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:
1 With effect from 31 March 2008 Mr Nelson McCausland replaced Mr Jeffrey Donaldson as a member of the Committee for Education.
2 With effect from 20 May 2008 Mr John O’Dowd replaced Mr Paul Butler as a member of the Committee for Education.
3 With effect from 10 June 2008 Mr Mervyn Storey replaced Mr Sammy Wilson as Chairperson of the Committee for Education.
4 With effect from 17 June 2008 Mr Edwin Poots replaced Mr Sammy Wilson as a member of the Committee for Education.
5 With effect from 26 January 2009 Mr Tom Elliott replaced Mr Ken Robinson as a member of the Committee for Education.
6 With effect from 22 June 2009 Mr John McCallister replaced Mr Tom Elliott as a member of the Committee for Education.
7 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.
8 On 12th April 2010 Mr David Hilditch was appointed as Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Education.
8 On 12th April 2010 Mr Dominic Bradley ceased to be Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Education.
8 On 13th April 2010 Mr Jonathan Craig ceased to be a Member of the Committee for Education.
9 With effect from 13th September 2010 Mr Jonathan Craig replaced Mr Alastair Ross as a member of the Committee
10 With effect from 8th November 2010 Sir Reg Empey replaced Mr John McCallister
KEY ACTIVITIES, OUTPUTS AND ACHIEVEMENTS
The Committee focused on a number of key issues during the 2010/11 session including:
- The Convergence Delivery Plan
- Education Budget 2010/11, including In-Year Monitoring
- Education Budget 2010 (for period 2011-15)
- Draft Early Years (0-6) Strategy Consultation
In addition, the Committee finalised its scoping work for and undertook its Inquiry into the ‘Successful Post-Primary Schools Serving Disadvantaged Communities’.
The Committee also scrutinised one Statutory Rule.
The Committee held 25 meetings in Parliament Buildings, 7 of which were partly in closed session (generally to consider legal advice). The Committee also visited and held meetings in three schools, Belfast Model School for Girls, St Pius X College, Magherafelt and Drumragh Integrated College, Omagh. The Committee also visited the Belfast Model School for Boys.
Convergence Delivery Plan
Following the Minister of Education’s acknowledgment in a statement to the Assembly on 1 December 2009 that the Education Bill ‘has not reached Consideration Stage and the agreed operational date of 1 January 2010 is no longer achievable’, she outlined her plans for ‘convergence’, including a reduction in the number of Education and Library Board members. During this session the Committee continued its scrutiny of progress made in relation to the Convergence Delivery Plan published in February 2010. The Committee scrutinised in particular the extent to which the Convergence Delivery Plan could deliver the projected significant savings, some £13million, built into the Education Budget for 2010/11. At its meeting on 1 December 2010 the Chief Executive Designate of ESA informed the Committee that overall progress on Convergence had been ‘glacial’, but that work was being advanced in relation to Education Support Services and Educational Welfare Service.
Education Budget 2010/11, including In-Year Monitoring
Following the Committee’s intensive scrutiny of the 2010/11 education budget in the previous session, the Committee continued its scrutiny with two further briefings from DE officials in this session, including in-year monitoring, reflecting the growing financial pressures and the savings which had to be achieved – that is resource savings of £52 million and capital savings of £20 million.
As part of the Committee’s scrutiny of the Department’s capital budget position, it continued to press for clarification of the selection criteria for, and position on, new school builds. The Minister for Education announced on 5 August 2010 that 13/14 school builds should proceed in 2010/11.
Education Budget 2010 (for period 2011-2015)
Following on from an initial briefing on 30 June 2010 from senior Departmental officials on the DE position on the Budget for 2011-2015 and a further meeting of Committee (during recess) on 1 September 2010, the Committee provided its initial views to the Minister of Education prior to the Executive Committee meeting on Budget 2010 of 9 September 2010.
The Committee commissioned a briefing paper from Assembly Research entitled ‘ Education Budget in Other Jurisdictions ’ to provide a frame of reference for its Budget scrutiny which continued throughout the autumn and winter with some 14 Committee sessions. However, the Committee’s scrutiny was limited by the lack of information on the Department’s savings proposals and spending plans for 2011-2015 period and how front line services would be affected, with the Department of Education’s Draft Allocations and Savings Proposals not being published until 13 January 2011. The Committee heard directly from the Minister of Education on her Budget proposals at its Committee meeting on 18 January 2011. In response to the Committee’s detailed request for key budget information, the Department provided some more detail on its savings proposals in its letter to the Committee of 24 January 2011 . However, no spending plans were provided to the Committee. Among the additional expenditure (above baseline) identified by DE in its 25 August 2010 paper was some £235 million redundancy costs, which was not identified as an inescapable pressure in the Department’s letter of 24 January 2011 clarifying the Minister’s proposed Draft Budget. Also, in August 2010 the projected cost for the extension of Free School Meals eligibility criteria was £115 million over the four year period. The Committee raised concerns on this level of expenditure and it was noted that expenditure under this heading in the DE Draft Budget in January 2011 dropped to some £44 million over the four year period.
The Committee repeatedly raised with senior officials the potential savings which could be achieved through staff reductions within the non-permanent education sector workforce numbering some 15,200, without the severance costs associated with staff reductions among permanent staff. However, officials indicated that the Minister would first focus on central management and professional services savings and only then would they consider whether there was potential for reductions in non-permanent payroll costs.
On the basis of the very limited spending plan information, information on the measures to deliver significant savings proposals and the impact of these savings, the Committee agreed an Interim Response on the Draft Education Budget 2011-2015 to the Committee for Finance and Personnel on 28 January 2011. On 15 February 2011 the Committee agreed an updated and Final Response on the Draft Education Budget 2011-2015, which reflected the views of 12 key Education Stakeholders (including the Association of E&LBs Chief Executives, CCMS, Trades Unions and School Leaders) from whom Committee took evidence in a special meeting in the Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings on 9 February 2011. The Final Response on the draft Education Budget 2011-15 was immediately forwarded to the Committee for Finance and Personnel and the Minister for Education. The Committee’s key documents referred to above, including the Hansard records of the session with the Minister on 18 January 2011 and with key stakeholders on 9 February 2011 are available on the Committee’s Budget 2010 (2011-15) webpage.
The Committee considered, and through briefing and question and answer sessions with Department officials, approved the Education (School Development Plans) Regulations (NI) 2010 . In response to the Committee policy scrutiny, the Department amended the accompanying draft guidance to state more explicitly that schools should provide a copy of the school development plan to parents and to reference ‘Equality, Community Relations and Diversity’ in the context of school ethos.
Draft Early Years (0-6) Strategy Consultation
Following a disappointing initial briefing by Department officials on this long awaited draft Strategy consultation document in the preceding session, the Committee wrote to the Minister regarding its concerns and received a substantive response in July 2010 on a range of the issues raised. Following briefings from the NAHT Nursery Education Committee and CiNI’s Early Years Strategic Alliance (EYSA) on 29 September 2010 and from the Early Years Organisation plus a further briefing from DE officials on 6 October 2010, the Committee continued to have serious concerns regarding the Draft Strategy. As a result the Committee hosted an event in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings to provide key stakeholders with a platform to voice their concerns. Senior DE officials were present to summarise key aspects of the draft Strategy and directly answer stakeholder questions. Representatives of NAHT, the Early Years Organisation and CiNI’s EYSA made short presentations outlining their members’ concerns to which DE officials responded. The evening ended with a roving microphone Q&A from the audience of some 160 stakeholders.
Following this event the Committee agreed to move a Committee Motion in the Assembly to highlight what it perceived to be the pressing need emerging from its scrutiny and views of stakeholders, in the following terms:
‘That this Assembly notes the Early Years (0-6) Strategy consultation by the Department of Education and the comments of stakeholders; agrees that there is a clear need for a cross-departmental and holistic approach to early years provision; and calls on the Minister of Education to develop a cross-departmental and holistic Early Years Children’s Strategy and Action Plan which will fully integrate provision for the social, care and educational needs of young children from pre-birth to age six.’
In the course of the debate on the Motion, the Minister informed the Assembly that she had written to the DHSSPS Minister and to both OFMDFM Junior Ministers regarding the need for a broader based strategy. Her letters stated:
‘During the consultation on the draft Strategy, concerns have been expressed that the draft Strategy needs to be broader based and to provide a cross-cutting overview of the Executive’s approach to early years provision. This would cover the social care and educational needs of young children from pre-birth to age six.
Clearly, this proposal is broader than the current Strategy which has a strong focus on learning and education.’
The letters went on to propose meetings with the DHSSPS Minister and both OFMDFM Junior Ministers to consider the implications of this proposal.
The Committee welcomed this development and also the Minister’s decision to extend the Consultation Period to the end of January 2011 and the Committee Motion was approved by the Assembly. The Committee agreed and provided its formal response to the Minister of Education on the Draft Early Years Strategy consultation on 15 February 2011. Again, all the key documents referred to above are available on the Committee’s web page at http://archive.niassembly.gov.uk/education/2007mandate/education_early_years.htm .
Committee Inquiry ‘ Successful Post-Primary Schools Serving Disadvantaged Communities ’ –
Having held briefing sessions with DE senior officials and the ETI Chief Inspector in the previous session, the Committee received a briefing from the Head of the Regional Training Unit in September 2010. The Committee finalised its terms of reference on this Inquiry on 10 November 2010 with the aim:
“To consider examples of successful post-primary schools serving economically and socially disadvantaged communities, identify the key characteristics/factors which contribute to their success and consider how they can be reproduced in schools where they are lacking.”
Having received written submissions from 23 schools, the Committee held oral evidence sessions with ten schools (all with at least 20% of pupils Free School Meal entitled and a ‘relatively’ high level of GCSE pupil attainment) at the Belfast Model School for Girls, St Pius X College (Magherafelt) and Drumragh Integrated College (Omagh).
Committee Inquiry Meeting at St Pius X College, Magherafelt
The Committee also received 27 submissions from other organisations and individuals. The Committee held further evidence sessions with representatives of the Association of Chief Officers of E&LBs on 23 February 2011 and CCMS and the Department’s officials on 2 March 2011. The Committee agreed its Report on the Inquiry on 14 March 2011 which included key recommendations in relation to the process of selecting effective school leaders, the need to enhance quality school engagement with parents and the wider community, and that the Department of Education, where appropriate, develops policy on a fully integrated basis with other relevant Government Departments in relation to services for children’s education needs..
On the 14 th March the Committee ordered to print its Inquiry Report and agreed to move a Committee Motion, which was approved by the Assembly. Again, all the key documents and the Committee’s Report and Hansard record of 21 March debate can be found on the Committee’s Inquiry web page.
Other policies scrutinised
- Revised Literacy and Numeracy Strategy - The Committee continued to highlight its concern regarding the delay in publication of the revised Strategy. The Committee now understands the Strategy is to be published on 22 March 2011
- SEN & Inclusion Policy Proposals and Consultation - The Department has yet to provide the Committee with its written analysis of the unprecedented level of consultation responses on the draft SEN Policy and the Committee awaits the Department’s proposals on the way forward in light of the consultation responses.
- Implementation of Report of the STEM Review’s Recommendations and draft Government STEM Strategy- The Committee sought updates on progress towards the implementation of the Report’s DE recommendations within both documents.
- DE Data Security and Data Protection issues – Continuing its scrutiny on this issue from the previous session the Committee was briefed by DE officials on progress at its meeting on 15 September 2010. The Committee requested that it be provided with copies of the data management sections of the extended Quarterly Assurance Statements to be provided by the Accounting Officers of Arms Length Bodies such as E&LBs, on foot of the recommendations of the Internal Audit Report Progress Report on Security of Data in ALBs and their Beneficiaries.
Likely Key Priorities for Education in the next Assembly
These are set out in the Committee’s ‘Legacy Report ‘.
Mr John Mulholland