John O’Dowd: the education debate is “continuing in a better atmosphere” but it’s not yet time for all-party talks

John O'Dowd on East Belfast Speaks Out panelI grabbed a very quick interview with Education Minister John O’Dowd as he headed down the corridor in Ashfield Boys School to go home after last night’s East Belfast Speaks Out community hustings.

In the past few months he’s announced reductions in school budgets, given a partial reprieve after finding extra money for his department, and most recently announced a shake up of SEN/statementing. I asked whether this was all not a lot for school principals to have to deal with? As well as explaining the sequencing, John O’Dowd expressed his hope that further money would be secured for education “in the latter years of this Executive”.

Asking @JohnODowdSF about education & unblocking the transfer debate (mp3)

The transfer conundrum hasn’t gone away. Stalemate is the default position. So what could happen that would free the logjam? In his answer, John O’Dowd suggested that the debate was slowly changing.

… the voice of the non-selective sector is beginning to be heard … schools that do not practice academic selection are providing first rate education and they want to be recognised and identified and acknowledged for that, and they’re out there making their point heard … we await the report of the Catholic Commission in terms of the future shape of post-primary education in the Catholic sector.

He said “the debate continues, it’s continuing in a better atmosphere”.

So is it time for all-party talks on education? During the previous Assembly, all parties except Sinn Fein met to talk about education. John O’Dowd characterised those meetings as being about “how you keep academic selection” rather than “putting all the issues on the table”.

I’m not sure political talks at this stage would be beneficial … I think there has to be a wider community debate, a wider debate about all the issues around education … let that take place, and then allow the politicians to catch up.

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