Committee for Education

Agreed General Record of Informal Meeting - Wednesday 1 April 2020

Mr Chris Lyttle MLA (Chairperson)
Ms Karen Mullan MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Robbie Butler MLA
Mr Maurice Bradley MLA
Ms Catherine Kelly MLA
Mr Daniel McCrossan MLA
Mr Justin McNulty MLA
Mr Robin Newton MBE MLA

Mr William Humphrey MLA
In Attendance: Mr Peter McCallion (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Mark McQuade (Assistant Clerk)
Mr Ian McAdam (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Ed McCann (Clerical Officer)


The informal meeting commenced at 9.49am – all Members, staff and officials joined the meeting by teleconference.

1. Coronavirus contingency plans – Department of Education – Oral briefing

Department of Education officials joined the informal meeting by teleconference at 9.57am:

Mr Derek Baker, Permanent Secretary, Department of Education
Mr John Smith, Deputy Secretary, Department of Education

Officials briefed the Committee on the Department’s response to the coronavirus.

This was followed by a question and answer session.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for their attendance.

The Committee informally agreed to write to the Department seeking:

  • a written update on the 6 Major Emergency Response Plan workstreams: examinations, distance learning, school meals, vulnerable children, pay, key workers;
  • a weekly oral covid-19 response update including progress in respect of: end of year funding issues; the planned substitute teacher hardship fund; the joint childcare paper; the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for special schools; the package of measures that CCEA is to bring forward in respect of examinations; the volunteering / school cluster arrangements (and the consequent likely level of school opening over Easter and following this);
  • information on school and childcare settings including the numbers of staff and children attending and the number of establishments that remain open;
  • information on the number of children and staff engaged in distance learning; and
  • an update on the planned or possible use of the schools’ estate in order to support the covid-19 response by the Department of Health including using vacant schools as testing centres etc..

The Committee informally agreed to write to the Department seeking:

  • an update on the Education Authority / Health and Social Care Trust progress in ensuring Special School pupil health and educational needs are identified and met;
  • an update on the Department’s / Education Authority’s general communications with parents, community groups and Special Schools principals in order to address pupil needs and re-open Special Schools, as appropriate;
  • an update on the delivery of measures (including but not limited to PPE provision) in order to assist Special Schools to re-open; and
  • an assessment of the numbers of Special Schools that are likely to open either partially or wholly and the timescale for this.

The Committee also informally agreed to write to the Department seeking an update on how EOTAS provision is being supported during the lockdown including the provision of PPE for EOTAS settings e.g. Loughshore Educational Resource Centre.

The Committee informally agreed to write to the Department requesting clarification as to whether the new examinations arrangements will be covered by the existing recognition of qualifications agreements between the UK and other countries.

The Committee informally agreed to write to the Department suggesting that communication be developed for children highlighting the seriousness of the covid-19 outbreak; and that support for the emotional health and mental well-being of children be enhanced during the covid-19 lockdown period and the effects of isolation be studied in the future. Further to this, Members suggested that the Department bring forward a programme in collaboration with the Department of Health and including organisations such as Childline, Barnardo’s and other appropriate charitable and statutory partners to ensure every child feels safe and has an outlet during this extraordinary crisis.

The Committee informally agreed to write to the Department suggesting that consideration be given to waiving or reducing school fees for parents in line with reductions in school overheads during the covid-19 lockdown period.


2. Chairperson’s Business

2.1 Legislative Consent Motion

The Committee informally noted the Deputy Chairperson’s contribution to the Legislative Consent Motion debate on 24 March 2020 on the passage of the Coronavirus Act 2020.

2.2 Westminster Education Committee Inquiry

The Committee informally noted the launch of an inquiry into the Department for Education’s covid-19 response by the Westminster Education Committee.

2.3 Resumption of Formal Committee meetings.

The Committee informally agreed to resume formal meetings in line with Standing Order 115 from 8 April 2020. Members also informally agreed to review the format and frequency of such meetings regularly in order to optimise safety and efficiency. The Committee informally agreed that meetings would ordinarily deal exclusively with covid-19 issues with a very few exceptions e.g. the Department’s 2020-21 budget.


3. Draft Minutes

The Committee informally agreed that the minutes of its meetings held on 18 March 2020 and 23 March 2020 were an accurate and complete record of proceedings.


4. Matters Arising

There were no matters arising.


5. Correspondence

5.1 The Committee noted an index of incoming correspondence and deferred consideration of most of the correspondence until its next formal meeting on Wednesday 8 April 2020.

5.2 The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Finance regarding the Budget. The Committee informally agreed that it was content to forward a template to the Department of Education for completion and that it would receive oral briefings on the budget on 22 April 2020 and 3 June 2020.


6. Forward Work Programme

As above, the Committee informally agreed to revise its Forward Work Programme and consider oral update briefings from the Department of Education on covid-19 on a weekly basis with an oral update on the budget from the Department on 22 April 2020 and 3 June 2020.


7. Any Other Business

There was no other business.


8. Date, Time and Place of next meeting

The Committee informally agreed to meet again in formal session on Wednesday 8 April 2020 at 9.45am by teleconference with the Chairperson in the Senate Chamber, Parliament Buildings.

The informal meeting was adjourned at 11:56am.

Following consideration of the General Record of the informal meeting of 1 April 2020 (this document) by Members and in line with Standing Order 115(9), the Chairperson confirmed that that which was informally agreed above should be taken forward as formal agreements of the Committee for Education.

Mr Chris Lyttle MLA
Chairperson, Committee for Education
15 April 2020

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