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Educational Standards

Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 2nd November 2009.

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Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Sinn Féin 2:45 pm, 2nd November 2009

5. asked the Minister of Education how area-based planning and the entitlement framework will improve educational standards.           (AQO 278/10)

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

Creidim go daingean gur dóchúil go mbainfidh daoine óga a gcumas iomlán amach má bhíonn deis acu cúrsaí a dhéanamh a bhfuil suim acu iontu; cúrsaí a spreagann iad agus a sholáthraítear trí theagasc ardchaighdeáin. Ón mbliain 2013 ar aghaidh, nuair a bheas an creat teidlíochta ina cheanglas reachtach, beidh fáil ag gach duine óg ar réimse níos leithne cúrsaí.

I believe firmly that young people are much more likely to achieve to their full potential when they have the opportunity to follow courses that interest and motivate them and that are delivered through quality teaching. From 2013, when the entitlement framework will become a legislative requirement, all our young people will have access to a broader and better-balanced range of courses. Pupils from age 14 onwards will be able to access courses in which they have a interest or that are of value and lead to qualifications that allow them to progress and contribute to society.

To deliver that, we need to plan for the delivery of the entitlement framework on an area basis to ensure that each area has a pattern of quality, sustainable provision that provides equality of opportunity and maximises the impact of the available resources. The recent post-primary area-based planning exercise, which concluded in July 2009, provides us with valuable insights into how a collective approach to planning can enhance the quality of education in a local area. My Department will draw on the lessons learned to improve standards.

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat. I am sure that the Minister was encouraged by the all-Ireland perspective that the two unionist parties displayed when asking earlier questions. I thank her for her answer. Will she elaborate on how the area-based planning process will work under the education and skills authority (ESA)?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat as an cheist sin.

There will be a number of key components in the process, including the use of asset-management information and area plans. For the first time ever, all the different education sectors are sitting down together and planning. As Members will know, there were five working groups and a central group. All sectors worked on that process.

The ESA will prepare area plans, strategic investment plans and project-level appraisals. The education sectors and planning groups — including sectoral support bodies — will be represented on those groups and they will advise the education and skills authority on aspects of planning. The ESA may also consult directly with others in preparing plans.

Once ESA has a complete draft plan for an area, it will consult publicly. Following that exercise, ESA will submit the post-consultation area plan to the Department for approval. Strategic investment plans and project appraisals above certain levels will also require the Department’s approval.

Aithneofar scéimeanna infheistíochta do cheantar mar chuid den phróiseas sin. Investment schemes for areas will be identified as part of that process.

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party

Given that the amount of progress achieved for area-based planning has been patchy, will the Minister tell the House how parents are choosing post-primary schools for their children?

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

The Member should not be reading her supplementary question.

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party

Well, I am not the only Member who does, but —

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

This time you are the only one caught. [Laughter.]

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party

The story of my life: sorry, Mr Speaker.

However, how will parents know which schools will be up and running with the entitlement framework in 2013?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

First, the work on area-based planning is not patchy: it is the most significant work ever done in our post-primary sector. As I have said, for the first time, all the sectors are sitting down together to plan on a strategic basis. We have seen the problem when that has not happened: new schools built that are now empty and taxpayers’ money squandered. Thankfully, that will not happen now.

I have written to every post-primary school in relation to the 2013 entitlement framework. My Department is in touch with the area learning communities and we have established very clearly that all policies and programmes brought forward by schools will adhere to the entitlement framework, which will be a statutory duty by 2013. I am pleased with the progress, but I want more work to be done. I would like to pay tribute to Adeline Dinsmore, Joe Martin and the five chairpersons throughout the North of Ireland who did tremendous work in a very short time on area-based planning, and I look forward to further work.

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

What criteria will the Minister set for ESA in respect of area-based planning? Will she ensure that those criteria take into account the impact that they could have on rural communities and areas?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

Sin ceist an-mhaith.

That is a good question and a very important one. I thank the Member for South Down for it. [Interruption.]

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

The Member will be aware that my colleague Michelle Gildernew is working on a rural White Paper, which is important for all Executive Departments, on every aspect of policy.

The Member knows that my Department has looked at the issue of rurality. As I said earlier, the criteria for rural schools differ from those for urban schools. That is in recognition of the important role of rural schools. Of course, I am working with those criteria in respect of the entitlement framework and area-based planning. The ESA chief executive designate, Gavin Boyd, and its chairperson designate, Sean Hogan, are involved in all aspects, so that we have a seamless crossover once the authority is established in January.