Capital Build: South Tyrone

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 6th October 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Bronwyn McGahan Bronwyn McGahan Sinn Féin 2:45 pm, 6th October 2015

2. Ms McGahan asked the Minister of Education for an update on capital build projects in south Tyrone, including St Patrick's Academy, Edendork Primary School and the shared education campus in Moy. (AQO 8808/11-16)

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

I was delighted to announce a number of major works capital build projects in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency. The new build project for Enniskillen Model, at an approved cost of £6 million, requires an addendum to the business case owing to design issues. St Patrick's Academy in Dungannon, with an approved business case for £28·7 million, is anticipated to go to on-site this financial year. The Devenish College project has an approved business case for £23·2 million, and the design team appointment is under way. The Portora Royal/Collegiate Grammar business case is currently being prepared, and the business case for Edendork Primary School is anticipated to be approved in this financial year.

There are also a number of school enhancement projects (SEPs) in the constituency area, valued at over £14 million. Those include schemes for Erne Integrated College and Willowbridge Special School in Enniskillen that are on-site and progressing well. A second project for Erne Integrated College is shovel-ready but is being held owing to budget constraints. Projects for Mount Lourdes Grammar and St Michael's College in Enniskillen are currently at the design stage.

Those major works and SEPs represent a significant investment in the constituency, and not only in economic terms, as they will benefit the children and the community in the area. All projects that are not contractually committed to will be subject to funding being available.

The Moy shared education campus for St John's Primary School in Moy and for Moy Regional Primary School is at the business case stage. If approved, the project will be released to construction procurement, subject to funding being available.

Photo of Bronwyn McGahan Bronwyn McGahan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for his reply. It most definitely is a good-news story for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. How many school enhancement programmes has he been able to release for construction so far?

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

In October 2013, I announced the school enhancement projects. The latest position on SEPs is that 40 projects have now had their final design approved, 34 have been released to construction and six are being held owing to budget constraints. Over the past number of months, I have been able to release more projects, of which 22 are on-site, with a further six expected to go on-site by the end of the year. At the start of September, I released a further six projects to move towards construction stage owing to slippages and other capital projects. If I am able to secure funding either internally in the Department from capital or externally, I will move forward the other SEPs as well.

Photo of Neil Somerville Neil Somerville UUP

The Minister may have already touched on this. Does he not find it ridiculous that the shared education projects, such as the one in the Moy, have been put on hold because of issues that have nothing to do with shared education? Does the Minister know when that will be sorted out?

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

I suspect that the Member is referring to levels of progression, and he is correct in one sense. We are not measuring shared education through levels of progression; we are measuring educational attainment through levels of progression across our shared education funding initiatives. They are voluntary, so it is up to schools whether they apply to the scheme. There is £25 million of funds available from the Department, OFMDFM and Atlantic Philanthropies.

It is only right and proper that we measure the educational attainment of our young people through those schemes, as we would through any other scheme. At the very centre of levels of profession is the professional judgement of the teacher. That is at the very centre of it. We are relying on and supporting the professional judgement of teachers to set the progression levels of their pupils. How will we moderate that? We will moderate it through bringing together teachers in a cluster and asking them to moderate the scores that have been given in a number of schools around their area. Over time, that will allow teachers to reach a professional judgement on where a one, two, three, four or five should be graded in the system. That is right and proper.

I know that trade unions have concerns around a range of areas. I am prepared to look at the workload, and I am prepared to look at when, how and for what purposes reporting mechanisms are reported back to my Department or the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA). I think that the outstanding issues can be resolved. Indeed, I am meeting the unions immediately after Question Time to discuss levels of progression again and how we resolve the issues. I think that, with a fair wind and an open mind, we will be able to resolve the issues around levels of progression and that all those schools out there that wish to partake in shared education projects will be able to do so.

Photo of Sandra Overend Sandra Overend UUP

On that point, does the Minister recognise the inequality in the decision to force those schools that want to carry out a shared education project to provide those statistics, when all the other schools are not forced to do that?

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

There are many inequalities in our education system, again highlighted by the Equality Commission's report this morning and how we work out those inequalities to ensure that every young person has an equal opportunity in education, but I do not recognise inequalities in ensuring that a school that wishes to enter a shared education project can do so. It is not being forced. Statutory levels of progression. Statutory assessment. The Education Committee and the Assembly have passed regulations that mean that I, as Minister, have to use statutory assessment. I have no choice in that matter. Statutory assessment is exactly what it says on the tin — statutory assessment. It is not only shared education projects that are required to return levels of progression. All schools, under the law, are required to return levels of progression. There is a union dispute over that. As I said to your colleague, I believe that, with an open mind on both sides, we can resolve the issue and resolve it quite quickly.