End of Session Report 09/10

REMIT, POWERS AND MEMBERSHIP OF THE COMMITTEE

The Committee for Education is a Statutory Departmental Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of the Belfast Agreement, Section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Standing Order 48.

Statutory Committees have been established to advise and assist the appropriate Minister on the formation of policy in relation to matters within his/her responsibilities. Specifically, the Committee has power to:

  • consider and advise on departmental budgets and annual plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;
  • consider relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee stage of primary legislation;
  • call for persons and papers;
  • initiate inquiries and make reports; and
  • consider and advise on matters brought to the Committee by the Minister for Education.

The Committee has 11 members, including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson, and a quorum of 5. The membership of the Committee is as follows:

Mr Mervyn Storey (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson) 1,2
Mr Dominic Bradley 3
Mrs Mary Bradley
Mr Trevor Lunn
Mr John McCallister
Mr Basil McCrea
Miss Michelle McIlveen
Mr John O’Dowd
Ms Michelle O’Neill
Mr Alastair Ross 4

KEY ACTIVITIES, OUTPUTS AND ACHIEVEMENTS

INTRODUCTION

The Committee focused on a number of key issues during the 2009/10 session including:

  • Primary legislation – the Education Bill arising from the Review of Public Administration (RPA) of Education
  • The Convergence Delivery Plan
  • Education Budget 2009/10 and 2010/11, including In-Year Monitoring
  • Special Educational Needs and Inclusion Policy Proposals and Consultation
  • Education Budget 2010 (for period 2011-15)

In addition the Committee considered a range of other policy issues, such as:

  •  
    • primary school and preparatory department funding;
    • STEM Review recommendations and implementation;
    • the Revised Literacy and Numeracy Strategy;
    • the Minister’s Capital Projects Review; and
    • support for Nurture Education.

The Committee also scrutinised a number of Statutory Rules. The Committee for Education and the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety held a concurrent meeting to receive a briefing from the NI Association for Mental Health on its Report entitled ‘A Flourishing Society’.

The Committee also undertook scoping work for a possible Committee inquiry into the ‘Key Characteristics of Successful Post-Primary Schools Serving Disadvantaged Communities’.

The Committee held 34 meetings in Parliament Buildings, 14 of which were partly in closed session (generally to consider legal advice). The Committee also visited Ballysally Primary School (Coleraine), Bunscoil Bhean Mhadagáin, ( Belfast), St Dallan’s Primary School (Warrenpoint), Holy Family Primary School (Londonderry) and Longstone School (Dundonald).

RPA Implementation – the Education Bill, the Education Bill No 2 and the Convergence Delivery Plan

The Committee agreed its Report to the Assembly on the Committee Stage of the Education Bill (NIA 3/08) 5 following clause-by-clause scrutiny at a further five meetings during September 2009, which considered a number of key Committee concerns. The Report recommended amendments as follows:

  • The number of ESA Members should be increased from 7-11 to 15-20;
  • The Members of ESA as a group should be representative of the community in Northern Ireland (so far as practicable);
  • ESA Committees and the form and content of Schools’ Schemes of Management should be provided by way of Regulations;
  • That the power to modify employment law by Order should be exercisable only where a draft Order has been laid before and approved by the Assembly; and
  • That important Regulation and Order making powers in the Bill should be subject to draft affirmative resolution by the Assembly.

The Committee’s Report also requested urgent action to address a number Controlled Schools Sector issues, including establishing a Sectoral Support Body for Controlled Schools, the outstanding Review of Employment Opportunities for Teaching Staff (including Fair Employment Exemption) and the need for ESA to establish/review policy on redeployment in the context of its status as the single employer of all school-based staff.

The Committee welcomed the Department’s agreement ‘in principle’ to the Committee’s request for Regulations providing for Schools’ Schemes of Employment. However the Committee could not recommend this until it had considered the draft Regulations presented in 7 October 2009, but did agree to recommend in its Report that such Regulations should be subject to the draft affirmative procedure.

The Committee had briefings in October 2009 on the draft Education No 2 Bill which would provide for ESA’s area-based planning role, the Education Advisory Forum, the Controlled Schools ownership body, and on the draft Employment Schemes Regulations.

A total of 97 amendments and 7 oppositions to clauses standing part of the Bill have been tabled on the Education Bill in anticipation of the Minister moving the Consideration Stage. The Minister acknowledged ‘the Bill has not reached Consideration Stage and the agreed operational date of 1 January 2010 is no longer achievable’ in a statement to the Assembly on 1 December 2009 and outlined her plans for ‘convergence’, including a reduction in the number of E&LB members. This led to the publication of the Convergence Delivery Plan in February 2010 to generate significant E&LB administration savings. In the course of a series of regular briefings on Convergence from 3 March 2010 onwards some Members raised concerns such as appointment arrangements (and delays) for the reduced number of Council Members of Boards and that the plans for Convergence were being processed without proper consultation with fully reconstituted Boards. Some changes were made to the original Council Membership of reconstituted Boards. The Committee scrutinised in particular the extent to which the significant savings from the Convergence Delivery Plan could achieve the savings already built into the Education Budget which were to have flowed from the establishment of ESA, that is, some £8.3million in 2009/10 and £13million in 2010/11. The Department’s Budget briefings were routinely extended to include an update on progress with the Convergence Delivery Plan and when it was likely to produce actual savings.

Education Budget 2009/10 and 2010/11, including In-Year Monitoring

The Committee had 10 briefings on the 2009/10 and 2010/11 education budgets including in-year monitoring, reflecting the growing financial pressures and the savings which had to be achieved, including cuts announced to pay for swine flu measures of which the Department of Education’s share was £11.3million resource and £2.1million capital.

The Committee scrutinised in early December 2009 the Department’s capital budget position, which highlighted significant capital pressures in 2010/11 with major costs of PPP projects coming on stream and a very high level of outstanding school building maintenance. When the result of the Minister’s Review of all capital projects within the Education Investment Delivery Plan was announced in late June 2010, it transpired that projects had not been ranked in priority order for allocating capital funding and when money becomes available that a further exercise would be required to determine such a priority. The Committee continued to press the Minister and her senior officials to clarify the position on major capital projects and an announcement was made by the Minister on 5 August 2010 of 13/14 school builds to proceed in 2010/11.

On 14 January 2010 the Minister wrote to the Committee outlining the Executive’s draft Revised Spending Plans for 2010/11 which required savings from the education budget of £51.7million recurrent and £22million capital, and sought the Committee’s input on potential areas where savings could be made. Although unsighted by the lack of information from the Department on what the ‘front line’ impact would be of reductions in proposed specific education budget streams, the Committee, following significant scrutiny, agreed a detailed response on 5 February 2010. Informed by its own scrutiny of the Review of SEN & Inclusion (detailed below), the Committee suggested that a substantial proportion of the £24.3million allocated to ‘capacity building’’ on foot of the SEN Review could be used to address priority pressures elsewhere– a suggestion reflected in the Minister of Education’s 21 April 2010 announcement that only £8.3million would be allocated to SEN Review implementation in 2010/11.

Education Budget 2010 process (for period 2011-2015)

The Committee received an initial briefing on 30 June 2010 from senior Departmental officials on the DE position on Budget 2010, which included projected quantified inescapable pressures in six areas for the 2011-2015 period. The Committee agreed arrangements for engagement with DE on the Education Budget in the context of the Budget 2010 process for July, August and early September 2010 – this included requests for copies of the full DE returns to DFP of 30 July and 26 August and an early meeting of Committee (during recess) on 1 September dedicated to scrutinise the DE spending savings proposals and allowed the Committee to provide its initial views to the Minister of Education prior to the Executive Committee meeting of 9 September 2010.

The Committee has demonstrated through its scrutiny of the 2009/10 and 2010/11 budgets and monitoring rounds, that it gives a high priority to its budget scrutiny/advice role and emphasized to the Minister that it will continue to do so in relation to the future Education Budget, particularly in the context of the forecast significant budget challenges within Budget 2010. In June 2010 the Committee commissioned a briefing paper from Assembly Research on the possible appointment of a specialist budget advisor to the Committee to further enhance the Committee’s scrutiny and advice to the Minister.

SEN & Inclusion Policy Proposals and Consultation

The Department launched the consultation on its SEN & Inclusion Policy Proposals in August 2009. Both the policy proposals themselves and the decision to launch the consultation in the middle of the school holidays were a cause for concern among Committee Members and key stakeholders and this led the Committee on 7 October 2009 to call on the Minister to extend the consultation period - which she did and indeed extended it again, such was the level of public interest in this consultation.

The Committee published three briefing papers on SEN on the Committee’s web-pages to inform the public debate. In a positive response to the very large volume of correspondence from both stakeholder organisations and from parents of children with SEN, the Committee agreed to host an ‘SEN Event’ on 20 January 2010. This aimed to provide a high profile platform, particularly for parents but also for key stakeholder organisations, and to assure them that their voice was being heard. Senior Departmental officials provided those attending with a summary of the policy proposals; this was followed by a critique of the proposals by a panel of stakeholder experts and a very lively roving microphone Q & A from the audience of some 170 in the Great Hall in Parliament Buildings. Those parents and organisations attending welcomed the Committee’s initiative in hosting an event which delivered an effective platform for their concerns. The Committee’s made its own detailed written response to the Department’s proposals and included some of the stakeholder/parent contributions from the Great Hall event. The Committee visited Longstone Special School, Dundonald to see at first hand the teaching of pupils with Special Educational Needs.

The Department will provide the Committee with an analysis of the unprecedented level of consultation responses as well as the Department’s proposals on the way forward in light of those responses.

Subordinate Legislation

The Committee considered, and through briefing and Q&A sessions with Department officials, approved five proposed statutory rules during this report period, including, for example, the Education (Levels of Progression for Key Stages 1, 2 and 3) Transitional Order (NI) 2010 where some of the Committee’s comments on the policy development were able to be taken on board in the draft Order presented to Committee.

Other policies scrutinised
  • Revised Literacy and Numeracy Strategy - The Committee questioned representatives of the Literacy and Numeracy Taskforce and highlighted various concerns including the lack of progress in completing the Revised Strategy.
  • Draft Early Years (0-6) Strategy - The Committee was disappointed with a briefing from DE officials on this long awaited and much anticipated Strategy and raised substantial concerns over nine areas of the draft Strategy. The Committee will consider the Minister’s response to these concerns and the outcome of the public consultation on the draft Strategy in the Autumn 2010 session.
  • Implementation of STEM Review Report Recommendations - The Committee raised on two occasions with DE officials the lack of progress in implementing the recommendations which fall to DE to take forward – it received assurance that implementation was being progressed with direct involvement of key stakeholders. – A draft Government STEM Strategy consultation has now issued.
  • Primary School and Preparatory Department Funding - The Committee continued to press DE to increase funding to Primary Schools and the Minister announced a 3.1% increase in funding per pupil for 2010/11 compared to the previous year. The Committee strongly questioned the proposal to discontinue funding to Preparatory Departments and the Minister, following consultation, announced a reduction in funding by one third rather than removal of all funding.
  • Nurture Education - The Committee heard directly from the NI Nurture Network and Members were impressed by what they observed during visits to Nurture Units in three schools in June 2010 – the Committee will consider the funding of Nurture Education in the context of the outcome of the SEN and Inclusion Review in the Autumn 2010 session.
  • Scoping possible Committee Inquiry ‘Successful Post-Primary Schools Serving Disadvantaged Communities’ – The Committee held briefing sessions with DE senior officials and the ETI Chief Inspector and has scheduled a briefing from the Head of the Regional Training Unit in September 2010. The Committee will consider finalizing its terms of reference for this Inquiry in the Autumn 2010 session.
  • Replacement Schools/Maintenance Backlog – during this session the Committee has closely monitored the Department’s response to numerous letters from staff, governors and parents about the delay in replacing or repairing schools, including, for example, Bunscoil Bheann Mhadagáin ( which the Committee visited and wrote to the Department about) and Whitehouse Primary School (whose petition the Committee agreed the Chairperson would present to the Speaker in plenary session for onward transmission to the Minister of Education –shortly after receiving the petition the Minister authorised work to proceed on a replacement school for Whitehouse).
  • DE Data Security and Data Protection issues – the Committee has monitored the Department’s implementation of its action plan to address shortcomings highlighted in the Department’s own Internal Auditor’s Report and will be briefed on progress on this and a number of other data security/Data Protection issues in Autumn 2010 session.
Likely Key Priorities for the Next Session

The Committee’s top key priorities for the Autumn session will undoubtedly be its scrutiny of the Education budget in the context of Budget 2010 and the closely associated Convergence Delivery Plan. Other key priorities for scrutiny will include the SEN & Inclusion Strategy, the draft Early Years (0-6) Strategy and the Committee’s Inquiry on ‘Successful Post-Primary Schools Serving Disadvantaged Communities’.

Annex A

Committee for Education – Expenditure for the period
1 September 2009 – 31 August 2010

Budget Area
Details
Expenditure
Committee Travel – Committee members and staff travel and subsistence in relation to visits and meetings outside Parliament Buildings Includes the cost of 5 Committee vists:
  • St Paul ’s High School, Bessbrook (June 2009)
  • Longstone School , Dundonald
  • Ballysally Primary School , Coleraine
  • Holy Family Primary School, Londonderry
  • St Dallan’s Primary School, Newry
  • Bunscoil Bheann Mhadagáin, Belfast
£835.81
Printing of Committee Reports Includes the cost of Committee Reports on:
  • Education Bill
£4064.97
Advertising – the cost of public notices relating to Committee inquiries, the Committee stage of Bills and meetings held outside Parliament Buildings  
£0.00
General expenses Great Hall Event - Review of Special Educational Needs and Inclusion ( £2031.50 ) Cost of refreshments for Committee meetings, working lunches, seminars, witness expenses
£3802.88
   
£8703.36

1 On 13 April 2010 Mr Jonathan Craig ceased to be a Member of the Committee for Education

2 On 12 April 2010 Mr David Hilditch ceased to be a Member of the Committee for Education

3 On 12 April 2010 Mr Dominic Bradley ceased to be a Deputy Chairperson pf the Committee for Education

4 With effect from 14 September 2009 Mr Jonathan Craig replaced Mr Edwin Poots and Mr Alastair Ross replaces Mr Nelson McCausland as Members of the Committee for Education.

5 The Bill was referred to the Committee by the Assembly on 8 December 2008 and the Committee Stage was extended by the Assembly until 30 September 2009, reflecting the very significant changes which the Bill would introduce. The Bill’s overall purpose : ‘A Bill to provide for the establishment and functions of the Education and Skills Authority; to make further provision about education, educational services and youth services; and for connected purposes’.

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