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T1. Mr Aiken asked the Minister of Education what approach he is taking to improve the educational attainment of our post-primary pupils given that, this morning, a report by the Ulster University on the knowledge economy stated that our GVA, driven by our intellectual capital, has dropped from 10·3% to 9·7%, equivalent to a loss of £400 million to our economy and, more worryingly, indicates that we are on a downward trend. (AQT 516/16-21)
If Brexit is to blame, perhaps you can blame some of your colleagues as well.
Some of those issues are directly relevant to the economy, but they underline the need to ensure that there is a review of the curriculum. We have considerable success, particularly on IT issues. For instance, when we looked at the scope of exams that were available from exam boards at GSCE level, one of the direct concerns raised by Queen's University was what would be on offer if we excluded the exam boards from outside Northern Ireland. The exam in IT and computer science offered by CCEA was not as skills-based, which is why I took action to ensure that the examinations system was opened up again. That was done to try to ensure that we have the most appropriate choice to build on that skills base.
There is a wider job of work, as indicated, with the curriculum for the Department of Education and the Department for the Economy, working alongside those who have a degree of expertise at post-primary and tertiary levels.
There are wider Executive discussions on funding. Let us be honest: there is a difficult financial regime, so we have to ensure that we get the best possible value for our money. There will be serious engagement with the Department for the Economy and with the Minister for the Economy.
A number of steps have been taken, particularly on the skills barometer and the careers advisory side, as part of a good model of joint working between the Department of Education and the Department for the Economy. There is always the accusation that Departments operate in a degree of silo mentality, and the Department for the Economy and the Department of Education, through actions such as that, show that there can be a level of cooperation to tackle those problems.