Educational Underachievement

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 18th October 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Trevor Clarke Trevor Clarke DUP 2:30 pm, 18th October 2021

T6. Mr Clarke asked the Minister of Education for an update on progress to implement the recommendations in ‘A Fair Start’ to deal with educational underachievement. (AQT 1686/17-22)

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. That was a commitment in New Decade, New Approach, which was brought forward by my predecessor. We have got to the stage now of having a report with a long-term action plan containing 47 actions spread across six years and beyond. The focus of the report is very much on early years. My Department has begun to look at implementation of the report and an action plan. A programme board has been established. Three meetings have taken place to date, and a schedule of meetings has been agreed. Senior responsible officers have been established for each of the eight key areas identified in the report.

Due to the cross-cutting design of the report, there was representation on the programme board from a number of Departments and arm's-length bodies. A stakeholder reference group has been established to support the programme board to develop and refine the actions. That includes trade union representation, schools and community groups. I have allocated £4 million in this year's budget to begin the work, and I am pleased to report that two of the 47 actions are already being delivered.

Photo of Trevor Clarke Trevor Clarke DUP

I thank the Minister for her answer. She referred to New Decade, New Approach. Has there been any firm budgetary commitment from the Finance Minister that the funding necessary to take the recommendations forward will be present for the baseline for 2022-23?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

Unfortunately not. As I said in a previous response, the Northern Ireland block is facing considerable pressure next year and beyond to meet the financial costs of Education, Health and other Departments. I have met Executive colleagues, including the First Minister and deputy First Minister and the Economy Minister. I have meetings set up with the Minister for Communities, and I am meeting the Health Minister tomorrow.

I wish to express the importance of delivering on this cross-cutting report. Commitments to implementing 'A Fair Start' and the action plan can only be fully delivered with additional funding. In recent years, as I have said, my Department has been relying on significant additional in-year resources to meet inescapable pressures, but, for me, 'A Fair Start' is an incredibly important piece of work. I want to ensure that, unlike other reports that have been put on a shelf, there is a pathway forward and that we see significant work coming out of it. We need to make a long-term commitment if we mean what we say, in that we do not want to have further underachievement, particularly for our young boys. It is something that I and my party are committed to.