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Education: Chief Inspector’s Annual Report

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 22nd November 2016.

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Photo of Gerry Kelly Gerry Kelly Sinn Féin 2:30 pm, 22nd November 2016

T5. Mr Kelly asked the Minister of Education to outline the key messages in the Chief Inspector’s annual report. (AQT 520/16-21)

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

The Chief Inspector will hold schools to a very high standard of account. A mixed picture emerged from the report, which talked about there being much to celebrate in our system. Primary schools have remained on a steady but fairly high level, and we have seen improvement in post-primary schools. However, the report also challenges us, saying that not everything that we have is fit for purpose. In part, that is because we need to ensure that educational resources are focused very directly on that.

The report highlights the need to ensure that opportunities for early intervention to make wider changes need to be taken. It is a useful document in the way that it drills down into that. While the inspectorate receives its budget directly through the Department of Education, it is an independent organisation. At times, schools will be a little frustrated at the level of its independence. It is important that we acknowledge that schools are delivering against a very tight financial background, and some have been very successful. Some are improving, and some are remaining the same, despite the fact that their budgets are tighter.

Photo of Gerry Kelly Gerry Kelly Sinn Féin

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as an fhreagra sin. I thank the Minister for his answer. I appreciate that he will look at underachievement, but will he be a bit more specific about how the report will focus him and his Department on the issue?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP 2:45 pm, 22nd November 2016

Obviously, this is a key part of the PFG targets as well. It is important that, if we are looking at what actions are taken on underachievement, they are seen against a baseline of data that shows where some of the problems are. That is where the scoping exercise comes in. The other advantage is that the inspectorate, albeit against toughening conditions from a budget point of view, can give snapshots not simply of where we are today but of where we were in 2014 and 2012 etc. I have to say that, while there are challenges, there are encouraging messages as well. For instance, we have seen a driving-up of standards, particularly with improved exam results amongst those on free school meals. That is to be welcomed. We need to embrace the gains and see where there are further gaps. It gives a statistical basis and, indeed, a professional judgement basis for deciding what actions need to happen next. That is why it is a very important document.

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy Deputy Speaker

Time is up. We must now move on to questions to the Minister of Finance.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

Can I make a point of order?

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy Deputy Speaker

No. Points of order are not permitted during Question Time.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

Sorry. Thank you.