MINUTES OF THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE EIGHTY FIFTH MEETING OF THE EDUCATION COMMITTEE IN ROOM 135, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS ON THURSDAY 21 FEBRUARY 2002
Mr D Kennedy (Chairman)
Mrs E Bell
Mr T Gallagher
Mr O Gibson
Mr T Hamilton
Mr B McElduff
Mr K Robinson
Mr S Wilson (Deputy Chairman)
Ms P Lewsley
Mr G McHugh
Mrs C Darrah
Miss J Adair
Mr D Stevenson
Ms S O'Neill
The Committee met at 10.47 a.m. in private session.
The Chairman informed members that Mrs Artt was unwell and it was agreed that he would write expressing the Committee's best wishes for a speedy recovery. He also thanked Ms Adair for assisting at the meeting.
1. Minutes of the Meeting of 14 February 2002
The minutes of the meeting of 14 February 2002 were agreed.
2. Matters Arising
A copy of the Chairman's letter to the Minister of Education expressing the Committee's concerns and seeking further clarification regarding the length of time taken to make progress on the issue of pay differentials for Principals and Vice-Principals had been circulated for information.
Information provided by the Department of Education regarding its return for the February Monitoring Round had been circulated. The Committee noted the position regarding funding to enable the CCEA to make the necessary improvements to its computer systems.
3. Chairman's Business
The Chairman advised members that copies of a letter from the First Minister and Deputy First Minister seeking the Committee's views on the proposed Terms of Reference for the Review of Public Administration had been circulated. Following a short discussion the Committee agreed to commission research on the draft Terms of Reference and parameters to assist its consideration of the matter.
The Chairman informed the Committee that the Ulster Teachers' Union had written to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee regarding concerns about the cost of processing the Teachers' Threshold Arrangements.
The Chairman of the Committee for Regional Development had written seeking the Committee's views on the proposed Regional Transportation Strategy. The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Education seeking its comments on the proposed Strategy particularly in relation to the Safer Routes to School Initiative and consideration of staggering school opening and closing times.
An invitation to all Committee members to attend the launch of the Racial Equality in Education Conference Report on Wednesday 27 February 2002 had been received. Members agreed to inform the Clerk if they wished to attend.
An invitation to all Committee members to attend the launch of the North and West Belfast District Childcare Partnership on Thursday 28 February 2002 had been circulated. The Chairman advised any members who wished to attend to contact the Clerk who would inform the launch organisers.
Copies of a Northern Ireland Audit Office Report on Indicators of Educational Performance and Provision were circulated at the meeting. The Committee noted that the Public Accounts Committee intended to hold a hearing on the report in April and requested information on the precise date of the proposed hearing.
The Chairman informed members that arrangements had been made for he and the Deputy Chairman to meet with representatives of Fivemiletown High School and Community College on Monday 25 February 2002, and later that day, with representatives of Ballynahinch Regeneration Committee on behalf of Assumption Grammar to discuss Capital Buildings needs. He invited any available members to attend the meetings.
4. Consideration of Proposals to assist the Committee in assessing the Burns Report and the Review of Post Primary Education
The Committee considered a paper outlining proposals to assist in its consideration of the Burns Report and the Review of Post Primary Education. The Committee agreed the proposals including writing to a number of the Statutory Committees seeking views and comments on relevant aspects of the Burns proposals and inviting written submissions from a wide variety of education bodies and organisations. The Committee also agreed a bid for commissioned research to be submitted to assist the Committee in its consideration of specific aspects of the Review.
5. Consideration of the Draft Video and supporting materials relating to the Review of Post Primary Education
(i) The Committee considered a draft response to the Minister of Education on the draft video and supporting materials relating to the Review of Post-Primary Education. The response highlighted a number of concerns regarding the content and format of the video. The response was agreed subject to three amendments.
(ii) The Committee discussed the issue of reported comments by the Deputy Chairman on the draft video and supporting materials relating to the Review of Post-Primary Education which had been provided by the Minister of Education in strictest confidence. Members expressed their concern about the matter and it was agreed that the Chairman would raise the issue with the Deputy Chairman.
6. Discussion with the Minister of Education on the Schools Capital Building Programme 2002
The Chairman welcomed the Minister of Education and his officials, Mr Nigel McCormick, Mr Maurice Whitten and Mr Paddy McNally to the meeting to discuss the Schools Capital Building Programme 2002. Before giving his presentation, the Minister reminded the Committee that some of the information to be discussed was strictly confidential and should not be disclosed. He also raised the issue of reported comments by the Deputy Chairman of the Committee on the draft video and supporting materials relating to the Review of Post-Primary Education which had been provided to the Committee in strictest confidence. The Chairman informed the Minister that the Committee was also concerned and disappointed about the matter and he intended to discuss it with the member.
The Minister of Education outlined the available funds for the Schools Capital Building Programme 2002, the process followed and the contenders for the programme. A detailed discussion took place during which the main issues covered included:
- the decision-making process in identifying projects to be taken forward by conventional funding;
- the projects identified by Education and Library Boards as priorities and the need to ensure that they were sufficiently developed to be contenders;
- the link with Programme for Government targets;
- the funding of Special Schools Capital needs;
- options for identifying and taking forward Capital Programmes through PPP Projects including 'bundling' of smaller projects;
- progress made with last years PPP announcements; and
- the timing of this years announcement.
The Chairman thanked the Minister and his officials for the detailed discussion and Mr McCormick, Mr Whitten and Mr McNally left the meeting.
The Committee agreed that the Clerk should prepare a draft response on the 2002 Capital Building Programme for consideration at the next meeting. The Committee also agreed that arrangements should be made for the Education and Library Boards to attend a meeting to discuss the Capital Building process and answer questions.
7. Discussion with the Minister of Education on the Draft Video and supporting materials relating to the Review of Post Primary Education
The Minister of Education was joined by Departmental officials, Dr Mark Browne and Mr Leslie Ashe, to discuss the Committee's concerns about the video on the Burns proposals and the Review of Post Primary Education. A number of issues and questions were raised regarding the content of the video. The Committee also advised the Minister that a written response had been agreed and would be submitted to him without delay. The Minister undertook to consider the points and concerns raised and reply as soon as possible. He also agreed to provide the Committee with a final copy of the video prior to its release in April 2002.
The Chairman thanked the Minister and his officials for the discussion and they left the meeting.
8. Date and Time of Next Meeting
The next meeting of the Committee was scheduled for Thursday 28 February 2002 at 10.15 a.m. in Room 135, Parliament Buildings.
The Committee was adjourned at 1.08 p.m.