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EastSide Learning

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 23rd January 2017.

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Photo of Sammy Douglas Sammy Douglas DUP 2:15 pm, 23rd January 2017

4. Mr Douglas asked the Minister of Education for his assessment of the importance of community-based initiatives, such as EastSide Learning, in improving education outcomes for children and young people. (AQO 948/16-21)

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

I thank the Member for his question. I believe that community-based initiatives are one of a number of factors that can help improve educational outcomes for pupils, particularly those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. In my experience, irrespective of what community it is, getting a level of community buy-in is very helpful and significant.

The Every School a Good School policy highlights that a good school is one that is connected to its local community. I have met a number of community representatives and recognise the influence that they can exercise and achieve. I have encouraged the West Belfast Partnership Board and the other partnership boards, including the EastSide Partnership, to assist them to share the model of good practice. I also fund the West Belfast Partnership Board, the Greater Shankill Partnership and, indeed, Sure Start. All those can play an important role in the community in helping to tackle that key problem of educational underachievement.

Photo of Sammy Douglas Sammy Douglas DUP

I thank the Minister for his answer thus far. I would certainly concur that he has been very helpful with the various partnerships. I declare an interest as a member of the EastSide Partnership in east Belfast. The Minister is certainly aware of the issues surrounding underachievement, particularly for young Protestant boys. Will he outline what his Department is doing at the moment and maybe plans to do in the future?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

There has been much discussion about that. I welcome some of the improvements that have happened, but a lot more needs to be done to build on it. I produced a paper a short time ago, and we are looking at what we can do to implement that. In tough economic times, I have ensured that the money to fund things like targeting social need has been allocated directly to schools.

We need to take a more imaginative approach. We need to, for instance, focus on how we can imaginatively use the likes of social media. I would like to see a situation in the relatively near future, particularly in encouraging reading, in which we make use of local role models — that has happened at lower levels with the use of sports stars, who have tried to provide a degree of additional aspiration. Also, in the near future, I will be speaking at a conference on the issue of educational underachievement in Bangor that has been organised by a north Down group. That has been in track for a period of time.

It is about building a range of interventions. If a single intervention could sort out a lot of the problems, I think that it would have been done by now.

It is about getting the cocktail of measures that will work in an area and the community buy-in.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

Many community initiatives are delivered by the Youth Service, and many youth workers across Belfast received protective notice this week because of a funding issue. I welcome the Minister's statement today —

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

I ask the Member to come to his question, please.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

Can the Minister give some assurance that he will work with his Department to ensure that, if the money is made available in the budget, those people's jobs will be secure?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

I think that would be the case. That was coming up under question 6. I thank the Member for raising the issue before we reach the 2.30 pm cut-off point.

There has been concern because a letter was put out by an EA official that is essentially protective notice. That is standard practice and happened, for example, two years ago when the budget was at issue because of the welfare situation. It is standard procedure when no budget has been set. Unfortunately, inferences have been drawn from that and, indeed, some have deliberately misinterpreted it. Let me be absolutely clear: first, there have been no cuts whatsoever to that budget; secondly, there has been no decision to make any cuts to it; and thirdly, there is no proposal or intention to make any such cut. That money is currently being allocated. I will have an opportunity to talk with the Committee as regards the wider situation. It appears likely that the budget will simply roll forward in the absence of a budget, which means that money will be spent in more or less the same way as before. This was a precautionary move that had to be taken and is in line with what happened in previous years. I want to give that reassurance because I understand that there is a lot of concern out there at present.

Photo of Andy Allen Andy Allen UUP

How will the Minister support community childcare providers as the most cost-effective childcare option?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

We are working with childcare providers to get the biggest bang for our buck. Given limited resources, we always want to ensure the maximum provision with what we have. Our childcare strategy was ready to go to the Executive, but the Department will work with local childcare providers to provide help and support, as has happened until now.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

The Minister has indicated the need to follow good practice. Can he confirm the total funding that his Department will award to the west Belfast Full Service Community Network education framework and whether he would consider similar funding for the EastSide Learning education framework in order that the good practice instilled in the west can be rolled out in the east?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

I will write to the Member with the exact figures. We always want to get the best practice that is there. Obviously, any opportunity to roll out new initiatives, for example, is extremely limited, given the short time I have left in office. However, it is something that needs to be considered, if not by me, by my successors in title. The Member has put forward a reasonable suggestion.