Education Minister, John O’Dowd, was asked about the impact of budget cuts on the Department’s Sure Start programme during today’s Question Time. The Sure Start initiative is aimed at giving every child the best possible start in life, offering a broad range of services focusing on health, early years care and education. Mr O’Dowd explained that budget cuts meant a reduction in resources for front line services but that he sought to protect the Sure Start budget as much as possible by halving the original proposed £2m reduction in its budget. The aim is to make efficiencies where possible while protecting services that have proved most successful in achieving the better outcomes for children. The Minister added “I want the most vulnerable to continue to receive services through the Sure Start programme”, whilst warning that “continuing cuts to the Executive's Budget mean continuing cuts to the education budget. It is frightening to look at the proposals coming from the Conservative Government in Westminster. Their continuing cuts to public spending will have a detrimental impact on all our public services here.”
The Minister was then asked for his assessment of the requirement for teachers in nursery and primary schools in the Catholic maintained sector to possess a Certificate in religious education and the possibility of employment inequality. The policy is not set by the Department (who do not employ teachers) but by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS). However the Department did undertake a review of teaching employment opportunities in response to concerns. The review did identify barriers in accessing the certificate that could lead to inequalities and the CCMS has since amended its appointment scheme to allow teachers without the certificate, and who would otherwise be unemployed, to be redeployed into a Catholic maintained school who would then be required to secure the certificate within three years of redeployment. Since then measures have also been taken to simplify and assist the process of gaining the certificate.
The Minister continued to answer Members questions on shared education, the education maintenance allowance, the GCSE scoring system and early years funding.