04/12/2006

Government unveils plans for schools

Professor Sir George Bain today published the Report of the Independent Strategic Review of Education, containing detailed recommendations to Government on the future of Northern Ireland’s schools.

The Review concludes that that there are weaknesses in the current approach to planning of schools and that there are too many schools with too few pupils, and with rolls projected to fall further.

In specifying minimum enrolment levels, it recommends that schools under these thresholds should be reviewed to ensure they are able to deliver a full education for their pupils.

The Review recommends that the minimum enrolment for primary schools should be 140 in urban areas and 105 in rural areas.

For post primary schools the minimum enrolment for Years 8–12 should be 500 pupils, with the minimum enrolment for a sixth form in an 11–18 school should be 100 pupils.

Commenting on the publication, Sir George said: “The needs and interests of children are at the core of this Review and have informed each of our recommendations.

“The objective must be that children in Northern Ireland receive a high quality, wide ranging and well resourced education in good schools with secure futures, regardless of where they live.

“We appreciate that rationalisation can be an emotive issue. However, we are in no doubt from our consultation that the education sector realises the status quo cannot prevail; difficult decisions need to be made and the time has come for a fundamentally different approach to planning the schools’ estate.”

The report contains 61 recommendations, including detailed proposals on the strategic planning of the schools estate; dealing with empty desks; promoting sharing and collaboration and the allocation of the education budget.

Sir Gerorge said: “Area-based planning will help ensure that communities are served by strong, viable schools, which meet the needs of all pupils in the community by optimising the use of their facilities through sharing and collaboration.”

The Review commented that any money saved through school rationalisation should be reinvested in education.

In relation to the encouragement of sharing and collaboration within education, the Review found that integrated schools represent a highly significant and distinctive approach to educating young people together. It also found that all schools can play their part in the journey towards the goal of ‘A Shared Future’.

In relation to the allocation of the school budget, the Review recommended that the degree to which schools have control of their own budgets should be maximised. It also recommended that the Common Funding Formula should be reviewed to ensure that delegations under the formula reflect the costs of the main needs of schools.

Commending the recommendations to Government, Sir George said: “I believe these recommendations provide a challenging but achievable way forward to bring about radical and long-term changes that will provide children and young people with the quality of education they deserve.

“In considering this Review, Northern Ireland as a whole has a responsibility to its future generations to focus on the real benefits intended and on the opportunities inherent in sharing and working together.”

(EF)

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