MINUTES OF THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE NINETY SECOND MEETING OF THE EDUCATION COMMITTEE IN ROOM 135, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS ON THURSDAY 11 APRIL 2002
Mr D Kennedy (Chairman)
Mr S Wilson (Deputy Chairman)
Mrs E Bell
Mr J Fee
Mr T Gallagher
Mr O Gibson
Mr T Hamilton
Mr B McElduff
Mr G McHugh
Mr K Robinson
Ms P Lewsley
Mrs C Darrah (Committee Clerk)
Mrs V Artt (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Ms M Austin (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr D Stevenson (Clerical Supervisor)
The Committee met at 10.30 a.m. in private session.
1. Minutes of the Meetings of 19 March 2002 and 21 March 2002
The minutes of the meetings of 19 March 2002 and 21 March 2002 were agreed.
2. Matters Arising
(i) Copies of letters to the Minister of Education on a number of issues discussed at the Committee meeting held on 21 March had been circulated for information. The Committee noted that a response from the Minister of Education to its comments on the Household Response Form in connection with the Review of Post-Primary Education had not been received and agreed that an early reply should be requested.
(ii) Correspondence from the Minister of Education and the Chairman of the Committee for Employment and Learning regarding the condition of buildings at Stranmillis College and the forced closure of the Henry Garrett Building had been received. Following a short discussion the Committee agreed to send a copy of the correspondence to the Principal of Stranmillis College and to ask the Committee for Employment and Learning to keep it informed of developments. The Committee was particularly concerned about the long-term implications for teacher training of sub-standard accommodation at Stranmillis College and the increased need for up-to-date training facilities, particularly in technology, given the proposed changes in the Curriculum.
(iii) A copy of a letter from the Minister of Education in which he indicated that his response to the Consultation Document on a Bill of Rights would be finalised by the end of April had been circulated. Members noted that it would be copied to the Committee for information.
3. Chairman's Business
(i) The Chairman advised the Committee that a letter had been received from the North Eastern Education and Library Board requesting a meeting to discuss the serious financial situation it currently faced. The Committee noted the position with concern and agreed that arrangements should be made for representatives of the Board to attend a Committee meeting in the near future.
Mr McElduff joined the meeting at 10.37 a.m.
(ii) A Department of Education press release regarding the proposed Special Educational Needs and Disability legislation had been circulated. The Committee noted that the timetable for the introduction of the legislation had been revised to allow time for a consultation process to take place and agreed to request further information regarding the process and the revised timetable.
Mr Hamilton and Mr Fee joined the meeting at 10.40 a.m.
(iii) The Chairman advised the Committee that the Interim Report on the Review of Government Office Accommodation was available and relevant extracts had been circulated for members' information. The Committee agreed that arrangements should be made for Departmental officials to attend the meeting scheduled for 18 April to assist consideration of a Committee response on the matter to the Department for Finance and Personnel.
(iv) The Chairman reminded members that the Committee had received an invitation to the NICIE Annual Conference to be held on 27 April. It was agreed that members wishing to attend the event should inform the Clerk.
(v) The Chairman informed members that he had received a letter from the Jigtime Programme of Irish Music for Schools requesting a meeting with the Committee to discuss the promotion and development of the programme. The Committee agreed that arrangements should be made for representatives of the organisation to meet the Chairman and Deputy Chairman. Other members would attend if available.
(vi) The Chairman advised the Committee that the National Association of Head Teachers had requested a meeting to provide an update on the current position regarding proposals for the salary and conditions of service of Principals and Vice-Principals in Northern Ireland. The meeting was scheduled to follow the Committee meeting and he invited all available members to join him.
Mrs Bell joined the meeting at 10.45 a.m.
4. Committee Response
A copy of a draft response on the proposed Terms of Reference for the Review of Public Administration had been circulated. The Committee discussed and agreed the response subject to several additions and one amendment. The Committee also agreed to seek clarification of the status of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education and Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta.
5. Discussion with Departmental Officials on the Department of Education's Draft Budget Position Report
The Chairman welcomed Mr David Woods and Mr Brian Morrow, Departmental officials, to the meeting to discuss the Department of Education's draft Budget Position Report. The officials gave a short outline of the current position. A detailed discussion focusing on Section 3 - the Strategic issues/Key areas and Section 8 - Proposed bids then took place during which covered the following issues were covered:
- whether the Position Report was focusing on the right issues;
- the funding and methods to be used to raise standards of literacy and numeracy and tackle pupil underachievement and the need for early intervention;
- how to reduce the bureaucratic burden for all schools and increase administrative support especially for small schools;
- funding for pupils with Special Educational Needs;
- youth provision in rural areas;
Mr Fee left the meeting at 11.45 a.m.
- ways in which to improve and make better use of the school estate;
- the need to address schools' baseline funding deficits;
Mr Hamilton left the meeting at 11.50 a.m.
- the funding of Community Relations initiatives and the on-going Review;
- the promotion of a culture of tolerance and the statutory requirements surrounding this;
- proposed increases in the Department of Education's administration costs; and
- the need to consider more innovative and radical approaches.
Mr Gallagher left the meeting at 12.25 p.m.
The Departmental officials invited the Committee to submit its comments and views on the issues and priorities to inform further work on the Position Report. They also offered to attend a future Committee meeting to discuss in detail the Department's current expenditure programme. The Chairman thanked the officials for the very useful discussion and they left the meeting.
The Committee agreed that a synopsis of the points raised during the discussion should be prepared for consideration at the meeting scheduled for 18 April 2002 and members should submit any further issues for inclusion in the paper to the Clerk by Monday 15 April 2002. The Committee also agreed that arrangements should be made for Departmental officials to attend a meeting at an early date to discuss the Department's current expenditure programme.
6. Committee Business
(i) The Committee considered a paper setting out arrangements for taking forward its Inquiry into Early Years Learning and agreed that evidence sessions should be held at a number of locations throughout Northern Ireland as well as at Parliament Buildings. The Committee also agreed a draft Press Release which announced the commencement of this phase of the Inquiry. Further publicity would be arranged to coincide with evidence sessions.
(ii) The Committee briefly discussed a Work Programme for April and agreed to give further consideration to a Forward Programme as soon as information regarding the timescale for a number of issues was available. The Committee also agreed that representatives of the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment should be invited to attend a meeting to discuss the proposals relating to the Review of the Curriculum which had just been published.
Mrs Bell left the meeting at 12.50 p.m.
7. Date and Time of Next Meeting
The next meeting of the Committee was scheduled for Thursday 18 April 2002 at 10.15 a.m. in Room 135, Parliament Buildings.
8. Any Other Business
Mr McHugh requested that the minutes should record that he did not agree with Point 3 of the Committee response to the Minister of Education on the Household Response Form.
The Committee was adjourned at 12.55 p.m.