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.