Category Archives: Education

O’Dowd’s priorities all wrong – Trevor Lunn opinion piece

Trevor Lunn MLA on a recent visit to Malone College

Trevor Lunn MLA on a recent visit to Malone College

Whist I have some sympathy with the Education Minister’s problems, several recent decisions fly in the face of stated ministerial priorities and obligations.

The decision on Drumragh Integrated College ignores the stated obligation to “facilitate and encourage” integrated education, to allow successful and popular schools to expand and the principle of parental choice.

In the High Court last year, the Department stated that in future, consent of other schools would not be required for a proposal to be granted, area school enrolments should not override the statutory obligation to integrated education, yet this is exactly what the Minister says lies behind his decision.

The education of our children together is a vital component of any shared future agenda, but it appears the Minister still has difficulty accepting this simple premise or honouring his legal duty in this area.

Clintyclay Primary School is trying to make history as the first Catholic maintained school to transform to Integrated status and despite the opposition of CCMS and the Department, Mr Justice Treacy has upheld their judicial review of the Department’s refusal to allow them to do so. Will the Department appeal this decision? I sincerely hope not, but who knows?

Primary school language tuition is regarded worldwide as valuable to children, this has been recognised by the Department by supplementary funding for many years, but now without warning this support has been removed. A vital front line service (these are supposed to be protected) being discontinued to the disadvantage of our kids against those from other countries, and to Northern Irelands long term ability to compete for business.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects are a priority for the Department, to equip our children for their futures in employment and to enable NI PLC to compete for jobs in the world economy. The Ministers response is to cut 50% from the grant to Sentinus who do such valuable and essential work in this field.

Budgetary control is vital to the efficient running of any Department but so is eliminating the costs of a divided society, hence the need to promote integration where parents clearly want it. When budgets are tight the priority must be quality education and the need to equip our children for careers.

By these decisions, the Minister is leaving himself open to the charge of wrong priorities, training too many teachers for too few jobs, Irish Language expansion (which I will support but not at any cost) as well as maintaining segregation.

We await further developments with interest.

Time for Action on Education Reform

Is there any matter which more clearly points up the inability of the Executive to take forward important legislation than the stop-start progress of the bill to establish the Education Skills Authority?

This legislation is meant to provide an administrative body to replace the five Education boards, a measure which by common agreement was badly needed four years ago when it was first announced. However the delay in implementation has created uncertainty that has led to the boards losing key staff in large numbers to the point where despite the sterling efforts of those who remain, the Boards are barely able to fulfil their functions.

Originally ESA, was to be introduced in two stages due to its complexity, by the then Minister Caitriona Ruane. However, due to DUP suspicion that this was a means of getting the first bill through before all the nasty bits were revealed in the second bill, they refused to allow the first bill to progress until we had sight of the second one.

With some delay the second bill was produced for scrutiny and the first bill went to the Executive for approval.

In November 2010 it was to be introduced before the Assembly, but it was withdrawn by the Executive, apparently because Unionist Ministers were afraid to allow it to be debated despite all the safeguards and blocking mechanisms they have at their disposal

Now I concede there were matters of difference, particularly around the independence of the Voluntary Grammars and the role of the Protestant clergy (Transferors) who ceded control of their schools to the State back in the 1940’s, but I am convinced that by debate and amendments brought forward in a normal Parliamentary way, those concerns could have been addressed.

As it was, the bill never came before us and we, as a supposed legislative Assembly filled the time discussing frequently irrelevant private members motions, binding on nobody, to the obvious dismay of the people who sent us to Stormont and who are entitled to better.

The present Minister John O’Dowd made it clear when he took office that he would only reintroduce ESA legislation if he was reasonably certain that the same thing would not happen again but he did indicate early this year that progress had been made and he was hopeful that a bill could be brought forward. Positive signals came from Unionist quarters also and even Mervyn Storey as Chair of the education Committee appeared to soften his “ESA is dead in the water” stance.

Incidentally, establishment of an ESA body was a commitment in the DUP manifesto for the May 2011 elections, but on 26th June 2012 the Minister told the Education committee that the bill which he had presented to the Executive on 7th March was in trouble.

Lo and behold however, on 18th July the First Minister announced that they had reached agreement and ESA would be brought to the next meeting of Executive, the same announcement they made after the May 2011 elections, fifteen months previously.

We will watch with interest what progress is made, because while the two main parties play their parliamentary games, the education of our children is suffering and it is absolutely imperative that we streamline the system and realise the savings that ESA will bring.

ESA is one of the best examples of the paralysis which has for too long gripped our Executive. Would it surprise people to know that for two full years during the last Assembly, no discussion on any matter relating to education was allowed at Executive meetings?

The most often asked question from the man in the street is “what are you doing up there” and it is unfair to those Assembly members who are prepared to find ways forward by negotiation and discussion, to be held back by deadlock at the highest level.

Frankly as an Assembly we have run out of excuses, the “building trust” and “getting to know each other” ones are no longer are valid. Northern Ireland is sorely in need of responsible government and the present Assembly needs to prove it is relevant to that need.

“Shape up or ship out” should be our mantra, otherwise I would question whether we should be there at all, certainly under the present system.

Original version of article which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on 17 August 2012

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Lunn calls for co-operation between Education Boards and CCMS over school plans

Trevor Lunn MLAAlliance Education spokesperson Trevor Lunn MLA has called for closer co-operation between the Education Boards and CCMS over their plans for the number and type of schools that they need in each area. Currently there is two separate audits of what each sector requires. The plans are aimed at reduced the 85,000 empty desks in all schools.

Trevor Lunn MLA said: “If we want this whole process to achieve the best results then there needs to be a suitable level of co-operation between the Education Boards and CCMS about the changes that could happen. Currently we have two separate processes going on which is not going to make our school system more sustainable in the long run.

“Everybody will agree that there is an urgent need to update our school system to meet Northern Ireland changed demographics. We are already seeing some changes with the sharing of resources between schools and I welcome that, now is the time to see what further actions we can take to increase sharing.

“This is going to be a long process and what has been announced are not firm proposals, it is merely the beginning of a consultation exercise. I would encourage the public to read these proposals and respond to the Boards.”