Tá dul chun cinn suntasach déanta ag an gComhairle Aireachta Thuaidh/Theas ar réimse ceisteanna oideachais ar fud an oileáin.
The North/South Ministerial Council has made significant progress on a range of educational issues across the island of Ireland. The joint working group on educational underachievement is addressing issues such as numeracy in the primary and post-primary sectors, good practice in literacy and numeracy in disadvantaged areas, good practice in Traveller and newcomer education, and improving pupil attendance at schools.
There has also been significant improvement in the provision of education services to children and young people with special educational needs. For example, the centre of excellence for autism in Middletown carries out an important research and information role and offers a menu of training courses relating to autistic spectrum disorders. An autism conference will take place in Armagh later this month to showcase good practice in providing support to children with autism, parents and professionals. We have introduced practical measures to assist teachers in the North of Ireland to obtain the Irish-language qualifications that they need to teach in schools in the South. We have tackled school leadership development issues, and a joint research project on how to attract teachers to the position of headship will be completed in the near future.
Information on teachers’ pensions will soon be available to assist teachers who wish to transfer between the North and the South to work. It is important that we remove all obstacles to mobility. A framework for a joint programme of North/South educational exchanges is being developed, and the North/South exchange consortium will continue its good work in the meantime. The Standing Conference on Teacher Education North and South (Scotens) gives educators the chance to engage in open, critical and constructive analysis of current issues in education. I was delighted to address its seventh annual conference last month in Malahide, i mBaile Átha Cliath, to hear at first hand about the range of activities supported by Scotens.
That is a convincing list of activities, but I press the Minister to tell us what new projects her Department has proposed since the North/South Ministerial Council meeting on 6 July, specifically in relation to newcomer children from other European countries.
As the Member will be aware, an all-island conference was held near Dundalk to launch a multidisciplinary diversity pack for every primary school on the island of Ireland. Representatives from schools that have a significant number of newcomer children spoke to the conference and to the last North/South Ministerial Council meeting at the Middletown centre for excellence in Armagh, and there was a useful sharing of good practice.
We are learning from the South of Ireland’s Traveller education strategy, and we have established the Traveller education strategy group, which is jointly chaired by Dr Robbie McVeigh and an Irish Traveller from the South of Ireland. Some very interesting work is being done. We held a good conference in Newry on the subject of ensuring that every Traveller child receives equality in our education system. Unfortunately, that was not the case in the past.
Given Batt O’Keefe’s decision to cut funding for Protestant secondary schools in the Irish Republic, the subsequent remarks made by the Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Paul Colton, that those cuts made the Irish Republic a hostile place for the children of the Protestant minority, and the fact she always tells the House how important equality is to her, what representation has the Northern Ireland Minister of Education made to the Minister in the Irish Republic to ensure equality of treatment?
First, I reiterate that all sectors throughout the island of Ireland should be treated in a fair and equal manner. The Member will be aware that, here, in this part of Ireland, I am engaging with all Churches and education sectors to ensure equality for all sectors. Perhaps the Member would like to write to the Minister in the South of Ireland. I believe that all sectors should be treated fairly across the island of Ireland.
I am grateful for the Minister’s reply, but I find it unsatisfactory. What specific representations has she made here to support the view of, among others, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Rev Dr John Neill, that Protestant schools in the Republic of Ireland face a funding crisis as a direct result of the policies pursued by the Government in the Republic?