Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: 15 January 2009

Briefing on Education and Training Inspectorate Report on the Ulster-Scots Curriculum Development Unit

15 January 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr Dominic Bradley
Mr Francie Brolly
The Lord Browne
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Raymond McCartney
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Ken Robinson
Mr Jim Shannon

Witnesses:
Dr Maureen Bennett ) Education and Training Inspectorate
Mr Edgar Jardine ) Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
Mr Donal Moran )

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):

I welcome Mr Edgar Jardine and Mr Donal Moran from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), and Dr Maureen Bennett from the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) of the Department of Education. They will give us a briefing on the ETI report, which was commissioned by DCAL, on the Ulster-Scots curriculum development unit (CDU). That report has been circulated to members, as has an updated paper from the Department. That update clarifies the start and end dates of the curriculum development unit’s work.

Mr Edgar Jardine (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):

Thank you. We are happy to be here, and we thank the Committee for its invitation to discuss the Education and Training Inspectorate’s report. Dr Maureen Bennett is the assistant chief inspector who is responsible for DCAL’s inspectorate services. She also looks after special needs, the Youth Service and early years. At this time of year, DCAL agrees a broad programme of work with the inspectorate. When the financial year begins, that programme is then refined and specific projects are identified to go ahead. Donal Moran is the acting head of DCAL’s language branch.

As Committee members may know, the Ulster-Scots Agency has a statutory remit to promote greater awareness and use of Ullans and Ulster-Scots cultural issues in Northern Ireland and throughout the island of Ireland. In discharging that remit, a corporate plan was produced around the year 2000 for the period 2002-04. That plan included the strategic theme of developing educational materials and appointing education officers for that purpose. The principal of Stranmillis University College expressed an interest in hosting that piece of work, and in 2002 it was agreed that Stranmillis would establish what would become known as the curriculum development unit in order to develop primary materials in the area of Ulster-Scots culture, heritage and language. In 2003, the remit of the CDU was extended to include the development of post-primary and adult materials.

The ETI initially inspected the work of the CDU in 2006, and the report that is the subject of today’s discussions is the result of a follow-up inspection last year. The Ulster-Scots Agency funded the CDU at Stranmillis University College for about five years until August 2007, after which the CDU staff transferred to the Ulster-Scots academy implementation group (USAIG) to work on the education and development programme until June 2008. Those staff were seconded teachers who have since returned to their previous institutions

If you are happy for me to do so, I will invite Dr Bennett to say a few words about the report before members discuss it.

Dr Maureen Bennett (Education and Training Inspectorate):

As our strapline suggests, the Education and Training Inspectorate’s work is about promoting improvement in the interest of all learners, and that was our focus in this piece of work. The purpose of the exercise was to evaluate the outcomes of the project in its entirety and to look in particular at an evaluation of the teaching materials that were produced during the unit’s existence up to 2007-08. The report follows on from the inspection that we conducted in 2006.

As advised by DCAL, we met with a number of individuals, including college staff, the college principal and vice-principal, the head of the secretariat from the Ulster-Scots academy implementation group, the chairperson of the Ulster-Scots academy and the director of language and education in the agency. With the help of CDU staff, we set up a focus group consisting of CDU staff and teachers who were part of the pilot group. We evaluated the resources and examined some of the research that CDU staff completed. We then visited a sample of the primary and post-primary schools that were involved in the pilot. Those schools had been invited and selected by members of the CDU to pilot the materials that had been produced.

I will summarise some of the outcomes that are set out in the report. The materials that were produced up to August 2007 were based mainly on language, literature, history and culture. They had a broad sweep, and they were based on sound pedagogy. The primary materials had been adapted for online use. They were presented attractively, and they contributed to pupils’ development and to the use of information and communication technology (ICT) skills.

The post-primary materials are based on a series of themes, such as social history and language. Some of the materials relate to the role of the Ulster-Scots community in the American war of independence. Other materials focus on the Ulster-Scots involvement with the United Irishmen. The materials have a positive contribution to make to the curriculum areas of citizenship, history, interpersonal skills, research skills and ICT skills. The materials were well received by teachers in the primary and post-primary sectors and across the controlled and maintained sectors; as far as we are concerned, that is a significant finding. Largely speaking, the materials strike an appropriate balance between language and culture in a form that would help to contribute to the Northern Ireland curriculum. A great deal of the focus of our work is the consideration of the appropriateness of the materials for young people.

Only some of the primary materials were available, and they are on the Ulster-Scots Agency’s website. The schools that we visited were not aware that the materials were even available to that extent. The post-primary materials were not available at all, but the adult materials were available to sections of the Ulster-Scots community.

Our view of the materials was that they needed to be updated to align them with the revised Northern Ireland curriculum. That curriculum focuses largely on helping young people to develop a range of skills, and it has added features — or cross-curricular themes — to do with citizenship, for example. If the materials in question had been developed further, those themes could have been added.

Some of the primary materials also needed to be more relevant to the Northern Irish experience. There were also issues with the standardisation of spelling, to ensure that learners were not going to be confused with the language elements of the materials.

The schools found the materials useful. Some teachers who commented on the materials during the trial period mentioned the value that they would have added to the history curriculum. Someone commented on the materials on Henry Joy McCracken and how they would have contributed to a section of the GCSE history curriculum. However, the materials were not left with the schools because they were part of a pilot exercise, so the schools had no access to them afterwards. Indeed, the staff intended to do some more work on them.

There was enthusiasm for the cultural, historical and arts elements of the materials. They had some significance for Key Stage 3 pupils, in particular in developing their research skills through some of the work and themes that I outlined. However, we found that schools did not build on the trial, either because the materials were not available or because, in some instances, individual teachers who were enthusiastic about the project had moved on.

After 2007, the same staff, working under slightly different management, produced materials. Between August 2007 and the termination of the unit’s work, those materials focused principally on language. The research that was conducted up to 2007 with teachers, parents and pupils and that was confirmed by some of our work showed that teachers were more interested in the literary, cultural and social aspects of Ulster Scots. They had some interest in the language and its social history, but that was not their primary interest. We were concerned when that unit’s focus narrowed primarily to language during its final year and also because the unit was not receiving any direct guidance from whomsoever at that time.

The materials that were produced between August 2007 and June 2008 are largely untested. In other words, they were not subject to a pilot system in the same way that those that had been produced before August 2007 were. The unit intended to conduct such a pilot scheme, but it did not happen. That is a summary of the report’s findings.

The Chairperson:

Thank you. The paper states that teachers are not aware that the educational material is available on the Ulster-Scots Agency’s website. Has any action been taken, in conjunction with the agency, to rectify that situation? Have I understood that situation correctly? Perhaps that is a matter for the Department to discuss.

Mr Jardine:

The material was produced by Stranmillis University College and was validated by the Ulster-Scots academy implementation group. At that stage, it was returned to the Ulster-Scots Agency. The agency put the primary material on its website, and it is still there. The Department and the agency are considering how to make that information available. Dr Bennett outlined the work that will be required to update and align the materials with the new curriculum. We must decide whether to release that information now or after we have completed that work.

Mr McCausland:

I will ask for this matter to be placed on the Committee’s agenda. We need to receive a briefing on it, because it is a serious matter that concerns a substantial sum of money. Overall, it has been handled in a totally unsatisfactory manner, which has caused considerable harm and resulted in missed opportunities.

I emphasise that the article in ‘The Irish News’ was only one of several pieces of comment in the media. Radio Ulster broadcast an interview with Stanley Goudie on its ‘Evening Extra’ programme, as well as another item the next day. The issue has been teased out in the media, and several members of the Ulster-Scots community have been wronged by people who have attempted to evade their responsibilities.

I have several questions. The report identifies correctly one area for improvement as a need for:

“an agreed standardisation of spelling to avoid confusion for the learners”.

That is obviously the case.

There will be flexibility for a minority language over a period of time as it gradually goes through a process of standardisation. That can be seen in the Scottish National Dictionary and other documents; however, to get into schools, some standardisation is required. I direct Edgar’s attention to paragraph 13 of the departmental report:

“The Ulster-Scots Academy Implementation Group have produced a Word Glossary of circa 2000 words which the Group consider to be the ‘core’ vocabulary, equivalent to the 2000 most common words in use in English. The USAIG propose to publish both the Word Glossary and associated Spelling and Pronunciation Guide and make them available free of charge to schools.”

Dr Bennett made a comment that is absolutely correct, and I endorse it completely. She said that what was needed was:

“an agreed standardisation of spelling to avoid confusion for the learners”.

The glossary and the pronunciation guide on which she commented were produced by the USAIG and handed over to your Department in September 2007, where they sat for 12 months untouched and unheeded. Nothing was done with them; they were sitting on somebody’s desk. I raised the issue a year later — in October 2008 — at which point they were suddenly produced. Actually, I produced copies and gave them to your Department, because nobody could find the originals.

Suddenly, a year later, some movement is under way, and there have been meetings with senior officials in your Department to begin discussions about publishing the two documents. Those are essential documents that the report says were necessary. In fact, to take it a stage further, your Department is required under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages to take “resolute action”.

Do you believe that leaving something sitting on someone’s desk for a year, without even responding to those who produced it or without taking any action, constitutes “resolute action”?

Mr Jardine:

First, I recognise that it is true that the glossary and pronunciation and spelling guide have the potential to make a significant contribution to the corpus of written work. It is also fair to say that a significant amount of senior management resource in DCAL — up to and including permanent secretary level — has been involved in a range of Ulster-Scots issues, including this one, over the past 18 months.

As Nelson said, there has been a renewed focus since autumn 2008 on the publication of the glossary and associated spelling and pronunciation guide. There have also been discussions with the Ulster-Scots community and academy about the way forward. It is also fair to say that this is not simply a matter of putting material on a website or finding a publisher —

Mr McCausland:

That is not the question that I asked, Edgar.

Mr Jardine:

I am sorry.

Mr McCausland:

I asked a very specific question.

Mr Jardine:

May I answer, Chairperson? Thank you.

A series of exercises is under way in order to determine and resolve copyright. Those exercises include engagement with the Departmental Solicitor’s Office. That work must be concluded before the guide can be published.

Mr McCausland:

That does not answer my question, because that work is work that I referred to after I reactivated the issue of the glossary and spelling and pronunciation guide in October 2008.

I asked why those documents were left sitting in your Department, under your watch, on somebody’s desk for 12 months and why nobody bothered doing anything with them. Does that constitute “resolute action”? In order to make it easier for you —

The Chairperson:

Please speak through the Chairperson, Nelson. That is the protocol.

Mr McCausland:

I am sorry; I apologise. On 29 June 2007 — that is going back a fair while — I received a written answer to a question that I submitted to the then Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, asking him:

“to confirm that, prior to the formal establishment of the Ulster-Scots Academy, the Ulster-Scots Academy Implementation Group will have the role of standardising spellings, and that these should be used across the public sector.”— [Official Report, Bound Volume 23, pWA13, col 1].

The Minister’s answer on 29 June 2007 was:

“The remit given to the Ulster-Scots Academy Implementation Group in 2005 included the resourcing without delay of specified projects within a Language Development Programme, including a spelling standardisation programme. It is intended that this spelling standardisation when completed and agreed should be used across the public sector.” — [Official Report, Bound Volume 23, pWA13, col 1].

On 20 August 2007, the chairman of the Ulster-Scots academy implementation group wrote a letter to the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure about the process. In that letter, my question and answer were referred to. The chairman received a letter back from the Minister, asking for copies of the two documents. I have those two documents here: they are excellent, comprehensive documents that have been produced by some of the best linguists in the field — international, as well as local, experts. Those experts come from the University of Ulster and Queen’s University. There are other people in that group, such as Dr Ian Adamson, who are known to us all.

The Minister asked for those documents, and they were given to him when he visited the Newtownards office on 20 September. I will ask my question again: do you think that leaving something sitting on a desk or in a cupboard for 12 months constitutes “resolute action” and acting without delay, or is that a failure?

The Chairperson:

Do you think that absolutely nothing was done with that document over those12 months?

Mr McCausland:

It is interesting to note that when I made a telephone call in October 2008 about the matter, people were asking me what documents I was talking about. One person in the Department told me that things seemed to be falling into black holes. Can Mr Jardine respond to that?

Mr Jardine:

I recognise that the work that the academy has undertaken is important. Nevertheless, it is not uncontested.

Mr McCausland:

I am sorry, Chairperson. Might I make a point of information? I asked why something sat on a desk for 12 months. Why can I not get an answer to that question? It requires a simple yes or no answer. Is that “resolute action”, or is it incompetence or apathy?

The Chairperson:

For today’s purposes, Nelson, you are perfectly entitled to ask the question.

Mr McCausland:

I am asking the question.

The Chairperson:

You must allow Mr Jardine to give his answer and not the one that you want.

Mr McCausland:

It would help if he answered the question.

Mr Jardine:

First, I have to make the point about context. I made one point about context already. It may not have been resolute action —

Mr McCausland:

Thank you.

Mr Jardine:

However, a significant raft of work was undertaken on a range of Ulster-Scots issues, and a limited staff resource was available for that work.

Secondly, the context is important. As Nelson said, significant academic and other input was put into that work; however, it is not an uncontested area. There is a lack of total consensus across the Ulster-Scots community on the status of the work. The context is that the Department was faced with something of a dilemma in moving the work forward.

The Chairperson:

I will invite Dominic Bradley to ask a question, but I will come back to you, Nelson; I will allow you to make concluding comments.

Mr McCausland:

I have only one point to make. This is an issue that involves around £1·5 million. I cannot remember what the figure was for the Northern Ireland Events Company, but it was not dissimilar. We have spent weeks examining the events that surrounded the Northern Ireland Events Company. We have had entire meetings about the Northern Ireland Events Company. It is probable that even more than £1·5 million will be spent on this matter, yet we only have 25 minutes to talk about it. That is totally inadequate. We may need a separate meeting to deal with this.

The Chairperson:

There is no doubt that you are making a strong point.

Mr D Bradley:

Has the way in which this project was handled thwarted the development of Ulster-Scots studies in schools in Northern Ireland?

Dr Bennett:

It is inevitable that for as long as the materials are unavailable, there will be no growth. Our findings revealed that there was an interest in the materials when they were piloted. Schools were invited to opt to be part of the pilot. More schools responded than Stranmillis University College or the CDU staff could contend with. The conclusion, therefore, was that there was an interest in the subject. There was a positive response to the materials, both in the schools that we spoke to and in the CDU research staff’s findings.

However, the materials are not in schools. Therefore, the work could not progress in that way. From talking to teachers and given that some of the work would have been relatively new to them, it looked to us that they would have relied on those materials. A great deal of research had been done, particularly on the social history and the historical aspects of Ulster Scots.

Mr D Bradley:

Is it your assessment that a quite considerable amount of money was involved in this project and has been totally — or indeed, largely — wasted?

Dr Bennett:

No, we could not say that at this point. We have just said that the resources that were developed through the CDU staff are still there and still have value, although some work needs to be done with them.

Mr D Bradley:

Where are they? They are not in the schools.

Dr Bennett:

No, they are not in the schools.

Mr D Bradley:

Where are they? Are they somewhere in cyberspace?

Dr Bennett:

Some of the primary material is available publicly on the Ulster-Scots Agency website. The intention was that the schools materials should be on the C2k website, which is a learning platform to which all schools have access. However, they are not there.

The Chairperson:

Am I right in thinking that the post-primary materials are not on the website?

Dr Bennett:

Yes; the primary materials are on the Ulster-Scots Agency website, but the post-primary materials have never been on any website.

Mr Jardine:

The Ulster-Scots Agency holds all the material, and the adult material has been used to a limited extent for adult classes.

Mr D Bradley:

Generally speaking, would you say that the Department and the Ulster-Scots community did not get the return on the investment that was put into this project from the beginning?

Mr Jardine:

Not yet, is the answer to that. That depends on how we continue to develop the materials.

Mr D Bradley:

Will further investment be needed?

Mr Jardine:

Yes, particularly to link to the new curriculum. There is also work to be done if we are to develop, for example, some modules for an accredited history or literature course. That would involve a significant amount of work.

Mr D Bradley:

That was not the point that I wanted to make. At the moment, the curriculum is divided into three portions — one third is academic, one third is vocational, and the other third can be either vocational or academic, or anything that a school deems to be suitable for its pupils. Where do you see Ulster-Scots studies fitting into that triple division? What is the process for an area of study to become recognised officially as part of the Northern Ireland curriculum? Given that the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment ( CCEA) is the official body with responsibility for the curriculum, why did it not have some input into this project?

Dr Bennett:

I will answer each of your questions in turn. The first was about where Ulster-Scots studies fit into the curriculum. Your description of the curriculum refers to the Key Stage 4 curriculum in the main, and you are talking about the developments in the entitlement curriculum. The materials that have been developed up to now are mostly for Key Stage 2 — that is, the upper end of primary — and Key Stage 3, which is the first three years of post-primary education. However, some of the thematic materials would be valuable for some elements of the teaching of history at Key Stage 4.

As you said, there is a little bit more flexibility in the curriculum at all those Key Stages, so elements of Ulster-Scots studies could fit into, for example, citizenship, history, music, art, and literature.

Mr D Bradley:

Does that mean that it would be more like a cross-curricular theme than a discrete, stand-alone subject?

Dr Bennett:

As the materials are now, the answer is yes. In answer to your specific question about how it would become an area of study on its own —

Mr D Bradley:

Or become an official part of the curriculum.

Dr Bennett:

One of the reasons that the curriculum has been revised is that there is too much on it, and that is something that we are careful of.

To answer your question directly, there are several options. It had been intended that those working in the last year of the CDU would end up with an Ulster-Scots GCSE language programme by 2010. That is entirely unrealistic.

Mr D Bradley:

Especially if they cannot agree on the spelling.

Dr Bennett:

It is unrealistic because: first, certain components are not in place; secondly, because of the time that is needed to evolve a new subject area, have it standardised and the processes for external accreditation gone through; and, thirdly, because there has been no indication from our work in the schools and from the unit’s own research, which was carried out between 2005 and 2007, that there was an interest in the language teaching in that way — in that purest form.

However, to get back to the second question, there is some role, interest and value in looking at the language through social history, understanding how language evolves, or understanding language as a continuum, where one has — to use a fairly old-fashioned term — received pronunciation and that which is both idiom, or dialect or accent. All those would fit in, as well as an understanding of that sort of development. There would be some place for it in that sense.

Mr D Bradley:

It could be part of English studies.

Dr Bennett:

It could be — as a module in knowledge about language.

Mr D Bradley:

There was one aspect of the question that Dr Bennett did not answer. Why was the CCEA, which is the official body that is responsible for the curriculum, not involved in the project?

Dr Bennett:

It was involved. It can be seen from the early stages of the report that the primary materials were prepared as online teaching materials. The money for that was provided by the Department of Education. The CCEA gave advice and support when those materials were brought from being simple Word documents — ordinary typed materials — to being part of an online interactive process. We had discussions with the CCEA when trying to get an understanding of what might be needed to proceed.

Mr Shannon:

Undoubtedly, the deputation today will feel the frustration of many of the Committee members. My colleague Nelson expressed his opinion very clearly, as did Dominic, and I will add to the list of those who expressed concern.

I look upon the matter as a lost opportunity, through no fault of the Ulster-Scots enthusiasts, but through the inability of the Department to grasp what many members of the Committee want to see happen to Ulster Scots and how it is promoted and developed. I am frustrated intensely by the fact that documents sat on a desk — or wherever — for 12 months and no action was taken, when the Committee had decided that it wanted action on those documents to be taken. Individual members of the Committee also expressed a wish for action, but nothing was done.

Dr Bennett said that so many people had expressed a wish to be involved in the pilot schemes that they had been oversubscribed. What happened with the pilot schemes and who did you end up with — if you ended up with anyone?

Dr Bennett:

The pilot scheme was part of the work of the CDU. From memory, around 20 primary and post-primary schools responded showing a willingness to become involved or else they inquired about involvement, although I would have to check that figure for accuracy. In reality, 12 primary schools and 12 post-primary schools were involved — the figure is in the report.

Mr Shannon:

Do you have any indication of where those schools were? Perhaps you are not in a position to answer that question.

Dr Bennett:

We do, because we visited a sample of them.

Mr Shannon:

For the record, did you happen to visit any primary schools in the Ards Borough Council area or in Strangford? I ask that serious question, not simply because I represent that area, but because I am keen to find out whether contact was made with those schools in the area that I know are keen to be involved.

Dr Bennett:

I did not do the fieldwork; therefore, I cannot answer that question straight away. Certainly, there is absolutely no problem with getting you that information.

Mr Jardine:

If it would help, we can provide a list of the schools that were involved in the pilot.

The Chairperson:

Dominic has a helpful suggestion to make.

Mr D Bradley:

I suggest that, if possible, it would be interesting for us to examine sample materials that were produced.

Dr Bennett:

I do not have access to that material now; therefore, I cannot give you direct access to it.

The Chairperson:

Perhaps Edgar could undertake to get samples of that material for us.

Mr Jardine:

Are you interested in primary or post-primary material, Dominic?

Mr D Bradley:

A sample of both would be helpful.

Mr Shannon:

The reason that I ask is that if there had been any difficulty due to resources, which you mentioned earlier, Edgar, and you were snowed under with Ulster-Scots activities and were unable to deliver that literature to schools, surely there must have been a stage when you needed to prioritise. Certainly, I identified primary and post-primary education as priority areas in which progress needed to be made first.

At any stage, was contact made with Ulster-Scots enthusiasts and people who were involved in the project in order to determine what they considered to be priorities? Did somebody somewhere — who was, perhaps, hidden in the room with the document — decide not to do that? Honestly, primary and post-primary education should have been developed as a priority. Why was it not?

Mr Jardine:

There is extensive contact with the Ulster-Scots Agency, the academy implementation group and the wider Ulster-Scots community virtually on a daily basis. As I said earlier in response to Nelson’s question, a raft of significant issues has arisen among the academy, the agency and others. Again, the lack of total consensus on spelling and standardisation creates difficulties for us all. However, there is a way forward on the matter that allows us to transcend that work, if you like. It is, however, work in hand.

Mr Shannon:

I know of schools in my area that were keen to receive that literature and information. I suspect that not only were schools in my area keen to receive it, but so too were schools in East Antrim, which a certain other Committee member represents. There is interest in the language and so on in schools in my area.

If there had been any difficulty in delivering that information, someone should have let me know, and I would have delivered it to the schools. I would have made myself available to do that. I make that remark, not in a smart-assed way, but with honesty, as a contribution towards making progress on the matter.

Mr D Bradley:

Jim and I could deliver that information physically to the schools.

Mr Shannon:

Absolutely; I have a car, and I am quite happy to make it available to deliver information to schools.

Mr McCausland:

Jim will drive around the schools and deliver that information.

The Chairperson:

Well, you are not afraid of hard work, Jim.

Mr Shannon:

If I have the energy and interest to do that, why did they not have that energy and interest?

Dr Bennett:

An important clarification must be made: the materials that I mentioned in my response to Mr Bradley’s question were produced until 2007, and they focused on culture, literature, music, history and other similar subjects. There is no interest in schools for the language per se. Much of the work that was done during the unit’s last year focused on an attempt to try to create an accredited course that is based on the Ulster-Scots language.

First, I have no evidence for that material’s being used in schools, and secondly, it must be pointed out that when research was carried out among parents, teachers and pupils, our findings and those of the CDU showed that their interest was in the wider concept of Ulster Scots as a cultural/language study. They are not interested primarily in teaching the language, and they felt there would be all sorts of difficulties with that. That distinction must be made on the basis of our findings.

Mr Shannon:

The problem is that none of the information, either that referred to by Maureen or material on the language, was ever delivered in schools. That is the issue, and it is the reason for the frustration with the process.

Mr Brolly:

My point is n academic and concerns the use of term “Ullans” in the second paragraph of the Department’s submission. I was once corrected for describing Ulster Scots as Ullans, and I was told that they were two separate things. At that time I asked whether there was any sort of co-operation with or association between Lowland Scots people and the Ulster-Scots community.

Furthermore, it is interesting that, having used that term that later in the submission — at paragraph 8 under the title of ‘Areas for Improvement’ — it is stated that:

“material more relevant to the Northern Ireland experience, rather than a Scottish one”

should be found and made available.

Mr Jardine:

I was quoting from The North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) ( Northern Ireland) Order 1999 in the submission. That Order defines the legal remit of the Ulster-Scots Agency.

Mr McCausland:

I am happy to circulate a paper explaining that particular point. I will come back with a question in due course.

Mr McCartney:

I thank the witnesses for their presentation. Is there now a new projected date for having a GCSE in Ulster Scots by 2010?

Dr Bennett:

There was recognition that it might take 10 years, with a good following wind, to get to that stage. That is because there is no Key Stage 3 basis for developing such a course. From August 2007 through to its termination, the CDU embarked on that work initially — without any particular guidance, I must say. It was based on an already existing accreditation programme or teaching approach to a second language called ‘Graded Objectives in Modern Languages,’ but it examined teaching Ulster Scots from scratch through to a Key Stage 3 standard.

Mr McCartney:

Who was ultimately responsible for the publication and presentation of the material and for ensuring that it was distributed to the schools?

Mr Jardine:

The Ulster-Scots Agency.

Mr K Robinson:

I thank the witnesses for their presentation.

It strikes me that a champion must be found to develop this project. Two Departments have been involved in it, yet neither has taken an active lead in it.

The material has been produced and is out there somewhere in the ether. There is a willingness in schools — particularly in primary schools — to become engaged in the project, but that has not been developed.

I suggest respectfully to my colleagues from the Irish-language background and the Irish diaspora that had they been subject to such a process, they would be — rightly — screaming this place down.

We are approaching this issue from a very low base. We are discussing a language that has almost disappeared. Dr Bennett talked about received pronunciation earlier, and we all suffered as a result of that. It was forced upon us for good reason, and we all benefited. However, in the back of our memories, there is still a hankering to where we have come from.

This project was a golden opportunity to reveal that history to a new generation. It was also an opportunity to re-spark an interest in the older generation who speak the language naturally, as opposed to interest coming only from those who are trying to learn its and are finding difficulty with it.

I felt that the project that was carried out by Stranmillis University College was excellent, and from an educational point of view, it ticked almost all the boxes. As we always expect, the inspector’s report showed that there was some room for improvement, but the college did pretty well.

It is dreadful that what has been achieved on the work that has been done has been allowed to hang out there. Someone needs to grasp the issue by the neck to shake it down, find out where the material is and act as a champion for it instead of pockling around. There is too much pockling around going on — that word is from standard Ulster Scots.

Mr McCartney:

We are looking into the spelling of that. [Laughter.]

The Chairperson:

OK; thank you.

Mr K Robinson:

I have not finished yet; I have been listening carefully and have been patient. Social history was mentioned. I always get a bit concerned when the name of Henry Joy McCracken jumps to the fore time and time again. He was only one player. What about Jemmy Hope, Betsy Gray and William Orr and others who came from a social background in which peasant farmers made good? The Ulster Scots, as a community, are embedded in that background. That is reflected in our literature, our songs and in our whole way of looking at the world and our ethos. That must also be brought out. Let us not go airy-fairy on McCracken; let us look at the real people who drove the rebellion forward.

Dr Bennett:

I said that one name because it was mentioned by a teacher who said that they had had a chance to engage with material on that subject and that it would have been useful. The materials of which we had sight for Key Stage 3 are very well researched and contain a unit on the United Irishmen and one on the American war of independence. Those are full of case studies that go into a fair bit of detail and include a fair range of people. Having dipped into them, I learned from them, and a colleague was working on them. A raft of information is in those case studies.

Mr K Robinson:

Never listen to what teachers say; they are dreadful. [Laughter.]

Mr Shannon:

You are the exception to that, Ken.

Mr K Robinson:

The people who I mentioned had their roots in the community. Hope is buried in the graveyard in Mallusk, and people in Mallusk know that the rebellion started there. They know about the journey to Antrim and the flight to Donegore, and they know about the hanging of Orr. All that knowledge remains in the folk memory, and it can be built upon. An opportunity has been dreadfully missed.

Dr Bennett:

I agree.

Mr McCarthy:

The Northern Ireland Events Company was mentioned earlier. The Ulster-Scots Agency is also an arm’s-length body of the Department. How does the Department monitor and support the work of the agency in order to prevent headlines such as those that describe £2 million being spent on unused material?

Mr Jardine:

The Ulster-Scots Agency differs from the Northern Ireland Events Company in several material respects. First, the Agency, alongside Foras na Gaeilge, is part of a cross-border language body . Secondly, regular monitoring meetings take place between the Department and the Ulster-Scots Agency, and its work is also monitored by the North/South Ministerial Council, which meets regularly.

The Chairperson:

Nelson, you have a final opportunity to ask a brief question.

Mr McCausland:

I will slightly stretch the definition of the word “brevity”.

The Chairperson:

You normally do. If I did not ask you to be brief, you would be disappointed.

Mr McCausland:

I am disappointed that Edgar constantly harps back to the defence mechanism of there not being a consensus. How does he know that there is not consensus when the document has not even been published for anyone to reach consensus on it?

The work of the CDU ended in 2007. This morning, we were given a revised version of the report on the unit’s work, with amendments made in red to correct what was in the previous version. Edgar, you said on 12 May 2008:

“The CDU was handed over to the academy, which then sponsored and managed it”.

Therefore, it was the unit that was handed over. The inspectorate report says that the CDU staff were handed over. This morning, quite correctly, we finally have the right version, which states that the former CDU staff were handed over. It seems that there was great difficulty in the Department in understanding what was really happening — it seems to me that the Department is not on top of things.

The report is part of a wider piece of work on Ulster Scots that discusses the need to have a road map that will take us from part II to part III of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

I am sure that the witnesses would agree with that. In 2002, the Department commissioned Dónal Ó Riagáin, who is a European expert, to produce a road map, which he did. We heard concerns this morning about a document lying in DCAL for 12 months, but the 2002 document sat in DCAL to 2007 — that is, for five years — before it resurfaced. It resurfaced only when I asked a question and set up a series of meetings.

Why is it that that this Department has developed a pattern of allowing documents to sit around for one year — or five years — without anyone knowing anything about them? Does that not suggest incompetence at a high level and a lack of interest? Ken Robinson’s point that we need a champion is relevant. This is a serious matter, and what has happened has undermined totally the efforts to meet the obligations and requirements of the European Charter.

With respect to Dr Bennett’s point, the work that was undertaken by the academy implementation group was in regard to meeting the obligations of the European Charter. That is separate. In that respect, the Department misled others — including, possibly, the inspectorate — by confusing two separate issues. Only this morning have we heard the Department admit what really happened. Whether it takes five years or one year to lose a document on someone’s desk, does that not suggest that there is something radically wrong or that the filing system has gone wrong?

The Chairperson:

I will allow Edgar to make a concluding comment.

Mr McCausland:

No wonder he has gone for a glass of water. Who is the Minister?

The Chairperson:

I must keep the meeting in order and depersonalised, and all comments must be made through the Chairperson.

Mr McCausland:

A little humour is a great thing.

The Chairperson:

Yes, but I must state my point clearly.

Mr Jardine:

I will address the issue of when the CDU started and finished its work. On looking through the papers, one finds a degree of ambiguity. One finds that people working in the CDU are seconded for one or two days each week to work on the academy; that the chairman of the USAIG works for the CDU; and that the staff move over in the final year to work on the academy, education and development programme.

Mr McCausland:

That was the former staff.

Mr Jardine:

Yes, the former staff, who remained in Stranmillis. One also finds correspondence from the academy in the summer of 2007 that proposes to extend the secondment of staff to the Stranmillis CDU for the following year. That is fact, and it is on the record. If there is confusion about when exactly the CDU began or stopped and about what happened afterwards, it is because there is genuine ambiguity about it.

Mr McCausland:

I must respond to that. That is a total denial of what has been written in red in the revised version of the document, and it is backtracking to save face for the utter incompetence that has existed at the highest level in that Department and for the apathy that has lasted for years. It is a shame and a disgrace, and a terrible wrong has been perpetrated against a cultural community that is trying to move forward. It is an absolute disgrace and an attempt to save face.

I must say that — it may be out of order to do so, but it has to be said.

The Chairperson:

I am happy enough that you said it. It is on the record, and that is fine. However, I want Edgar to conclude, without interruption, from this point.

Mr Jardine:

The facts are as I have stated.

With respect to the road map, the time to which Nelson refers — 2002-07 — was a period when North/South bodies were in warm storage. With respect to those bodies, a care and maintenance regime was in place, and that extended to the Ulster-Scots Agency. There was relatively little development in that period, and the handling of North/South issues was under political direction.

The Chairperson:

I thank Edgar, Donal and Dr Maureen Bennett for coming along this morning and for giving the presentation. Having heard it, the Committee is free to act on it.

Ken suggested that the Committee should write to the Department or to the Ulster-Scots Agency about finding a champion for the cause.

Mr K Robinson:

As a member of this Committee, I am sometimes at a loss to know which bodies are dealing with this issue. Members on the other side of the table are nodding in agreement, and I thank them for that. Nelson sometimes refers to bodies that mean nothing to me. However, I understand that there is obviously a group of folk who want to portray their culture through song, language and in a variety of other ways. The Committee needs to get a handle on what is going on. We must find out who the existing bodies are, what they do, what level of co-operation exists between them, and what role is taken by the two Departments that are represented at this meeting. The Committee may then be in a position to suggest something, but off the top of my head, I can say that someone needs to champion the process.

Mr P Ramsey:

Some people may have no notion of what is going on here. Given that Nelson’s party has a Minister in the Department, why can the matter not be resolved?

Mr McCausland:

It is being resolved now.

Mr P Ramsey:

Why is all of this necessary, given that that party has its own Minister in the Department?

The Chairperson:

We are scrutinising legitimately an area of the Department’s past and recent activity.

Mr McCausland:

This issue goes back to 2002. It is not new, and we are dealing with a legacy of incompetence.

The Chairperson:

Do any other members want to contribute?

Mr McCausland:

I have a suggestion to make.

The Chairperson:

Good; I am glad to hear that.

Mr McCartney:

Nelson, does your suggestion include the word “stocks”?

Mr McCausland:

No; that would be the liberal view.

Mr D Bradley:

We had that this morning.

Mr McCausland:

This is a very big issue that is not just about money. Culture must be at the heart of moving towards a shared and better future in Northern Ireland. How the Irish language and Ulster-Scots language and culture are dealt with is important. It would be healthy and beneficial if we could give some order to that.

Picking up on Ken’s point, several different players and organisations are involved, and they need to have a better context in which to work. Ultimately, the Department has general oversight and sets the context of these matters. I was appalled to find out that Dónal Ó Riagáin’s paper sat on someone’s desk for five years. It would have been bad enough had it sat on someone’s desk for one year, but five years is totally unacceptable. The Department’s excuse that it was in the care and maintenance of direct rule is unsatisfactory. I was in regular contact with people from the Northern Ireland Office during that period, and they were also almost pulling their hair out over some of the things that were happening in DCAL.

I suggest that we set aside time for a meeting to deal with some of these issues. People may have been horrified to learn about what has gone on, but we have really only scraped the surface today.

The Chairperson:

We have devoted over an hour to this item of business, because you had said earlier that 25 minutes was inadequate.

Mr McCausland:

I appreciate that. The first step might be to produce a paper that sets out the organisations that are working in the language field. I would be happy to point staff in the right direction to get a list of those organisations and the roles that they play.

Mr D Bradley:

Do you mean official organisations that are sponsored by Government, or voluntary organisations?

Mr McCausland:

I am referring both to voluntary community organisations and statutory organisations, particularly the Ulster-Scots Agency and the Ulster-Scots academy implementation group.

The Chairperson:

We must conclude this item of business. Has your point about championing been dealt with adequately, Ken?

Mr K Robinson:

Yes, it has. However, this is obviously a cross-departmental issue, but I am not sure that the two Departments are in synch on the matter. I would like to know what is happening in each Department and who is responsible for driving the process forward — whatever that process is.

Mr McCausland:

Every Department is represented in the inter-departmental charter implementation group. Edgar Jardine and Brian Smart have chaired that group in the past, and Linda Wilson now chairs it.

Mr K Robinson:

It would be both interesting and helpful if we knew who those people were so that we could have points of contact.

Mr McCausland:

I had not thought of that, but you are right; that should be included in the paper.

Mr D Bradley:

Kieran made an interesting point about where this particular failure, let us call it, fits into the bigger picture of DCAL’s competency in managing its arm’s-length bodies. As well as pursuing the road map, as Nelson suggested, perhaps when we begin our inquiry into the Northern Ireland Events Company, we could also encompass this particular fiasco in some way.

Mr McCausland:

Picking up on Dominic’s helpful comment, the difficulties were not simply with the curriculum development unit; other bodies in the official world of Ulster Scots need to be scrutinised. Therefore, I am keen that we develop that work. I am happy to talk to others and to speak to the Committee Clerk about how that might be done.

Mr McCartney:

Nelson mentioned listening to the organisations that are involved in language. I would like to see the objectives that are involved. Dr Bennett talked about the GCSE, and I initially thought that she was talking about language; however, the report mentioned studies. Ken made the point about clear objectives. Therefore, if those objectives are not being reached, those groups can lobby.

Mr McCausland:

To clarify what Raymond is asking about, the CDU was set up to produce awareness material for Ulster Scots. However, part II of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages states that the Government must take resolute action to promote the teaching of the language at all levels. We do not have to go to part 3 to find that provision; it is in part II. Therefore, under part 2 as it is, there should be a provision to allow pupils in primary and secondary schools to learn Ulster Scots as a language. That is what the other group was working on.

Mr D Bradley:

Is that to reach part III status?

Mr McCausland:

Yes, but even if we remain at part II status, that work to promote Ulster Scots should still be carried out. The Department has — and through the inspectorate’s report, it has encouraged this — conflated and confused the two issues. They are two separate issues, one of which involves general awareness materials.

I am happy to suggest that we bring along those who were responsible for producing the spelling and pronunciation guide. I can show it to members afterwards — or they can borrow it, if they wish. It is an excellent piece of work. Dr Ivan Herbison, who chaired the group that was involved in its production, is a renowned expert in the field. His grandfather, David Herbison — or it may have been his great-grandfather — was the bard of Dunclug. He was from Ballymena, and he wrote Ulster-Scots poetry.

Mr D Bradley:

He was in the same class as me in Queen’s University — Dr Ivan Herbison, I mean.

Mr McCausland:

We thought that you meant his grandfather. [Laughter.]

Mr McCausland:

Ivan Herbison chaired that group. Others who were involved in the production of the guide include Dr Heather Saunders, who has worked on linguistic programmes in South America and countries all around the world, and Alison Henry from the University of Ulster. Some of the linguistics elements are beyond me.

Mr K Robinson:

It is beyond his ken.

Mr McCausland:

It is very much beyond my ken.

The Chairperson:

It is beyond Ken’s ken.

Mr McCausland:

Such a guide is needed so that there is no repeat of the ridiculous situation whereby the Assembly placed an advertisement in a newspaper that was, quite frankly, nonsense. There may be some variations in spelling, but within the one document, the same words could at least be spelled the same way.

The Chairperson:

Yes, especially if a word is mentioned twice.

Mr McCausland:

That lack of consistency shows the need for such pieces of work.

The Chairperson:

Nelson, I suggest that you have a conversation with the Committee Clerk about a mechanism for making progress on those issues generally. Next week, you might propose that a special meeting be held. You could work out whether other mechanisms are available.

Mr McCausland:

I am happy to do that.

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