“In a major shift, Sinn Fein wants to offer all schools the right to be the employers…”

Now this IS interesting, from a policy point of view at least. There’s been a bit of a power struggle going on over the precise shape of the education and schools authority (ESA) over the last couple of years between the Minister and Northern Ireland’s Grammar schools.

That’s one reason the project has been long fingered for so long. A recruiting ban in the old boards – which have been left to carry the burden of the long delay – has created an artificial situation in which ‘hundreds of staff [are] “acting up” temporarily in jobs’.

Maggie Taggart reports…

The main sticking point has been that voluntary grammar schools would lose their status as the employing authority. That currently gives them the right to set terms and conditions for non teaching staff such as cleaners and technicians.

The role was to have been taken on by ESA.

The DUP has led resistance to that and now it is understood that, in a major shift, Sinn Fein wants to offer all schools the right to be the employers but there would be conditions attached.

They [schools applying for employer status] would have to give official conditions and rates of pay to non teaching staff and also show that they provide a high standard of education for pupils.[emphasis added]

Neither of those conditions will perturb the Grammars, which is presumably why they were happy to sign up to the deal. However the obligatory strings will presumably involve the development of a whole new set of policies to enable the department to select who qualifies for employer status, and who doesn’t.

As you can imagine, the Unions are less than impressed:

Unison said the news was very disappointing and sets aside the interests of staff in favour of a political compromise.

NIPSA said it was bizarre to move from ESA being the single employer to a situation where there are 1,250 employers.

This will be a game changer, if it makes it to the scheduled Executive meeting in September. If it does eventually make it, it will close another unsuccessful round of ministerial shadow boxing over the issue of educational selection.

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  • Brian Walker

    I noticed this report but haven’t a clue what it means. What if anything lies behind the obvious requirement to provide “ a high standard of education for pupils?” This report cries out for further interpretation. Nick Clegg’s idea of introducing ability bands for 11 year olds in English and Maths would lead to more setting by ability in English secondary schools. If adapted for NI it might create a route for ending transfer tests for grammar schools by consent. So far as I can see, the stalled ESA has failed to inspire. It seems to be behaving only as a bureaucracy in waiting rather than a powerhouse for fresh ideas.

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s a very good point Brian. But I’m afraid looks to me like more “motherhood and apple pie…” The struggle on the grammar’s side was to retain executive control over their own structures.

    Their fear appears to have been that the department was attempting to take control of employment regime so that over time, the Grammars could be broken down over say a 20 or 25 year period into default comprehensives…

    My own feeling is that it represents a failure to confront actual educational issues and remain on a ideological raft that’s just drifting further and further from any desirable landing spot.

  • caseydog

    I agree with Brian : this report by Maggie Taggart requires further clarification. On the surface this is a much less significant move than Maggie suggests. Granting ‘voluntary status’ to all schools, ie granting employer rights to all schools, will not end selection. I thought that the grammars had already received cast iron guarantees that ESA will not be able to interfere with their power to select.

    Equally it is difficult to understand why the unions are objecting : the Minister is making it clear that schools will have to adhere to official conditions and rates of pay.

    All very confusing!