Budget concerns were again at the fore as Education Minister, John O’Dowd, faced Members’ questions during today’s Question Time. Gordon Dunne enquired as to what measures the Minister is taking to negate the long term damage that could be caused as a result to a cut in the budget. In the 2015-16 budget the Department received an additional £64.9m “in recognition of the inescapable pressures facing education and the overwhelming response to the consultation”, however, “there remains a significant pressure on the education budget”. The Minister’s main focus has been to protect front-line services. As such, there has been no reduction to school delegated budgets (although wage and inflationary pressures may need to be considered). The focus “remains on raising standards and closing the achievement gap.”
The Minister also discussed the Primary School transfer process and the allegations that a number of schools provided pupils with tuition for unregulated transfer tests. The Department has written to the schools following reports that they were coaching pupils for the unregulated tests during core teaching time. The letters were not ‘warning letters’ but seeking to confirm that the schools are meeting their statutory obligations and providing them with the opportunity to comment. “The Department's overriding priority is to ensure that the educational needs of pupils are being met. The Department cannot stand by and fail to act when concerns are raised that coaching for unregulated tests may be affecting the delivery of the curriculum and therefore the educational development of all children.”
Also discussed during Question Time was teacher training places, shared and integrated education and new GCSE subjects. During Topical Questions the Minister answered questions on the future of Malvern Primary School, capital/resource funding, youth centres and the progress of schools in Dundonald and Craigavon.