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.
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”.
“In recent weeks theres 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.”