Mr D Kennedy (Chairman)
Mr S Wilson (Deputy Chairman)
Mrs E Bell
Mr T Gallagher
Mr O Gibson
Mr T Hamilton
Mr G McHugh

Mr J Fee
Ms P Lewsley
Mr B McElduff
Mr K Robinson

In Attendance:
Mrs C Darrah (Committee Clerk)
Mrs V Artt (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Ms M Austin (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr D Stevenson (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr S Ball (Clerical Assistant)

Ms G Kane (Assembly Research Directorate for item 5)

The Committee met at 10.40 a.m. in private session.

1. Minutes of the Meeting of 2 May 2002

The minutes of the meeting of 2 May 2002 were agreed.

2. Matters Arising

(i) A copy of the agreed Committee response to the Minister of Education regarding the Household Response Form for the Review of Post-Primary Education had been circulated.

3. Chairman's Business

(i) The Chairman advised the Committee that a letter from the Chief Executive of Craigavon Borough Council raising a number of issues in relation to Nursery School Provision had been received. The Committee agreed to write to the Minister of Education to seek clarification and further information on the policy for the provision of nursery places, the criteria used to allocate funded places and the criteria for accepting late applications.

(ii) The Chairman advised the Committee that an invitation to the launch of the Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke Association Health Strategy on 15 May 2002 at 12.30 p.m. in the Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings had been received. Members agreed to contact the Clerk if they wished to attend the event.

(iii) A copy of an invitation from the Minister of Education to a reception for Modern Language Assistants on 23 May 2002 at 6.00 p.m. in the Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings had been circulated. The Chairman advised any members who wished to attend to contact the Clerk who would make the necessary arrangements.

(iv) A copy of an invitation to the Committee to the launch of the Northern Ireland School Caterers Association on 11 June 2002 at 2.30 p.m. in the Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings had been received. Members agreed to contact the Clerk if they wished to attend.

(v) The Chairman advised members that arrangements had been made for he and the Deputy Chairman to meet with a number of Grammar School Principals on 16 May 2002 at 1.00 p.m. to discuss the Burns Proposals. He invited any available members to attend the meeting.

(vi) The Chairman referred to the recent acts of vandalism that had occurred at a number of schools, both Primary and Post-Primary. The Committee expressed deep concern and annoyance that schools had been subject to such attacks and noted that it appeared to be an on-going problem. The Committee agreed to write to the Minister expressing its disquiet regarding the damage being caused and requesting information of any financial assistance available to schools to assist with repairs and to enable precautionary measures to be taken.

Mr T Gallagher joined the meeting at 10.45 a.m.

(vii) The Chairman informed members that he had met informally with representatives of the BBC Education Service to discuss recent developments to provide a 'digital curriculum' which would cover all subjects in an interactive environment. The BBC had extended an invitation to the Committee to hold a meeting followed by a presentation and lunch at BBC Headquaters. The Committee agreed that the Clerk should identify a suitable date and make the necessary arrangements.

4. Committee Business

(i) A response from the Minister of Education regarding the status of the Comhairle na GaelscolaĆ­ochta and the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education had been circulated. The Committee noted that both were voluntary bodies.

(ii) A copy of a letter from the Minister of Education on the Consultation on a Bill of Rights had been circulated. The Committee noted that the timescale for the consultation period had been extended and the Department of Education would take a more in-depth look at the recommendations and finalise it's response by early summer. The Committee agreed to consider the matter further on receipt of a copy of the response.

(iii) A copy of a letter from the Chairman of the Committee for Employment and Learning enclosing a consultation document on the Essential Skills for Living Strategy had been circulated. Members agreed that the Clerk should analyse the document and identify any issues relevant to education for the Committee's consideration. The Committee also agreed to write to the Minister of Education requesting information on any existing strategies to encourage Principals of schools to provide courses for parents to enable them to help with their children's reading and writing skills.

Mrs E Bell joined the meeting at 11.00 a.m.

(iv) The Committee considered a copy of the updated Committee Work Programme for May to July 2002 and information on the timescales for a number of issues provided by the Department of Education. Following a short discussion the Committee agreed to write to the Minister of Education expressing concern that a number of key issues had slipped and they would now be referred to the Committee at the same time and to very tight timescales. The Committee wished to highlight that, as a result consultation on some issues may have to be extended. The Committee also agreed to raise a number of specific issues in relation to the handling and consultation on the Proposals for a Common Funding Formula.

5. Evidence Session on Early Years Learning with representatives from the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment - Public Session

(i) The Committee briefly discussed and agreed a press release to be issued after the evidence session.

(ii) The Chairman welcomed Mr Alistair Walker, Head of Education Services, Mrs Joyce Hughes, Principal Officer and Mrs Janis Wright, Assistant Principal Officer to the meeting to give evidence to the Committee in relation to it's Inquiry into Early Years Learning.

The representatives outlined the main proposals for a new Foundation Stage Curriculum, the results of an initial evaluation of the Early Years Enriched Curriculum Project, and the results of research carried out by CCEA. A question and answer session covered a number of issues including:

  • the evidence upon which the proposals for a new approach to Early Years education were based;
  • the possible need to skew funding further in favour of Early Years Learning;
  • the need to establish a strong pre-school structure;
  • the importance of continuous assessment;
  • the impact of gender imbalance in relation to nursery school teachers; and
  • the possible mixed reaction of parents to proposals to delay formal education.

Mr T Gallagher left the meeting at 12.10 p.m.

The Chairman thanked the representatives for a very useful and informative discussion and they left the meeting.

Hansard recorded the evidence for publication in due course.

Mr D Kennedy left the meeting at 12.15 p.m.

The meeting was suspended at 12.15 p.m.

Mr T Hamilton and Mr T Gallagher joined the meeting at 12.25 p.m.

The meeting was reconvened at 12.25 p.m. with the Deputy Chairman, Mr S Wilson, in the chair.

6. Committee Responses

(i) The Committee agreed a response to the Committee for Finance and Personnel's Inquiry into European Structural Funds subject to one addition.

(ii) The Committee agreed a response to the Department of Finance and Personnel on the Review of Government Office Accommodation.

7. Date and Time of Next Meeting

The next meeting of the Committee was scheduled for Thursday 16 May 2002 at 10.15 a.m. in Room 135, Parliament Buildings.

The Committee was adjourned at 12.35 p.m.

Committee Chairman

May 2002

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