Minutes of Proceedings
Date: Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Venue: Room 144, Parliament Buildings
The Chairperson opened the meeting at 10.05am in public session.
Apologies are detailed above.
2. Minutes of the Meeting of 26 November 2008
Agreed – the Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting of 26 November 2008 and the Chairperson thanked everyone for their contribution to the successful visit to Portadown.
3. Matters Arising
(a) The Committee noted the composite response from the Association of NI Education and Library Boards, Education and Library Boards, NI Youth Forum, Youth Council for NI and Youthnet.
Agreed – the Committee would write to the bodies thanking them for their responses.
(b) The Committee noted Department of Education’s response to the Transferor Representatives’ Council regarding RPA in education.
(c) The Committee noted the letter of thanks and update from Newstart Education Centre.
(d) The Committee noted the Department of Education’s interim response regarding the report on Visual Stress prepared by Mr Gilsenan/Lee Opticians;
Agreed – the Committee would write to Mr Gilsenan enclosing a copy of the Department’s interim response.
(e) The Committee noted the Department of Education’s response to a request from the Committee for Regional Development for information regarding school transport arrangements for children with disabilities;
Agreed – the Committee would forward the Department’s response to the Committee for Regional Development
(f) The Committee noted the Department of Education’s response to the Committee’s letter of 12 November regarding the education performance of young learners;
(g) The Committee noted the letter of thanks and update from the Headteacher of Portadown College, Mrs O’Hare;
(h) The Committee noted a memo from the Department of Education’s Finance Director advising of a further reduced requirement declared in the December Monitoring Round in respect of £0.8 million of Integrated Development funds.
Agreed- the Committee would write to the Department seeking a detailed explanation of why this reduced requirement, and another under STEM funding, arose.
(a) The Committee noted the correspondence from Mr Peter Campbell, Principal of Ballywalter Primary School, regarding the delay in the provision of a replacement school.
Agreed – the Committee would forward Mr Campbell’s letter to the Department seeking its comments on the issues raised and inform Mr Campbell accordingly.
(b) The Committee noted the correspondence from Mr Mulligan, Chairperson of Augher Central Primary School on the difficulties arising from the delay in a proposed school amalgamation;
Agreed – the Committee would forward this correspondence to the Department seeking its comments on the issues raised and inform Mr Mulligan accordingly.
(c) The Committee noted the correspondence from the Youth Council of Northern Ireland regarding an Equality Impact Assessment.
(d) The Committee noted the correspondence received from the Committee for the Environment seeking input from other Departments regarding Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems.
Agreed – the Committee would forward this correspondence to the Department of Education seeking its response and inform the Committee for the Environment accordingly.
(e) The Committee noted the Education and Training Inspectorate’s Annual Business Report 2007-2008.
(f) The Committee noted the Departmental press releases entitled: “Minister announces closure of Maghera High School”, “Assembly supports new education authority” and “Reissue – Straidhavern bid to transform to integrated status turned down”;
Agreed – The Committee would write to the Department in relation to the decision to close Maghera High School, requesting details of the relevant facts and rationale upon which the Minister had reached her decision and questioning whether the decision was premature in light of, in particular, the ongoing work on area-based planning.
Mr Robinson joined the meeting at 10.12am.
(g) The Committee noted the correspondence from Ms Louise Gallagher regarding the proposed closure of St Mary’s High School in Belleek.
Agreed – the Committee would forward Ms Gallagher’s correspondence to the Department seeking its comments on the issues raised and inform Ms Gallagher accordingly.
(h) The Committee noted the correspondence from the Committee for Finance and Personnel regarding its requests to discuss the economic turndown with the four main banks and the Consumer Council;
5. Presentation on Bookstart Programme
Liz Canning, National Development Manager, Bookstart, Trisha Ward, Assistant Chief Librarian, WELB and Kim Aiken, Children’s Services Manager Early Years, NEELB, joined the meeting at 10.20am.
The witnesses gave a presentation on the Bookstart Programme, including the Bookstart Model, positive impacts in NI and, in particular, the need to close the funding gap here. They answered questions on a number of issues, including; the importance of partner bodies dedicating staff, such as library staff and health visitors, to the programme; the anticipated impact of the new Libraries Authority; the content of Bookstart’s various packs, including dual language books, and the best age at which to commence work with children and parents; the effectiveness of the programme including supporting research; the smaller percentage of children that Bookstart reaches in NI compared to the rest of the UK; the relationship with 0-6 strategy and Literacy & Numeracy strategy; the extent of Bookstart’s work with community/voluntary groups; the difficulties with uncertainty about long term funding, particularly in developing the type of strategic partnerships being sought by the Heath Trusts;
The Chairperson thanked the witnesses for an informative briefing and the witnesses left the meeting at 11.05am.
Agreed – the Committee agreed it would write to the Minster of Education regarding a number of issues, including: the benefits to Bookstart of long term funding; the potential for strategic partnerships with health trusts; the need for a coordinated approach between the Departments of Health, Education and Culture; the differences in the level of delivery between NI and the rest of the UK. The Committee agreed that it would copy this correspondence to the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure.
Mr McCrea left the meeting at 11.05am.
Mr McCrea rejoined the meeting at 11.08am.
6. Departmental Briefing on Pupil Records, Reporting and Draft Regulations
Katrina Godfrey, Head of Raising Standards Division, Brian Morrow, and Shirley Sweeney, Raising Standards Division, joined the meeting at 11.08am. The witnesses made a presentation to the Committee on the background to the preparation of the draft Regulations, the consultation on these draft Regulations, the objectives and the timescale for implementation and answered questions on a number of issues including: whether the new approach was an admission that pupil profiles had been a failure; the need to give parents the information they wanted; the piloting of the reporting arrangements proposed and the CCEA survey of parents and its evaluation; the amount of additional time and work involved for teachers, the IT software provided to teachers and its limitations; the arrangements for consultation with parents, teachers and pupils and for ensuring assessment across schools would be consistent and robust; the relative level of prescription between the current and proposed systems, in terms of report content, and the freedom for schools to provide additional information to parents under the proposed system; the relationship between reporting and Early Years strategy; the distinction between ‘formative’ and ‘summative’ information; the relationship between the proposed reports and possible options under consideration for pupil transfer from primary to post-primary schools; the inclusion of INCAS as an element in annual reports to parents and the next steps in the Department’s consultation exercise.
Mr O’Dowd left the meeting at 11.20am.
The Chairperson thanked the officials for an informative briefing and they left the meeting at 12.10pm.
Mr McCausland left the meeting at 12.08pm.
Mr McCausland rejoined the meeting at 12.10pm.
Mr Robinson left the meeting at 12.10pm.
7. Departmental Briefing on Education Bill
John McGrath, Deputy Secretary, Chris Stewart, Head of Review of Public Administration and Jeff Brown, Review of Public Administration Legislation Team, joined the meeting at 12.11pm.
The officials gave a brief presentation on the Education Bill, the two Bill approach, the timetable for passage of the Bills and the need for clarity in acknowledging the Committee’s significant concerns, and answered questions on a number of issues including: the further information required by the Committee, on areas such as sub-regional structures and sectoral bodies (for example the controlled sector body), to enable the Committee to properly scrutinise the Bill; concerns on local accountability of the ESA and the reality of the powers and responsibility to be devolved by ESA to schools; the willingness of the Minister of Education to meet with the Committee; the effect of uncertainty around RPA on the school system; the savings to be achieved through job reductions, rationalisation and centralisation of back-office functions, and the risk of expertise being lost; the need to have the Bill on the statute book by summer 2009 as opposed to the end of 2009.
Mr Robinson rejoined the meeting at 12.16pm.
The Chairperson thanked the witnesses for an informative briefing and they left the meeting at 12.41pm.
The Committee noted the draft Public Notice, draft Letter to Stakeholders and draft list of stakeholders to be consulted.
Agreed – the Committee agreed the text of the draft Public Notice and Letter to Stakeholders. The Committee agreed some additions to the list of stakeholders and that the consultation period would run for a six week period from12 January to 20 February 2009.
8. Post-Primary Transfer – Recent Joint Statement from the four main Churches’ Education Spokespersons and Catholic Heads Association
The Committee noted the issues raised in the statements and the respective positions of the Churches and the Catholic Heads Association. The degree of grass roots support for the Presbyterian Church’s position, which was approved by the Church’s Education Committee, was raised. The Chairperson informed Members that he had discussed the statement with the Education spokespersons of the four main Churches and informed them that in his view raising the option of transfer at 14 was unhelpful in that it was diverting attention from the crisis currently facing P6 children. Members discussed the options for resolving the uncertainty currently facing P6 children, parents, teachers and principals, and highlighted the delay was unacceptable resulting in distress to all. One Member suggested a moratorium for one year and new transfer system to be considered in the medium term. A number of Members expressed concern as to whether any test would be available for autumn 2009, if one were required. The Chair indicated that he was meeting the Chief Executive of the CCEA that afternoon, with the Clerk, and would clarify the position regarding the CCEA test. Finally, the Chair expressed the view that both the statements seemed to endorse, in some form, academic selection, which he believed dealt with the Minister’s argument that academic selection was immoral.
9. Forward Work Programme
The Committee noted and agreed the updated Forward Work Programme.
10. Any Other Business
A Member drew the Committee’s attention to a ‘literacy & numeracy league table’ of countries which had appeared in that day’s Daily Mail, in which Northern Ireland had not been mentioned, although England and Scotland had. The Committee agreed to write to the Department asking why Northern Ireland was not included in this survey.
Another Member asked that Assembly Research and Library Services be commissioned to carry out some research comparing Northern Ireland’s education system performance to other parts of the UK, to Ireland and some other EU countries with comparable systems.
11. Date, Time and Place of Next Meeting
The Committee agreed that the next meeting will be held on Wednesday 14 January 2009 at 10.00am in Room 144, Parliament Buildings.
The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 1.08pm
Mr Mervyn Storey
Chairperson, Committee for Education
14 January 2009