MINUTES OF THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTH MEETING OF THE EDUCATION COMMITTEE IN ROOM 135, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS ON THURSDAY 4 JULY 2002
Mr D Kennedy (Chairman)
Mr S Wilson (Deputy Chairman)
Mrs E Bell
Mr T Hamilton
Mr G McHugh
Mr K Robinson
Mr J Fee
Mr T Gallagher
Mr O Gibson
Mr A Maginness
Mr Mitchell McLaughlin
Mrs C Darrah (Committee Clerk)
Ms M Austin (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr D Stevenson (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Christopher Henderson (Clerical Assistant)
Ms Gillian Kane
Ms Alison Montgomery (Assembly Research Directorate for item 4(xiii))
The Committee met at 10.35 a.m. in private session.
The Chairman informed members that Mr Mitchell McLaughlin had replaced Mr Barry McElduff on the Education Committee.
The Chairman also informed members that Mrs Valerie Artt, Assistant Clerk, had left the Education Committee Office and appreciation for all her hard work, co-operation and assistance was expressed.
1. Minutes of the Meetings of 25 June 2002 and 27 June 2002
The minutes of the meetings of 25 June 2002 and 27 June 2002 were agreed.
2. Matters Arising
(i) A copy of the agreed Committee response to the Minister of Education regarding his proposals for the Capital Allocation Process had been circulated.
(ii) Copies of letters to the Minister of Education on a number of issues discussed by the Committee were circulated at the meeting for information.
(iii) Mr McHugh proposed that as part of the Inquiry into Early Years Learning, Mr M McPhillips, a researcher at Queen's University Belfast, should be invited to give formal evidence. The Committee agreed to consider the matter as part of the autumn work programme.
3. Chairman's Business
(i) The Chairman informed the Committee that a response had been received from the Minister of Education regarding issues raised by Grammer School Principals in relation to the consultation process being undertaken on the Burns Proposals. The Committee considered the response and agreed to provide a copy to the Grammar School Principals.
(ii) The Chairman advised members that a response from the Minister of Education to questions raised by the Committee for Employment and Learning regarding the implementation of the recommendations contained in the Review of Careers Education and Guidance had been received. The Committee agreed to forward the response to the Committee for Employment and Learning. The Minister explained in the response that he wished to consult on the recommendations in the Review Report before proceeding with implementation and he had formally requested views of the Committee. Following a short discussion the Committee agreed to commission research to assist consideration of the issues.
(iii) The Chairman informed the Committee that the Minister of Education had written outlining his decision regarding Mosside Primary School, Ballymoney. The Committee noted the reasons for the decision.
(iv) A response from the Minister of Education to correspondence from Mr S Elliott regarding a reference in 'The Effects of the Selective System of Secondary School Education in Northern Ireland' was noted. A further letter from Mr Elliott was circulated at the meeting and the Committee agreed to forward the letter to the Minister of Education requesting that he respond directly with Mr Elliott on the issues as the document was published by the Department of Education.
(v) The Chairman informed members that a response from the Minister of Education regarding industrial action being taken by teachers' unions had been received. The Committee noted that the three unions involved in industrial action had decided to continue despite the establishment of an Independent Inquiry into Teachers' Pay and Conditions of Service. The Committeee expressed disappointment that one union felt it was appropriate to instruct members not to collect dinner money and agreed to forward a copy of the Minister's response to the organisation that had raised the issue.
(vi) The Chairman advised members that a response from the Minister of Education regarding the consultation process in relation to a development proposal and the Department of Education's policy with regard to primary school inspections had been received. The Committee noted the response and agreed to forward a copy to the Steering Committee of the Concerned Parents of Newport Primary School who had raised the issue. The Committee also welcomed the proposed statutory requirement to consult with parents that was included in the Education and Libraries Bill.
(vii) The Committee noted a response from the Minister of Education regarding the Reviews of Literacy and Numeracy and the Bureaucratic Burden Research Report and agreed to monitor the situation and consider the matter further when the Reports were available.
(viii) A letter from the Minister of Education outlining his proposal to further defer the transfer of responsibility for funding Voluntary Grammar and Grant Maintained Integrated Schools to the Education and Library Boards had been circulated. The Committee noted the intention to defer the transfer of funding until the outcome of the Review of Public Administration was known and agreed to write to the Minister to express concern regarding the number of Reviews being undertaken which appeared to defer or prevent decisions being made.
(ix) The Chairman advised members that the Clerk to the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development had written regarding that Committee's concerns about the proposed criteria to be used to admit pupils to Post-Primary schools contained in the Burns Report. The Committee agreed to forward the letter to the Minister of Education.
(x) The Chairman informed members that a copy of a Public Petition in relation to the reduction of funding to Knockloughrim Primary School, Magherafelt which was laid in the Assembly on 24 June 2002 had been received. The Committee agreed to write to the Minister of Education regarding the matter.
(xi) A letter from the Chairman of the Committee for Employment and Learning giving an update on the position in relation to accommodation at Stranmillis University College had been received. The Committee noted the situation and welcomed the undertaking from Dr Birnie to keep members informed of future progress.
(xii) A response from the Minister of Education regarding the cost of the Threshold Award Scheme and the appeal procedures for those teachers who were unsuccessful in obtaining a Threshold Award had been circulated. The Committee considered the response and agreed to write to the Minister of Education to request further information in relation to appeals. Members again expressed concern about the cost of administering the scheme.
(xiii) The Chairman informed members that a letter from the Clerk to the Committee of the Centre regarding the recommendations of that Committee's Inquiry into the Approach of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Devolved Government on European Issues had been received. The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Education regarding a number of the recommendations contained in the Report.
Mr K Robinson joined the meeting at 11.00 a.m.
(xiv) The Chairman informed members that a response from the Minister of Education regarding a press article referring to a possible legislative loophole allowing the removal of the 11-plus without the need for the support of the Assembly had been circulated. Following a short discussion the Committee agreed to seek further clarification of the matter.
(xv) The Chairman informed members that responses from the Minister of Education and the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) in relation to the withdrawal of the Edexcel Examination Board from Northern Ireland had been received. Mr Wilson declared an interest registering that he was a part-time employee of CCEA. The Committee briefly discussed the matter and noted the action that had been taken by CCEA to minimise disruption.
4. Committee Business
(i) Proposals for handling the Committee Stage of the Education and Libraries Bill had been circulated. The Committee considered and agreed the proposals which included inviting written submissions from interested organisations/individuals. Members also agreed to contact the Clerk to highlight any particular issues or concerns.
(ii) A copy of the Minister of Education's response to the recommendations made in the Committee Report on the Proposals for a Common Funding Formula for Grant-Aided Schools in Northern Ireland had been circulated together with a draft copy of the Common Funding Scheme and a draft copy of the Guidance on the Financial Arrangements for Controlled and Maintained schools. The Committee agreed to consider the response and proposals in detail after the summer recess and to commission a paper on the issues from the Specialist Advisor.
(iii) A copy of a response from the Minister of Education to the Committee's comments on the proposed bids for the next round of Executive Programme Funds and details of the bids had been circulated. Members noted that the priority order of the bids reflected the view's of the Committee.
(iv) The Committee discussed the Executive's Position Report and agreed that an extension of time until early September should be requested to enable a response on the Programme for Government to be fully considered at the first meeting after the summer recess. The Committee also agreed to request an up-date from the Department of Education on progress being made on the relevant actions and targets in the Programme for Government and Public Service Agreement.
(v) A response from the Minister of Education to the Committee's comments on the draft Service Delivery Agreement had been circulated at the meeting. The Committee agreed that a paper highlighting any issues or changes that may require further consideration should be prepared.
(vi) A consultation document on a Review of the Schools Community Relations Programme 2002 was circulated at the meeting. The Minister of Education had written seeking the views of the Committee and members agreed to commission a research paper on the issues and consider the matter further in the autumn.
(vii) The Chairman advised members that an advert inviting tenders for the research commissioned by the Committee on selection and Post-Primary Education had recently appeared in the newspapers. The tenders would be evaluated during the summer recess, and in the circumstances, the Committee agreed that the Chairman, or in his absence Deputy Chairman, could authorise the appointment on behalf of the Committee.
(viii) The Committee considered details of possible educational researchers to consider and advise on the practical implications of the Burns Proposals. After a short discussion, the Committee agreed arrangements for the appointment.
5. Date and Time of Next Meeting
The next meeting of the Committee was scheduled for Thursday 5 September 2002 at 10.15 a.m. in Room 135, Parliament Buildings.
The Committee was adjourned at 11.55 a.m.