Minister of Education, John O’Dowd, addressed the Chamber during today’s Question Time. Sandra Overend asked the Minister if the education and library boards (ELBs) have sufficient resources to fulfil their remit pending the establishment of the new Education Authority. Mr O’Dowd warned that, as the Department received only £5m of the £50m funding applied for during the June monitoring round (and received no additional funds during October monitoring), “the ELBs are currently operating at the extremities of corporate risk, which is why the establishment of the new Education Authority next year is vital”. The five ELBS have submitted their resource allocation for 2014-15 and they have been approved by the department – the funding of which will cause considerable internal pressure. A balanced education budget remains the aim and he believes that he has “demonstrated a clear commitment to prudent budget management while maximising the use of the finite resources available to me”.
The Minister then answered Brenda Hale’s query about the number of permanent teaching positions gained by newly qualified teachers. Of the 598 graduates in the 2013-14 financial year only 49 have found a permanent teaching post. Mr O’Dowd recognises that it is a very difficult time for teachers but that he will “continue to push the education budget at the Executive table”. Dominic Bradley asked if any consideration was being given to an employment scheme for first-year qualified teachers such as the one in Scotland. Mr O’Dowd said that consideration was given to a similar project but it would have meant significant costs falling on the department and the resources are simply not there to bring it to fruition.
During the scheduled listed questions the Minister also answered questions on the development of teachers and principals, speech and language therapy, home-to-school transport, ESA spend and prospective departmental savings. During the period for topical questions the Minister continued to answer queries on integrated education, school new-builds and the flexibility of the education system.