MLAs debated a motion yesterday (10 March) calling for the implementation of the independent review of education in NI as a matter of urgency. The New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) agreement contains a pledge to establish an external, independent review of education in Northern Ireland, encompassing all stages from early years to post-16 provision and beyond including Further Education and its interface with Higher Education.
The IEF was pleased to see that the NDNA paper pledged an independent review, which is something we have called for; research has also shown overwhelming public support for this.
The document stresses that the current system of school provision is not sustainable and calls for Enhanced strategic focus and supporting actions on educating our children and
young people together in the classroom, in order to build a shared and integrated society.
Chris Lyttle MLA (APNI Chair of the education committee) moved that the commitment be implemented urgently. He told the Assembly that his party wants to see
“A Bengoa-style, independent, root-and-branch review of our education system to bring forward recommendations for action that will deliver a more integrated education system that is organised and resourced to provide a quality educational opportunity for all children and young people to enable them to develop their unique personality, talent, ability and potential…..we have given a commitment to take the politics and vested interests out of health: it is time to do the same for education.”
Sinn Fein education spokeswoman Karen Mullan commented that education was prominent in the NDNA agreement as all parties felt it was so important, and she supported calls for fundamental reform:
“There must be greater progress and political leadership in area planning and the realisation of a truly sustainable network of schools with a high-quality education provision and greater educational outcomes.
“The education system as we know it is at crisis point…To shy away from tough decisions now will have devastating consequences…”
There was emphasis from many MLAs that the system also needs more investment and Gerry Carroll (People Before Profit) warned that he did not want “efficiency” to be “code for cuts”. Rachel Woods (Green Party) said that a more inclusive system should be welcoming of everyone and not just emphasise diversity in Catholic-Protestant terms. Other members stressed that young people’s voices must be included in the review.
There was widespread expression of appreciation for the work school staff do every day. Many members also thanked the Department of Education and other bodies for working to continue the service in the absence of an Assembly for three years.
Responding to the motion, Education Minister Peter Weir acknowledged the cross-party support for the proposal and stated his commitment to carrying out the pledges in the New Decade, New Approach document. He said he would bring proposals for establishing a review panel within weeks but warned
“…if this job is to be done thoroughly, we are probably talking about a review that will take a year from its establishment to when it reports. It will be completed within this term, but it cannot simply be bounced through…We have to focus on finding solutions to the challenges we face, building consensus on the delivery of those actions and securing the necessary resources and commitment for education transformation. Our goal should be that every child has the absolute best start in life and that the education system is efficient, effective, sustainable and designed to deliver positive outcomes for every pupil. I look forward to hearing from Members from across the House, the Committee, educational stakeholders and children and young people as we deliver on that commitment.”
At the end of the debate it was resolved almost unanimously:
That this Assembly calls on the Executive to implement urgently the New Decade, New Approach commitment to establish an external, independent review of education provision, with a focus on securing greater efficiency in delivery costs, raising standards, access to the curriculum for all pupils, and the prospects of moving towards a single education system.
You can read the full Hansard report here
You can also watch the discussion here
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