MINUTES OF THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE NINETY FOURTH MEETING OF THE EDUCATION COMMITTEE IN ROOM 135, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS ON THURSDAY 25 APRIL 2002
Mr D Kennedy (Chairman)
Mr S Wilson (Deputy Chairman)
Mrs E Bell
Mr J Fee
Mr T Gallagher
Mr O Gibson
Mr G McHugh
Mr K Robinson
Mr T Hamilton
Ms P Lewsley
Mrs C Darrah (Committee Clerk)
Mrs V Artt (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr D Stevenson (Clerical Supervisor)
The Committee met at 10.35 a.m. in private session.
1. Minutes of the Meeting of 18 April 2002
The minutes of the meeting of 18 April 2002 were agreed.
2. Matters Arising
i. 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 Infrastructure Funds had been circulated. Members noted that as recommended by the Committee a bid to take account of the needs of small rural schools would be made and a copy of the final bids would be provided in the near future.
ii. A copy of a letter from the Minister of Education regarding the North South Ministerial Council Educational Sectoral meeting which had taken place on 11 April 2002 had been circulated. The Committee noted that summary papers which the Minister had undertaken to provide to the Committee following a previous meeting were being updated to take account of the recent meeting. The Minister had provided pre-publication copies of the Reports by the Taskforces established in Northern Ireland to assess current provision and identify areas for development in Autism and Dyslexia. The Reports would be launched on 7 May 2002 and members had been invited to attend the event.
Mrs Bell and Mr Fee joined the meeting at 10.45 a.m.
iii. The Committee noted the response from the Minister of Education to the Committee's comments on the Review of School Information and Prospectuses and agreed to request clarification of the timescale for receipt of the draft Regulations.
Mr Robinson joined the meeting at 10.50 a.m.
iv. A copy of a response from the Minister of Education to the Committee's comments on the draft Household Response Form and the draft Detailed Response Booklet had been circulated. The Committee discussed the response in detail and agreed that a draft reply covering the issues raised should be prepared for consideration at the next meeting.
3. Chairman's Business
i. A letter from the Northern Secretary of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation thanking the Committee for its support for an Independent Inquiry into Teachers' Salaries and Conditions of Service which had been announced by the Minister of Education had been circulated. The Committee expressed disappointment that the Minister had not informed the Committee formally of his intention to establish the Inquiry before issuing his decision in a Press release and agreed to seek further information regarding the timescale and membership of the Inquiry.
ii. The Chairman briefly updated members on his meeting with the Minister of Education and the Permanent Secretary regarding the issue of pay differentials for Principals and Vice-Principals. He advised members that a note of the meeting and copies of related correspondence would be circulated in the near future.
Mr Fee left the meeting at 11.10 a.m.
iii. The Chairman informed members that he had received a letter from the Principal of Belfast Royal Academy on behalf of 64 Grammar School Principals seeking a meeting with the Committee to discuss the recommendations of the Burns Report. The Committee agreed that arrangements should be made for representatives of the group to meet the Chairman and Deputy Chairman. Other members would attend if available.
iv. The Chairman advised the Committee that arrangements had been made for the Chairman and Deputy Chairman to meet with representatives of the Dyspraxia Foundation on Monday 29 April 2002 at 11.30 a.m. The meeting would be held jointly with members of the Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee. Arrangements had also been made to meet representatives of Youthnet at 4.00 p.m. that day. He invited any available members to attend the meetings.
4. Discussion with Representatives of CCMS on the Capital Building Process
The Chairman welcomed Mr McArdle and Mr Lundy to the meeting to discuss the Capital Building process. A short presentation by the officials was followed by a question and answer session covering:
- the timescale for CCMS to identify and submit priorities to the Department of Education for each year's Capital Building Programme;
- guidance provided by the Department of Education on the number of priorities to be put forward and the required state of readiness of projects;
- the process by which CCMS identified its priorities for each year's programme;
- why some identified priorities were not ready to proceed and did not receive funding in the Capital Building announcement;
- how much information was provided to individual schools;
- the method and costs involved in producing an Economic Appraisal; and
- the use of PPP versus traditional procurement routes for capital building purposes.
The Chairman thanked the representatives for the very informative discussion and they left the meeting. Arrangements were being made for a meeting with the Minister of Education and Departmental officials to discuss the 2002 Capital Programme and an analysis of the Capital Building Allocation and the Contenders List for the last three years and a synopsis of the comments made by the Education and Library Boards and CCMS would be prepared for the Committee.
5. Briefing by Representatives of the North Eastern Education and Library Board on it's Financial Difficulties - Public Session
The Chairman welcomed Mr Currie, Chairman, Mrs Christie, Vice-Chairman, Mr Topping, Chief Executive and Mr McCurdy, Chief Finance Officer to the meeting to discuss the serious financial difficulties facing the 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 NEELB representatives outlined the current position and the key issues. This was followed by a question and answer session which covered:
- the very serious financial position facing the NEELB;
- the likely consequences of the current situation including teacher redundancies,
- severe reductions in services and schools going into deficit;
- the higher than average cost of teachers' salaries faced by the NEELB;
- the need to retain a higher percentage of funding at the centre to cover non-delegated costs such as transport and absence cover, the increased cost of which was outside the Board's control;
- the proposed funding for CASS which was less than 5 years ago;
- the effects of the current arrangements for TSN funding on the NEELB position; and
- the need for adequate core funding for schools .
The Chairman expressed the Committee's concern and recognition of the Board's current financial difficulties and advised the representatives that members would consider carefully what action could be taken to address the problem bearing in mind the needs of the other four Education and Library Boards. He thanked the representatives for the very useful discussion and they left the meeting.
The Committee agreed to request clarification regarding what action or assistance the Department of Education was considering and what action had been taken to resolve the financial difficulties of Boards in the past.
Mr Wilson left the meeting at 12.58 p.m.
6. Committee Business - Private Session
i. The Committee considered a response to the Department of Education's Draft Budget Position Report and following a discussion agreed the response with one addition.
ii. The Committee agreed that the discussion on the Review of Government Office accommodation should be deferred until the next scheduled meeting.
iii. The Committee agreed that the initial response to the Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee regarding the Children (Leaving Care) Bill covered all the necessary issues and it did not wish to submit any further comments.
7. Date and Time of Next Meeting
The next meeting of the Committee was scheduled for Thursday 2 May 2002 at 10.15 a.m. in Room 135, Parliament Buildings.
The Committee was adjourned at 1.00 p.m.