26 November 2014

Question Time - Education Tuesday 25 November 2014

Minister of Education, John O’Dowd, discussed new strategies to assist the sections of our community that currently experience low levels of academic attainment during today’s Question Time. The Minister declared “I have continued to implement policies and provide funding for additional interventions to raise standards and increase equity”. Strategies include the revision of the school funding formula, programmes to improve pupil outcomes in literacy and numeracy, a revised Special Educational Needs and inclusion policy and the provision of funding to support the development of better links between schools, parents and communities. The Minister also pointed to the academic selection process used by some schools as a barrier to change saying “I strongly encourage those schools to move away from academic selection so that we can eradicate this social division”.

Bronwyn McGahan also took the opportunity to quiz the Minister on the latest developments of the anti-bullying forum. Mr O’Dowd revealed that, over the last year, “the anti-bullying forum has worked with 7,000 pupils in 37 schools and over 1,000 young people in 26 non-school settings to raise awareness and provide anti-bullying training”. Anti-bullying week, with the theme of Together We Will Make a Difference, was held between 17-21 November. The 100% increase in the number of entries to the accompanying art and creative writing competitions illustrates the increasing awareness of the issue. Work has also started on anti-bullying legislation which will soon go to consultation ahead of the proposed introduction of a Bill in May.

During topical questions the Minister also answered questions on primary school enrolment levels, the progress of the new Education Authority, segregation in education and selection tests.

Question Time - Culture, Arts and Leisure Tuesday 25 November 2014

Read the full transcript on our website.

25 November 2014

Question Time - Office of the First and deputy First Minister Monday 24 November 2014

Read the full transcript on our website.

Question Time - Agriculture Monday 24 November 2014

Agriculture minister Michelle O'Neill answered questions on a range of matters, including agrifood exports to China, single farm payments and the transfer of her department's headquarters to Ballykelly in County Londonderry.


Gregory Campbell asked the Minister what private sector industries in, or related to, agriculture or rural development are being sought to complement the move of her departmental headquarters to Ballykelly. The Minister stated that " I can advise the Member that, as a result of the soft market testing exercise on the Shackleton site by the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister earlier this year, over 40 expressions of interest were received, principally from the private sector, although there was also partnership and public sector interest. OFMdFM is giving consideration to uses from the wider Shackleton site as part of the plans to develop it".

Department's Budget 2015-16

The Minister was also asked how she intends to deliver savings in her Department's budget in 2015-16 by Mike Nesbitt. The minister said  that her officials will be in discussing all of her Departments Budget 2015-16 proposals, including savings, at the Agriculture Committee meeting this week. She said she will aim to publish DARD's draft budget consultation document on the website on Wednesday.

During the 15 minutes of Topical Questions to the Minister she was asked questions on Fishing Quotas in Ardglass and Kilkeel, Avian Flu, Single Farm Payments and the River Agency Flooding Resources.

NICIE Briefs Education Committee On Shared And Integrated Education Inquiry

The Committee for Education has just held its third briefing to inform its ongoing Inquiry into Shared and Integrated Education. Noreen Campbell Chief Executive Officer for NICIE, Helen McLaughlin Vice Chair of NICIE Board of Directors and Frances Donnelly Senior Development Officer at NICIE were all on hand to present their views to the Committee and to take Members’ questions.

The NICIE delegation began their brief to the Committee by underlining the current statutory duty ‘to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education’. They made reference to the recent Drumragh judgement and the assertion that integrated education ‘is a stand-alone concept, that is to say the education together at school of protestant and roman catholic pupils …as opposed to integration within school of any other distinct set of pupils’. They reiterated the NICIE call on the Department for Education to actively implement Article 64 to encourage and facilitate Integrated Education.

NICIE also contended that the most significant barrier to Integrated Education is what they view as an unequal approach to education planning. They argued that CCMS has a statutory duty to plan for the maintained sector, the Education and Library Boards plan for the controlled sector, but the integrated sector has to rely on parents to plan, with only support from NICIE who have no statutory remit for planning.

They also highlighted the absence of a central and agreed mechanism to consult with parents in respect of demand for Integrated Education. They stated that it was crucial that the new Education and Library Board legislation clarifies at an operational level how Article 64 is implemented and that the new Education Authority has a clear responsibility to plan for integrated education.

NICIE noted that they felt strongly that by linking pre-school provision to single identity schools, children are becoming divided at the earliest age. They called for the Department for Education to fund only pre-school provision that is non-denominational. They further highlighted their belief that the role of Special Schools in providing integrated education is often not recognised and that the legal barrier preventing special schools from becoming designated at integrated schools should be rescinded.

During the briefing, NICIE emphasised the importance of preparing teachers to support such diverse and inclusive learning environments and called on the Department to implement actions arising from the International Review panel on Teacher Education in NI.

NICIE noted that they supported the concept of shared education where it is based on building community relations through connecting children and young people however contended that Shared Education is a completely different concept to Integrated Education. They added that they support a clear definition of Shared Education and argue that this should focus on its role as a tool for reconciliation. They added that Shared Education should be seen as a journey to Integrated Education.

They further reiterated an argument in respect of the costs of division in education and again called for an inquiry/commission to desegregate schooling in Northern Ireland and also to consider the appetite for integrated education which it contends is significant and growing.

Members were interested in the NICIE contention that the expansion of the Integrated Education sector had been limited by the Area Planning Process and by what they viewed as a failure by the department to live up to its obligations to encourage and facilitate Integrated Education. The Committee was keen to gauge if NICIE believed that parents are in fact more interested in academic attainment rather than the ethos of sharing and reconciliation?

The Committee also asked NICIE to expand further on its calls for a clear definition of Shared Education which recognises the importance of reconciliation and sees Shared Education as a step on the journey to Integrated Education. Members for example wanted to know what impact the introduction of an obligation in statute to facilitate and encourage Shared Education would have on Integrated Education and would this be something that NICIE could or would be willing to support?

The submission from NICIE to the Committee also called for a Patton style inquiry into education in Northern Ireland and the need for a commission to address issues surrounding school ownership and transformation.

You can read NICIE's written submission to the Education Committee and a full transcript from the meeting on our website.