Delivering an education system for all

Education Minister John O’Dowd MLA puts forward the case for joined up education. This collaboration between schools, employers and parents is, in his view, the best way to raise educational attainment for young people.


Education has a vital role to play. It is the cornerstone of every society, impacting on health, justice and the economy. The future stability of our society and the success of our economy depends on there being a high quality education system that can compete with the best internationally.


Our young people have a right to a first rate education, to provide them with the skills, qualifications and attributes needed to fulfil their potential and take their place in society.


That is why my main aim as Education Minister is to raise educational attainment for young people and to close the gap in achievement caused by social disadvantage, to ensure every young child can make the most of the opportunities available to them.


I am happy to report that progress is being made in this area which means that standards are improving overall.


The existing suite of strategic policies – the statutory Curriculum; the Entitlement Framework; the Literacy and Numeracy strategy and the School Improvement strategy – are having the critical effect over the long term. We are ensuring that children are learning the skills they will need for their whole lives; have access to a broad and balanced curriculum; are given access to pathways into further study, training and employment and receive high-quality teaching.


Achieving all of this is not without its challenges exacerbated by pressure on budgets. The gap between the attainment of our most and least disadvantaged young people is narrowing, but this is an issue that cannot be addressed solely by educational inputs.


Much of the difference in attainment is about factors outside the reach of schools. Importantly, it is about the value that families and individuals place upon education in young people’s lives. This principle is behind the education works campaign, but it has to be picked up across society. There is also a gap between what employers are looking for in our young people, and what schools, colleges and universities are providing. There needs to be a more joined up effort between schools, employers and parents to help young people along the pathways through school and to further study, training and employment.

Many of our schools have taken huge steps towards greater collaboration with neighbouring schools and FE colleges, employers, parents and the wider community. But the challenge over the next period is to extend that further. Schools cannot operate in isolation, and they cannot be fully effective in support of their children if they do not work with the community and other school partners. Stronger partnerships for delivery of the curriculum, for professional support and development, for inspiration and encouragement are needed.

We also need to mitigate the distorting effects of the competition between schools. We need to ensure that children’s education is being driven and their progress being assessed for the benefit of each child, and not for the benefit of the school’s profile. We need to underline the corrosive effect of league tables, which, even those publishing them have to admit, offer a partial and imperfect impression of school performance.


We need to encourage successful schools to work with those which need support, so that both are successful. Ultimately, we need to end the practice of so-called academic selection, which leads to a socially-divided education system, which prevents us from becoming the high-performing education system we want to be.


I remain committed to developing a network of sustainable schools. I have tasked the Education Authority and CCMS, as statutory planning authorities, to work effectively with NICIE, CnaG, the CSSC and FE representatives within revised area planning governance structures. Local Planning Groups provide an opportunity to meaningfully discuss the need for growth and the need to address sustainability issues affecting schools in each area.


An area planning cycle has been agreed which will result in the production of annual action plans and three year area plans. It is vital that these plans lead to action and sustainability issues are addressed in a timely and effective way. I understand that school closures, amalgamations and mergers are emotive and can be difficult for pupils, parents, teachers and communities but uppermost in my mind is the educational experience and quality for current and potential future pupils if sustainability issues are not addressed.


It is equally clear that communities, parents and pupils want a range of options for a more collaborative and inclusive education system. Our commitment to the development of shared education will provide opportunities for ever increasing numbers of children and young people from different community backgrounds to be educated together.


My vision is for vibrant, self-improving shared education communities delivering educational benefits to learners, promoting good relations and encouraging the efficient and effective use of resources. This model of education will assist in the development and growth of our society and provide a chance of delivering the world class education system that we all desire.


The Shared Education Campus Programme provides an opportunity to support those schools with a history of effective sharing, providing them with infrastructure to embed their shared education ethos and demonstrate to other schools what is achievable.


In the context of a very difficult financial environment it is even more important that we make good use of the money at our disposal. This is why the bureaucracy in education needs to be reduced. The creation of the new Education Authority in April this year has been one of the steps to redistribute money to the classroom where it’s needed most. Doing away with unnecessary bureaucracy will go some way to targeting disadvantage and underachievement within the education sector.


A good education has the power to transform lives. I will continue to build on the progress already made to create the best education system possible for all of our children and young people.

Related Posts