MINUTES OF THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE NINETY SEVENTH MEETING OF THE EDUCATION COMMITTEE IN ROOM 135, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS ON THURSDAY 16 MAY 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)
Mr S Ball (Clerical Assistant)
The Committee met at 10.35 a.m. in private session.
1. Minutes of the Meeting of 9 May 2002
The minutes of the meeting of 9 May 2002 were agreed.
2. Matters Arising
(i) A copy of the agreed Committee responses to the Department of Finance and Personnel on the Review of Government Accommodation and the Committee for Finance and Personnel on its Inquiry into European Structural Funds had been circulated.
3. Chairman's Business
(i) The Chairman reminded the Committee that a meeting had been arranged for he and the Deputy Chairman to meet with a number of Grammar School Principals to discuss the Burns Proposals at 1.00 p.m, after the Committee meeting and all members were invited to attend.
4. Committee Business
(i) A reply from the Minister of Education regarding the Committee's further comments on the Household Response Form for the Review of Post-Primary Education had been circulated. Following a short discussion the Committee agreed to respond regarding several of the points in the letter.
Mr J Fee joined the meeting at 10.50 a.m.
(ii) The Committee briefly discussed the arrangements for considering the Burns Proposals and the Review of Post-Primary Education and agreed to review the situation again at the end of May 2002. The Chairman informed members that the Committee bid for commissioned research was being assessed. As this was the first time the process was operating it was taking longer than anticipated. While the desk-based research could still be completed close to the timescale set by the Committee it was very unlikely that the primary research could be completed before mid-September. The Committee agreed to revise the timescale.
(iii) A copy of a further letter received from Mr S Elliott regarding a reference in
' The Effects of the Selective System of Secondary School Education in Northern Ireland' had been received and copies were circulated. Mr Elliott was concerned that there had been a breach of university guidelines on research publication. The Committee agreed to refer the matter to the Minister of Education for consideration as the document was published by the Department of Education.
(iv) The Chairman informed members that the North Eastern Education and Library Board had written thanking the Committee for the meeting to discuss the financial difficulties it was facing and providing details of the percentage budget delegated to schools. Copies had been circulated for information.
(v) A copy of a draft programme for the public Committee meeting to be held in Ballymena on Thursday 30 May 2002 was circulated at the meeting. The Committee agreed that representatives of Ballymena Borough Council, the Chief Executive of the North Eastern Education and Library Board and representatives of the organisations giving evidence should be invited to lunch. The Committee also agreed that consideration should be given to transmitting the proceedings back to Parliament Buildings.
5. Discussion with the Minister of Education on the Capital Building Programme - Private Session
The Chairman welcomed Mr Martin McGuinness, Minister of Education, and Departmental officials, Mr Stephen Peover, Mr Nigel McCormick, Mr Maurice Whitten and Mr Brian Hill to the meeting. The Chairman informed the Minister that the Committee had met with a number of the Education and Library Boards and with CCMS to discuss the Capital Building Programme and a number of issues and questions had arisen. A detailed and robust discussion ensued covering the following issues:
- The decision making process;
- the lack of openness and transparency in the process and the need to provide more information to schools and Boards/CCMS;
- the need to review the process and the guidelines;.
- the stage of advancement at which a project could be included on the contenders list;
- economic appraisals and the advice provided regarding these.
The Minister of Education advised the Committee that proposals to improve the system would be prepared and forwarded for consideration in June. The Committee agreed to monitor the situation and consider the proposals in due course.
Mrs E Bell left the meeting at 12.15 p.m.
6. Discussion with the Minister of Education on the financial difficulties facing the North Eastern Education and Library Board - Public Session
The Chairman welcomed Mr Martin McGuinness, Minister of Education, and the Departmental officials, Mr Stephen Peover, Ms June Ingram and Mr Eric McCloy to the meeting to discuss the financial difficulties facing the North Eastern Education and Library Board in 2002/03.
Mr Robinson declared an interest registering that he was a member of two Boards of Governors of schools in the North Eastern Education and Library Board area.
The Minister advised the Committee that he had met with Board representatives on 15 May to discuss the situation. He explained that the full amount of core funding for 2002/03 had already been distributed and therefore there was no extra funding currently available. He also informed members that his officials would be working closely with the North Eastern Board to clarify the position and identify possible savings and the Department had also embarked on a Review of the Relative Needs Assessment methodology. A question and answer session covered the following issues:
- the need to increase core funding to schools and Boards;
- financial difficulties faced by the other Boards;
- the number of redundancies that could take place in the NEELB area and the reduction in central services;
- the need for urgent action;
- the fact that potential benefits arising from the impact of specific initiatives was being compromised due to the lack of core funding.
The Minister confirmed that a bid would be submitted to the Department of Finance and Personnel for extra funding and the Chairman concluded the session by thanking him and the officials for a useful discussion and asking him to keep the Committee informed of the bid and the timescale etc. The Minister and officials left the meeting and the Committee agreed to write reiterating the difficulties being faced and the need for urgent action.
7. Committee Business (continued) - Private Session
(i) A copy of the Public Sector Energy Committee's First Annual Energy Report 1999-2000 referred by the Committee for Finance and Personnel had been circulated. The Committee agreed that no further action was necessary.
(ii) A copy of a response from the Minister of Education to the Committee's comments on the draft Budget Position Report and the finalised Budget Position Report had been circulated. Members noted that the Minister of Education has taken account of the Committee's priorities. The Committee agreed to defer a discussion of the matter until a later date to allow members the opportunity to study the papers in detail.
(iii) A copy of a response from the Minister of Education on the Independent Inquiry into Teachers' Pay and Conditions of Service was circulated at the meeting. The Committee agreed to write again seeking further clarification of a number of points and emphasising the need to avoid further delay.
8. Date and Time of Next Meeting
The next meeting of the Committee was scheduled for Tuesday 28 May 2002 at 12.30 p.m. in Parliament Buildings.
The Committee was adjourned at 12.50 p.m.