Report on the Education Bill (NIA 14/11-15)
Committee: Committee for Education
Date: Monday, 08 April 2013
Reference: NIA 106/11-15
Mandate Report Number: Mandate 2011/2015 Second Report
Together with the Minutes of Proceedings of the Committee relating to the Report, Minutes of Evidence, and Written Submissions
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 Assembly Standing Order 46. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Minister of Education and has a role in the initiation of legislation.
The Committee has power to:
- Consider and advise on Departmental budgets and Annual Plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;
- Approve relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee Stage of primary legislation;
- Call for persons and papers;
- Initiation inquiries and makes reports; and
- Consider and advise on any matters brought to the Committee by the Minister for Education.
The overall purpose of the Education Bill is ‘to provide for the establishment and functions of the Education and Skills Authority; to make further provision about education, education services and youth services; and for connected purposes’.
The Committee Stage scrutiny of this Bill included consideration of written submissions from 71 organisations; 13 oral evidence sessions and a further 2 informal evidence sessions.
ESA as the employer / single employing authority
A number of clauses and schedules of the Education Bill deal with ESA’s proposed role as employer of all staff in grant-aided schools.
The Department advised that Clauses 3 and 34 which reference the Heads of Agreement could not be operated owing to contradictions within the Heads of Agreement. Specifically, part 5 of the Heads of Agreement indicates that ESA is to be “the single employing authority for all staff in grant-aided schools” while part 10c indicates that where “it is already the case, Boards of Governors will continue to employ and dismiss members of staff”.
The Committee understood that amendments would be required for these clauses. The Committee therefore wrote to the Minister and OFMDFM in January, February and again in March seeking amendments to the Bill or to the Heads of Agreement so as to resolve the problems set out by the Department. The Committee did not receive amendments to the relevant clauses of the Bill or clarification in respect of the wording of the Heads of Agreement. In the absence of responses from the Minister and OFMDFM, the Committee agreed to reserve its position on Clauses 3 and 34.
Additionally a majority of Members felt that all of the clauses and schedules which touch upon ESA’s role as the single employing authority could not be properly scrutinised until these amendments were provided. The Committee therefore agreed to reserve its position on all clauses and schedules (Clauses 4 to 11; 19, 31, 32, 33, 35 to 37; 62 and Schedules 2 to 5) which deal with ESA’s role as the single employing authority for all staff in grant-aided schools.
The Department advised that Clause 13 was designed to allow for the development of a revision to the Education (Modification of Statutory Provisions Relating to Employment) Order (NI) 1991. The Department indicated that a new Order made under Clause 13 is required so that employment law can be modified such that the body which carries out employment functions does so legally.
Clause 13 underpins ESA’s role as the single employing authority of all staff in grant-aided schools. The anticipated regulations are expected to provide much-needed clarity on the relationship between ESA and Boards of Governors in respect of employment matters. In the absence of clarity on these important regulations, Members felt that they should also reserve their position on Clause 13.
Autonomy of schools
Some Members argued that the Bill undermines the autonomy of Voluntary Grammar (and Grant Maintained Integrated) schools. They argued that additional provisions were required to guarantee autonomy and that these should be extended to include schools in other sectors e.g. Controlled Grammar schools which had the capability to manage a higher level of delegation.
Other Members disagreed, indicating that the Bill allowed schools to continue as they are or to seek greater autonomy if they wish and that additional provisions were unnecessary.
As there were significant differences of opinion, the Committee agreed to reserve its position in respect of Clause 12 which deals with salary arrangements in schools.
Some Members also argued that in order to maintain the autonomy of schools, a sectoral body to represent Voluntary Grammar schools and appropriate representation on the Board of ESA was required.
Other Members again disagreed, arguing that the Bill provides for appropriate representation for all educational sectors.
As there were significant differences of opinion, the Committee reserved its position on Clause 63 and Schedule 1.
Irish Medium / Integrated Education
The Committee sought legal advice as to the Department’s current obligations in respect of Integrated Education and Irish Medium Education.
Some Members strongly opposed provisions relating to the promotion of Irish Medium or Integrated Education arguing that they provided unwarranted assistance for certain forms of education which would lead to disadvantage for other sectors – particularly the Controlled sector.
Other Members strongly argued that without additional and proportionate support for Irish Medium Education, the development of a culturally important educational sector would be stifled with far-reaching ramifications in respect of equality and fairness in education. Those Members supported the relevant provisions in the Bill.
A Member also strongly argued that support for Integrated Education was essential to ensure the development of this popular sector in line with parental preference and that failure to do so would in itself be unfair and lead to inequality.
As there were significant differences of opinion, the Committee reserved its position on Clauses 2, 39 and 41. The Committee again reserved its position on Schedule 1 which deals with representation of educational sectors on the Board of ESA.
Some Members highlighted concerns that the Area Planning clauses provided a new and unfettered power to the Department in respect of the development and imposition of Area Plans. Other Members disputed this and argued that the provisions did not greatly alter the current position in respect of Area Planning.
The Committee highlighted concerns in respect of the impact of school closures in rural areas driven by Area Plans. Members strongly felt that there should be protections for strategically important schools which play a vital role in the life of rural communities. The Committee felt that rural-proofing of Area Plans would provide much-needed essential protection for rural communities.
The Committee therefore agreed to make the following recommendation:
The Committee recommends that Area Plans be subject to rural-proofing and that ESA should give proper consideration to the impact on small communities of school closures in rural areas.
The Committee also recognised the crucial importance of consultation in ensuring transparency in respect of the Area Planning process. The Committee therefore agreed to make the following recommendation:
The Committee recommends that a duty be placed on ESA to consult with relevantstakeholders on Area Plans. As a minimum, the Committee expects this to include those stakeholders identified in Clause 28(5) and including in particular the Boards of Governors of all grant-aided schools including Controlled schools; parents; providers of youth services; the staff of grant-aided schools and their representatives; and sectoral bodies.
As significant differences of opinion persisted in respect of the Department’s powers relating to Area Planning, the Committee agreed to reserve its position on Clauses 24 to 30.
Measures of Achievement
In respect of Clause 38, the Committee considered the important role that Boards of Governors play in promoting the achievement of high standards of educational attainment. The Committee strongly felt that many good schools provided a value-added educational experience for children which might not always translate into the highest standards of academic success. The Committee believed that more work needed to be done to ensure that the value added by schools and Boards of Governors to children’s education is better understood. The Committee therefore agreed the following recommendation:
The Committee recommends that the Department undertakes further study on how educational value is added by schools. To that end, the Department should consider the development of measures of achievement for pupils and schools which would complement the existing measures which are based on academic success.
Some Members suggested that clauses referencing inspections should not be included in the Bill at all.
The Committee noted the Department’s clear assertion that the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) was part of the Department and would therefore be part of the mechanism through which Departmental policy would be applied. Some Members felt that the absence of independent control and management of the ETI would prevent reasonable and valuable criticism of Departmental policy. These Members felt that current arrangements prevent ETI from fulfilling its proper role as a critical friend to schools and independent partner in the school improvement process.
The majority of Members therefore agreed the following recommendations:
The Committee recommends that the Department should bring forward legislation which will make the Education and Training Inspectorate a fully independent body which can act as the critical friend and independent improvement partner for all schools.
The Committee recommends that the Department should bring forward at the earliest opportunity measures to enhance the transparency of the Education and Training Inspectorate including a statutory complaints procedures and appeals process.
As there were significant differences in opinion in respect of the powers of the inspectorate and the appropriateness of the inclusion of clauses relating to inspections in this Bill, the Committee agreed to reserve its position in respect of Clauses 44 to 48.
Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA)
Some Members of the Committee expressed concerns that there was an inherent conflict of interests as CCEA was an examining body and also the examinations regulator.
Consequently and in the absence of a satisfactory resolution to these concerns and concerns relating to the appropriateness of the inclusion of clauses relating to CCEA in the Bill, the Committee agreed to reserve its position in respect of Clauses 50 to 54.
Members noted many references in stakeholder submissions to the promotion of collaboration between schools and the facilitation of Shared Education.
Some Members felt that the Department should not miss an opportunity to promote the more efficient use of resources which would be for the betterment of the educational experience for pupils by including duties in the Bill on ESA (and/or the Department and/or sectoral bodies etc.) to promote or facilitate Shared Education. Others felt that in the absence of clarity on the Department’s policy position with regard to Shared Education, it would be ill-advised to
amend the Bill in this regard.
The Committee decided that although it felt that collaboration between schools should be facilitated, the absence of policy clarity would militate against amendments to the Bill.
The Committee therefore agreed to make the following recommendation:
The Committee recommends that the Department and ESA should give consideration to the promotion of collaboration and the sharing of resources between schools regardless of their sector where this will enhance the effective management and efficient provision of education to the betterment of the educational experience for pupils.
The Committee also agreed to seek a Ministerial assurance at Consideration Stage that the Department would implement the Committee’s recommendation.
Members noted possible Ministerial amendments which would alter or clarify the definition of a “Catholic school” and an “Irish speaking school” or “Irish speaking unit”.
As the Committee was not given sight of the relevant amendments, the Committee agreed to reserve its position in respect of Clause 63 and Schedule 7.
The Committee noted a proposed amendment which would allow Transferors to retain their representation on a Board of Governors when a Controlled school merges with a Controlled grammar and chooses to keep a grammar school ethos.
As questions in respect of Transferors’ nominations to Boards of Governors of certain merged Controlled schools remain unresolved, the Committee agreed to reserve its position in respect of Clause 41.
The Committee agreed to recommend the following amendments to the Assembly.
In order to ensure consultation with all relevant sectoral bodies with regard to the establishment of new Controlled schools, the Committee agreed that it would recommend to the Assembly that Clause 18 be amended in the terms set out below:
Clause 18, page 11, line 5, add:
“in consultation with the relevant sectoral bodies - ”
In order to restrict the ancillary powers of ESA, the Committee agreed that it would recommend to the Assembly that Clause 22 be amended in the terms set out below:
Clause 22, page 12, line 19
Leave out from the start of line 19 to “particular” in line 22 and insert -
‘For the purposes of discharging its functions,’
Clause 22, page 12, line 29
At end insert -
( ) The Department may by order amend subsection (1).
In order to restrict ESA’s commercial activities, the Committee agreed that it would recommend to the Assembly that Clause 23 be amended in the terms set out below:
Clause 23, page 12
Leave out lines 41 and 42
Clause 23, page 13, line 27
At end insert -
‘(9) The Department may by order amend the powers granted to ESA under this section.’
Consequential to the above, the Committee agreed to recommend to the Assembly that Clause 65 be amended such that regulations made under Clauses 22 and Clause 23 should be subject to affirmative resolution.
The Committee agreed that although it was to reserve its position on clauses relating to Area Planning, it agreed to recommend to the Assembly an amendment to Clause 65 which would require regulations issued in respect of Area Planning to be subject to affirmative rather than
The Committee also agreed to support in principle Ministerial amendments in respect of: consultation relating to guidance on employment and management schemes and relating to the revision of employment and management schemes; the transfer of all responsibilities to OFMDFM for the Tribunal; a requirement for the inspectorate to share inspection reports with sectoral bodies; and a change such that Transferors will not be restricted to feeder primary schools when choosing governors for Controlled post-primary schools.
The Committee also agreed to support in principle amendments from the Minister of Employment and Learning which would extend the statutory inspection regime to private providers of further and higher education.
The Committee agreed to support a drafting amendment to Clause 69 which will give the Short Title of the Bill as the Education Act (Northern Ireland) 2013.
Agreement of clauses and schedules
As further amendments are required from the Department, where it has agreed a clause or schedule, the Committee has done so subject to consequential amendment.
The Committee agreed that it was content with the following clauses and schedules as drafted, subject to consequential amendment: Clauses 1, 14 to 17, 20 (subject to a Ministerial assurance), 21, 38, 40, 42, 43, 49, 55 to 61, 64, 66 to 68 and Schedules 6 and 8.
The Committee agreed that it was generally content with the level of scrutiny associated with the delegated powers in the Education Bill as currently drafted with the exception of those clauses about which it had reserved its position and those amendments in respect of Clauses 22, 23 and 30 as indicated above.
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