Minutes of Proceedings
Date: 26 November 2008
Venue: Room 144, Parliament Buildings
The Chairperson opened the meeting at 10.05 am in public session.
Apologies are detailed above.
2. Minutes of the Meeting of 19 November 2008
Agreed – the Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting of 19 November 2008.
3. Matters Arising
(a) The Committee noted the Department of Education’s response regarding future funding of the Bookstart Programme in Northern Ireland.
Agreed – The Committee agreed to forward the Department’s response to Mrs Iris Robinson MP MLA and to Ms Liz Canning.
Mr McCausland joined the meeting at 10.07am.
(b) The Committee noted the Department of Education’s response on the points raised by the Climate Change Coalition Northern Ireland in correspondence in March 2008.
(c) The Committee noted the response from the Department of Education to the Committee’s letter of 6 November 2008 raising a number of questions in relation to the how the Department went about attracting research proposals.
(d) The Committee noted the response from the Department of Education to the Committee’s letter of 12 November 2008 regarding the funding of the ICAN Centre, Ballynahinch.
Agreed – The Committee agreed to forward a copy of the Department’s reply to the Committee for Health Social Services and Public Safety highlighting concerns regarding the ICAN Centre’s 2009-1010 funding.
(a) The Committee noted the correspondence from Mr David Lewis.
Agreed – The Committee will forward Mr Lewis’ letter to the Department of Education for comment and clarification on the issues raised.
(b) The Committee noted the ‘Equality Focus for MLAs’ November newsletter from the Equality Commission.
(c) The Committee noted the correspondence from the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) regarding the funding of new contracts for classroom assistants .
Agreed – The Committee will forward NICIE’s letter to the Department requesting a detailed response and write to NICIE advising them of this.
(d) The Committee noted the correspondence from Ms Kate Early regarding the TTRS computer programme.
Agreed – the Committee would forward Ms Early’s correspondence to the Department seeking its comment.
(e) The Committee noted the copy correspondence from Armstrong Primary School to the Minister of Education.
Agreed – The Committee agreed to write to the Department requesting a copy of the Minister’s response to Armstrong Memorial.
(f) The Committee noted the correspondence from the Committee for Regional Development regarding school transport provision.
Agreed – The Committee agreed to forward a copy of the correspondence to the Department.
(g) The Committee noted the correspondence from the Committee for Finance and Personnel regarding terms of reference for its scrutiny of public procurement practice in Northern Ireland .
Agreed – The Committee agreed to request a briefing note from the Department of Education outlining its response to the terms of reference outlined at point 2 in the correspondence from the Committee for Finance and Personnel.
(h) The Committee noted the correspondence from the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation inviting the Chair or a representative to its Northern Conference on 27 February 2009.
Agreed – The Committee agreed to defer consideration to a future meeting.
(i) The Committee noted the following Departmental press releases: ‘Pride in Community leads to a Better Society – Ruane’; ‘Learning for Life and Work Vital for our Future’; ‘Education and Training Inspectorate Reports on Learning Environments’
5. Departmental Budget Briefing and December Monitoring
John McGrath, Deputy Secretary, Catherine Daly, Head of Finance Division, Eugene Rooney, Head of Development and Infrastructure Division and Rosin Lilley, School Finance Branch, joined the meeting at 10.14 am.
The Chair reminded the Departmental Officials of the importance of their briefing papers being provided to the Committee in advance of the meeting rather than only being made available the evening before or on the morning of the meeting.
The witnesses gave a presentation on the Department’s Budget, including the 2008 Strategic Stocktake, the Department’s Efficiency Delivery Plan and Investment Delivery Plan for 2008-2011, the 2008-2009 December Monitoring proposals and answered questions on a number of issues including: the current procurement framework and the rationale for the framework approach; the impact of a recent legal case on the progress of school building projects and alternative procurement options for projects which might be delayed; the advantages and disadvantages associated with the different procurement options including facilitating community use of school facilities; the impact of a delay in school infrastructure projects on the construction sector; the challenges of aligning budgets with expenditure accruing from policy reviews such as Irish Medium Education; the funding of early retirements; the timetable for completion of the Stocktake and how any money allocated as a result might be used; the impact on capital receipts of the credit crunch/decline in property prices; the reasons for the £0.6M funding surrendered in respect of Innovation Fund monies; how and specifically where the 3% efficiency savings required of the Department of Education are achieved; the reasons why the Targeting Social Need element in the youth funding formula was reduced from 15% to 10%; the efficiency savings to be achieved in Grammar School prep departments and the relationship with the ‘Bain Report’.
The Chairperson thanked the witnesses for an informative briefing and Catherine Daly, Eugene Rooney and Roisin Lilley left the meeting at 11.28 am.
Mr Bradley left the meeting at 11.28am.
6. Departmental Briefing on Education Bill
John McGrath, Deputy Secretary, was joined by Chris Stewart, Head of Review of Public Administration at 11.29am and gave a briefing on the Education Bill arising from the RPA of Education and the envisaged role of the Education and Skills Authority (ESA) and answered questions on a range of issues including: the anticipated timetable for the passage of the first Education Bill, the introduction and passage of the second Education Bill and Commencement Order arrangements; the impact of the Bill on the ‘voluntary’ sector’s autonomy; the greater autonomy to be given to Boards of Governors generally under the ESA and the enhanced support and training which will consequently be available for governors; the role of the ESA compared to CCMS or the E&LBs and the support and advice that the ESA will deliver from local area offices; the power/duty of the ESA to support and as necessary intervene in individual schools; the role of local councillors on the ESA as the means of providing democratic accountability, the level of expertise required by ESA members and the role of local committees; the capacity of the E&LBs to manage the transition period effectively, the role of the ESA in managing the transition to new post-primary transfer arrangements and the timing of the appointment of the second tier of senior management in the ESA; the level of protection of terms and conditions for employees of Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) and Comhairle Na Gaelscolaiochta (CnaG) after transfer to ESA; the consequences of transfer of responsibility for vocational qualifications to the ESA; flexibility in procurement arrangements for schools under the ESA; the effect that school building projects already in the pipeline may have on effective area planning.
Mr Bradley rejoined the meeting at 11.33am.
Ms O’Neill left the meeting at 11.39am.
Ms O’Neill rejoined the meeting at 11.42am.
The Chairperson thanked the witnesses for their informative presentation and they left the meeting at 12.31pm.
The Committee agreed to move into closed session at 12.32pm to discuss the Committee’s response at the second stage of the Education Bill which is scheduled for 8 December 2008.
7. Forward Work Plan
The Committee discussed the visit to Portadown College which is hosting next week’s meeting and agreed to revisit the issue of transfer at its meeting on 10 December. It was agreed, at the suggestion of the Deputy Chairperson, to consider a visit to St Paul’s school in Bessbrook in Spring 2009.
8. Date, Time and Place of Next Meeting
The next meeting will be held on Wednesday 3 December 2008 at 10.30am Portadown College.
The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12.45pm