Education and Skills Authority

Oral Answers to Questions – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 10th December 2012.

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Photo of Dominic Bradley Dominic Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:45 pm, 10th December 2012

6. asked the Minister of Education, given that there is no representation for Irish-medium and integrated education on the Education and Skills Authority board, whether he will seek to amend the Education Bill to remedy this situation. (AQO 3054/11-15)

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I have no plans to amend the provisions on membership of the Education and Skills Authority (ESA) in the Education Bill.  Those provisions preserve the established role of the transferors and trustees in membership of the administration arrangements for education.  There will also be four members appointed from the community, and representatives of other sectors may apply for those positions if they wish.  ESA will have a statutory duty to encourage and facilitate Irish-medium education.  To give effect to that, ESA will need to ensure that it has staff with knowledge and expertise in Irish-medium education and that it engages with the sector and gives due regard to its views.

Photo of Dominic Bradley Dominic Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

Go raibh míle maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.  Seo í mo cheist ar an Aire.  Does the Minister agree that, if Irish-medium education and, indeed, integrated education are to be at the heart of the system here — that was not always the case in the past — it is essential that they have proper representation at board level on ESA?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat as an cheist, a Chomhalta.  Irish-medium education and integrated education are at the heart of our education system.  They are integral parts of education.  They are no longer standing outside education being referred to on a needs basis.  They are now part of the education system, and the reason for that is that we have a statutory duty, under the law, to ensure that we promote and facilitate Irish-medium education and, indeed, integrated education.  That is not going to change with the ESA Bill.  That statutory duty will also be placed upon ESA, regardless of its membership.  Apart from those set out under the heads of agreement, membership has yet to be finalised in the sense that there are to be four community appointments to the board.  So, there is a statutory duty on my Department and there will be a statutory duty on ESA which, I have no doubt, will continue to copper-fasten Irish-medium education and integrated education as a part of our education system.

Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP

I thank the Minister for his answer.  However, I am very concerned that he is not looking at amending the membership of ESA, which does not directly include the teaching fraternity.  Will he support the Bill being amended, so that we get head teachers or principals into the body of ESA?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

We could end up with an ESA board consisting of several dozen people representing every sector of education, everyone who works in education, everyone who wants to be involved in education and everyone who thinks that they know something about education.  Teachers are very important, and teachers' voices will continue to be heard in education. 

The role of the ESA board is to be a strategic delivery body for education.  It will have a duty to consult all its stakeholders, and teachers are a crucial stakeholder in education.  It will have to consult all the unions and everyone out there on its programmes of work and how it delivers education.  So, no one's voice is not going to be heard, but it is impractical to have a strategic body with a board that consists of everyone.  That just does not work.

One of the reasons why the boards have become outdated is that a 35-person board running a body does not work.  It did work for a time and, in fairness to the boards, they brought us through some very difficult times in our collective history, and they continued to deliver education through those times, but we have to bring forward a modern mechanism to deliver our education system.  I believe that the board, as currently constituted under the draft legislation, is the way forward.  The board will have a duty to consult everyone.

Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green

Given that the Minister has just made it clear that the integrated sector and the Irish-medium sector are now part of our education system, why have they not been given a place on the board of ESA?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I am sure that I would hear the same argument from the voluntary grammar sector and others around why they have not been given a place on the ESA board.  I repeat what I said to Mr Bradley.  They are an integral part of education.  The ESA board is not there as a representative body of everybody in education.  The ESA board's responsibility will be to deliver the key services to our education sectors.  It will have statutory duties placed on it around Irish-medium and integrated education, it will have other duties placed on it to ensure that it delivers a fair and equitable service to everyone, and it will have a duty to consult the people it serves.  Everyone's voice will be involved in ESA.  However, it is impractical and would, I think, be a mistake to have every representative body around the ESA table.  It is not a negotiating mechanism:  it is a delivery body for education.