Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 14 October 2009

Venue: Room 21, Parliament Buildings

The Chairperson opened the meeting at 2.02 pm in public session.

1. Apologies

Apologies are detailed above.

2. Minutes of the Meeting of 7 October 2009

Agreed – the Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting of 7 October 2009.

3. Matters Arising

(a) The Committee noted correspondence of 6 October 2009 from the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation seeking an extension to the Department of Education’s consultation period on the SEN and Inclusion Review.

The Chairperson reminded Members that the Committee had discussed the consultation deadline at last week’s meeting and agreed that the Chairperson would write to the Minister for Education to request an extension to the deadline of the consultation. The Committee noted a copy of the Chairperson’s letter of 8 October 2009 to the Minister on this and agreed to remind the Department that the Committee is awaiting a response on this matter.

(b) The Committee noted correspondence of 8 October 2009 from the Department of Education providing clarification on ‘the growing need of the Irish-medium sector’ in relation to the initial teacher intake for 2009/10.

(c) The Committee noted correspondence of 8 October 2009 from the Transferor Representatives’ Council (TRC) regarding concerns on the First Education Bill and the draft Second Education Bill

Agreed – the Committee would forward TRC’s letter to the Department of Education for comment on the issues raised.

Mr Bradley joined the meeting at 2.03pm.

(d) The Committee noted correspondence of 13 October 2009 from the Department of Education on the Review of SEN and Inclusion.

Mr Ross left the meeting at 2.07pm.

4. Correspondence

(a) The Committee noted correspondence of 5 October 2009 from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment inviting comment on the Report of the Independent Review of Economic Policy (DETI and Invest NI).

(b) The Committee noted correspondence of 1 October 2009 from the Frank Buttle Trust enclosing a copy of the Trust’s Annual Review for 2008-2009.

(c) The Committee noted an invitation from Queen’s University to attend a seminar on School Starting Age to be held on Monday 19 October 2009 in the Great Hall, QUB.

(d) The Committee noted correspondence of 7 October 2009 from Ms Martina Anderson MLA requesting an opportunity for the organisation Youthlife to make a presentation to the Committee on its work delivering bereavement programmes for young people and intervention programmes for young people affected by suicide.

Agreed – the Committee would forward Ms Anderson’s letter to the Department of Education for a response on the issues raised and advise Ms Anderson that the Committee will consider the request to present to the Committee once it has received a response from the Department.

(e) The Committee noted correspondence of 8 October 2009 from the Committee for Finance and Personnel enclosing an Analysis of Sickness Absence in NI Departments – 2008/09 produced by the Department of Finance and Personnel.

(f) The Committee noted correspondence of 12 October 2009 from the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment on the Independent Review of Economic Policy (DETI and Invest NI).

5. Departmental Briefing on Open Enrolment and Admissions Policy

Ms Dorothy Angus, Head of Inclusion, Access and Well-being Directorate, Mr Paul Price, Mr Alan McMullan and Ms Alison Thompson, School Access Team joined the meeting at 2.05pm.

Mr O’Dowd joined the meeting at 2.06pm.

The officials gave a presentation on Open Enrolment and Admissions Policy and answered questions from Members on a number of issues, including: the circumstances in which temporary variations to pupil intake numbers are allowed and why schools cannot automatically apply the increased intake number in subsequent years; confirmation that a development proposal to expand a school is the only way to provide a long-term increase in enrolment numbers; school admissions criteria and the role of Boards of Governors (as the statutory admissions authority) in determining admissions criteria; confirmation that the appeals process examines whether there was an error in the way the school has written or has applied its admissions criteria; confirmation that pupils admitted on appeal are supernumerary for one year only and after that the school must subsume those pupils within the overall approved enrolment numbers; whether there is ‘tension’ between the Minister’s transfer to post-primary schools policy objective that the majority of pupils will be going to the nearest local school and the current open enrolment policy; confirmation that 99% of children get their first preference choice at primary school level and 88% of children at post-primary level; the Minister’s intention to review the legislation placing a requirement to give admissions priority to pupils who are resident in Northern Ireland before applicants not so resident; how open enrolment will work with the proposed area-based planning policy in the draft second Education Bill; the impact that the rationalisation of schools in rural areas would have on parental choice; transport policy and travel distance time; home tuition, parent’s preference, non attendance and Attendance Orders.

Mr McCallister joined the meeting at 2.29pm.

Mr McCrea joined the meeting at 2.35pm.

Whether as a consequence of more primary schools not preparing children for the unregulated tests creating an increase in applications for places in non selective schools – the Department may need to provide more temporary variations in enrolment/admissions numbers for some non-selective schools to meet the greater anticipated demand; whether the current open enrolment policy discriminates against children in rural areas; the requirement to manage parental choice in order to maintain it; and the practical application of the recommended ‘free school meal entitlement’ admissions criteria in Transfer 2010.

Mr McCrea left the meeting at 2.59pm.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for an informative briefing and they left the meeting at 3.03pm.

Agreed – the Committee would write to the Department of Education to confirm the request to officials to report back to the Committee on the impact area-based planning policy will have on open enrolment and the possible over subscription of some non selective schools due to the current transfer arrangements may have on the current open enrolment policy. The Committee agreed that open enrolment policy needs to be examined and reviewed as necessary in the light of these issues and other issues raised in this Committee session.

6. Departmental Briefing on the draft Second Education Bill

The Chairperson reminded Members that the Consideration Stage of the First Bill was not moved at the plenary session on 13 October 2009 and that the Minister’s intention to move the Consideration Stage of the Bill on 3 November 2009.

Mr Chris Stewart, Head of Review of Public Administration and Mr Tom Flynn, Principal Economist, Programme Delivery Support Unit joined the meeting at 3.07pm.

Mr McCrea rejoined the meeting at 3.08pm.

The officials gave a presentation on Area Education Plans (Clauses 1 to 8) and answered questions from Members on a number of issues, including: further details on the test of conformity for development proposals within an Area Plan; sectoral engagement in the entitlement framework/area planning exercise; an explanation of the geographical boundaries of an area plan; and confirm action that it was a reasonable expectation for the Committee to have sight of the area plans; confirmation that there is not an absolute duty to consult with staff or school governors in changes to a plan, but there is an expectation that the ESA would do so; area plan committees; the timescale involved in the passage of the Second Bill through the Assembly and the timescale to have Area Plans in place; provisions for the revision of area plans; and explanation of the provision for Guidance and Regulations mentioned in Clauses 6 and 7; Officials confirmed that the draft guidance would be available to the Committee ‘in a matter of weeks’ and there are no plans for Regulations at present; whether the Bill takes cognisance of the fact that some sectors have already begun their own version of area based planning; whether there is ‘tension’ between area planning and open enrolment; and officials confirmed that the Minister is expected to make an announcement soon on the entitlement framework/area planning exercise.

Mr Lunn left the meeting at 3.30pm.

Mr Ross rejoined the meeting at 3.32pm.

Mr McCrea left the meeting at 3.44pm.

The officials gave a presentation on The Education Advisory Forum (Clauses 9 to 10) and answered questions from Members on a number of issues, including: whether there is a need for such a forum for education; officials agreed to provide the Committee with the preliminary work already completed on the estimated costs of the EAF; officials confirmed that there would be 26 members on the EAF; what proportion of the costs of EAF will be covered by DEL; whether there is a comparable body to the EAF in another Department that gives advice to a Minister; and officials confirmed that the EAF will have no role in advising on ESA’s delivery of services, but rather to provide policy input to the Department, to provide ‘a voice in the policy process’.

Mr Craig left the meeting at 4.00pm.

Mr O’Dowd left the meeting at 4.07pm.

The Chairperson thanked the witnesses for an informative briefing and they left the meeting at 4.10pm.

Agreed – the Committee would look at the Controlled Schools (Clauses 11 to 18) section of the draft Bill at a future meeting of the Committee.

7. Forward Work Programme

The Committee discussed and agreed its updated Forward Work Programme.

Agreed - The Committee would hear a presentation from the NI Association for Mental Health at a joint meeting with the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety on 21 October 2009 at 1.00pm in the Sentate Chamber (directly before the regular weekly Committee meeting).

Agreed –Further to the Department of Education’s SEN and Inclusion Review the Committee agreed to arrange a Committee visit to some special schools and a mainstream schools with a special education unit attached - to take place in November.

Mr McCrea rejoined the meeting at 4.16pm.

8. Any Other Business

The Chairperson advised Members that STEM Review Report packs were available.

Agreed – that the Committee would write to the Minister on what actions her Department would take in relation to the recommendations contained in the STEM Report

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 4.19pm

Mr Mervyn Storey
Chairperson, Committee for Education
21 October 2009

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