Appointment of an Expert Panel to Examine Links between Persistent Educational Underachievement and Socio-economic Background

Part of Ministerial Statements – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 10:45 am on 28th July 2020.

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Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP 10:45 am, 28th July 2020

I am just glad that the Member did not work West Tyrone into the question.

I am very aware of that, and that is why there have been some initial degrees or steps in terms of catch-up that I referred to in the statement, just to bring it back to that. That is why there has been, for instance, principal support for the Engage programme, which is particularly focused on learning recovery. That is why, as part of this Budget, which predated COVID, there has been additional support for mental health, for instance, that will go into schools.

The Member makes a valid point. The news that the devolved institutions will receive additional money is welcome, and I am sure that the Member will agree with me that that is an added bonus of being part of the United Kingdom. An additional £600 million has been allocated. Obviously, as part of that, there is a process that is ongoing, and, within that, the Finance Minister has started to seek Departments' views on where, they believe, there are additional pressures as a result of COVID. Undoubtedly, the restart of education will be one of those, and we will supply the Department of Finance with estimated figures. In that sense, our approach may be slightly different from that of the Republic of Ireland. However, it is undoubtedly the case, as with the Republic's announcement, that, if additional money is to be put in, it needs to be supplied centrally by the Executive. Certainly, if there is anything in the ballpark of what has happened in other jurisdictions, that will need to be done. I am committed to arguing that case, albeit that there will be many competing demands, I suspect, on whatever budgets are available to the Executive.