushed it right through it seems that it cant possibly be ready for 01/01/10, what does she be doing all day?

  • Brian Walker

    Pete,
    all this stuff is about process and politics. I’ve searched in vain for more. Has anybody anywhere done a clear analysis of what the objections are from all quarters and what lies behind them? Could you help? Many thanks.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    DR,

    somebody needs to tell the BBC they are still sticking with the DUP doing the blocking on Newsline.

  • Pete Baker

    Brian

    There are a couple of links in the original post that might indicate where the problem lies.

    The UUP’s Basil McCrea’s quotes in March 2009

    And also from March 2009.

    Cardinal Brady expressed considerable concern that the department’s planned new Education and Skills Authority (ESA) would undermine the ability of schools’ trustees and boards of governors to run Catholic schools.

    He said that one clause in the Minister’s draft education Bill making the ESA the employer of all staff in all schools was unacceptable. “This is a fundamental impediment to the ability of owners/trustees to exercise their right and duty to promote and safeguard the ethos and defining character of a school. To exercise our duties as trustees adequately we require that the board of governors of each school shall be the legal employer of all staff in the school,” he added.

    And there’s a clip of Mervyn Storey here.

    To me it looks like the concerns are about centralisation of control versus school, and sector, independence.

  • Brian Walker

    Pete, thanks.. Now it seems to be the turn of the sectors to distrust the political system. But why hasn’t this been thrashed out in the Assembly and debated in the media? Or have I missed it over here? It looks like very poor politics and poor journalism. You would have thought this would have reached a peak long before now. Needless to say it’s a terrible indictment of the Education dept and the Executive as a whole that it hasn’t been sorted – but that’s hardly a surprise. When lack of confidence on both sides eats into the basic administrative structures it’s a really serious lookout, far worse than indulgences over J&P.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    The good old BBC.

    “When lack of confidence on both sides eats into the basic administrative structures it’s a really serious lookout, far worse than indulgences over J&P”

    or

    “The DUP has refused to back the new authority, and the deadlock is unlikely to be broken by the end of the year”

  • Pete Baker

    To be fair Brian, if the Bill had progressed to the Consideration Stage it might have begun to be thrashed out in public.

    Which, worryingly, may be why it wasn’t. Progressed, that is.

    It also appears that any discussions which may have taken place up to now have been conducted behind closed doors.

    And whenever anyone has broken cover in the past on this issue, as Cardinal Brady did, as well as the UUP and the DUP, it has been reported.

    But now time is running out.

  • It makes me wonder what sugar replacement they put in the tea down at DE. The Minister’s approach to implementing change seems to be to close her eyes and wish really hard and whatever you want to happen will come to pass. Even if there’s no agreement, insufficient infrastructure, no legislative basis… We’ve seen it with the transfer procedure and this is the same problem repeating itself. Meanwhile ELB staff have no idea what their jobs will entail after Christmas and some CCMS staff have no offices to return to as leases have been cancelled on some premises. Wake up Minister and try and re-establish some connection with reality.

  • Philip

    My take on the DUP objections: There is provision in the new bill for representation for the Catholic Church on the new authorities for their schools. The reason for this is because the Catholic Church still owns the schools and their representation is due to this ownership, not due to religion. There is no representation proposed for Protestant Churches BECAUSE nearly 70 or so years ago, those churches gave ownership of the schools to the state, in return for 100% funding and the state being responsible for upkeep of schools, capital costs, etc. The DUP is now trying to make this issue of ownership into an equality issue – ignoring the fact that they are state schools (not Protestant ones) and the handy deal financially these schools secured by passing ownership to the state. This non-issue from the DUP needs to be nailed on the head.

  • Philip

    As for the CCMS objections…well, nobody likes losing power, do they? But many Catholic teachers will be glad to have an independent employing authority…
    Nice to see the Catholic Church on the same extreme right wing as the DUP though, isn’t it? True colours shining through…

  • Philip

    From Hansard minutes of the education Committee discussion of the second Education Bill:

    “The Chairperson:

    It would have been easier if you had said that there is just no equality. That is the bottom line. We either have equality or neutrality. I have to say that we are now in a situation where it is abundantly clear that the legal position that is currently enjoyed by those who represent the majority of the children from the Protestant community will be removed. No legal status will be given to protect that position, other than “a voice” or “heavy lifting” — call it what you will. That is not good for equality, because it is not equality. Whether we are talking about a holding body, a representative body or a board of governors, there are serious problems. We must find ways and means to address those problems. I think that they can be addressed procedurally; that is, perhaps, a bigger issue.

    Mr Stewart:

    It is not for me to comment on the position that you and other members might take. However, not only will the legal position of TRC members as members of the education and library boards be removed, but the legal position of Catholic trustees as members of education and library boards will be removed. If there is something that might be described as an inequality in the current arrangements, some might say that it is the the existence of a statutory Catholic education authority, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS), which is a body that espouses the Catholic ethos. The RPA reforms will remove CCMS; there will no longer be a Catholic education authority. A single education authority, the ESA, will serve all sectors. Against that background, it is difficult to sustain the argument that the controlled sector or the TRC will experience inequality.”