The future of some local schools was high on the agenda during the Minister of Education’s Question Time on Tuesday 4 February 2014. The Minister, John O’Dowd, provided the house on updates of the Newtownbreda, Knockbreda and Markethill High Schools. The decision to amalgamate Newtownbreda and Knockbreda will not be reversed however the Minister assures that this is a positive development ensuring that “educational provision has been secured in the area at post-primary level for generations to come” in light of the fact that “had we continued with Knockbreda and Newtownbreda as two separate schools, both would have suffered as a result”. William Irwin was keen to find out if there was any possibility of a new build school for Markethill High School but Mr O’Dowd declared that he is not in a position to reveal any such proposals until the education and library boards and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools have returned to him with their recommendations for possible future builds. Mr O’Dowd also updated Members on the latest developments in the planned new build for Holy Trinity College, Cookstown.
Dominic Bradley then asked the Minister for an update on the implementation of the Irish-medium education review. The Minister highlighted the aim of the review as ensuring “that Irish-medium education is fully and appropriately supported as an integral part of the education system and contributes to the building of a shared future for all our citizens, based on equality” and was pleased to confirm that the vast majority of the review recommendations “have been fully or very substantially implemented”. When later asked by William Humphrey about the disparity in funding in promotion of Irish language education compared to Ulster-Scots, the Minister said that the Department funds on the basis of need and, as yet, the demand for Ulster-Scots has not transpired but he is “happy to engage with anyone who is promoting Ulster Scots to see whether we can work closer together to promote the Ulster-Scots language or culture”.
During topical questions the Minister updated the Chamber on the latest deliberations on the reform of the common funding formula for schools, the pressure on Education and Library Boards given the decrease in staff and the progress made on shared access to schools estate facilities by local community groups and sports clubs.