Assembly spokesmen and voices from the sector put forward their aims.
Trevor Lunn MLA
I believe it is crucial that we urgently address the issue of early years education. We need a strong and coherent early years strategy which will help all our children maximise their potential.
Another key priority for Alliance is promoting and delivering more shared and integrated education in Northern Ireland. We need to tackle division in education to help deliver a shared future, address the duplication of services and stop money being wasted on segregation.
Urgent progress also is needed on the creation of the Education and Skills Authority. The political stalemate on this important issue has to end and there must be movement to establish ESA.
The savings that we could realise through ESA are vital, particularly at this difficult economic time, and ESA would also help us improve governance and strategic planning in our education system.
Daithí McKay MLA
Reform of education administration must be a key objective for all political parties in the year ahead and we will be seeking to work to achieve that in the months ahead in a constructive manner. In a time of financial austerity, it is vital that education structures are modernised and operate efficiently and effectively.
Addressing educational disparities is obviously a key priority for Sinn Féin. There has been a steady increase in young people achieving five GCSEs (including English and maths) and those leaving school with at least two A-levels. However, disadvantaged pupils on free school meals are less likely to do well at school, Protestant school leavers are less likely to achieve two or more A-levels, and boys continue to lag behind girls in educational attainment.
We must raise standards across the board to drive out these inequalities and we must also ensure that we have an education system that is responsive to pupil needs and fit for purpose.
The DUP declined to respond but its manifesto priorities are as follows:
• pursue the best education outcomes for young people;
• produce a comprehensive long-term plan for the education sector;
• introduce an individual education plan for every pupil;
• legislate to implement a special educational needs strategy;
• review the revised curriculum;
• conduct a value-for-money review of the autism centre at Middletown;
• the entitlement framework to be considered aspirational rather than compulsory;
• assist unemployed teachers to take training modules;
• ensure access to youth services, particularly for disadvantaged young people;
• produce a comprehensive, cross- departmental youth strategy.
Conall McDevitt MLA
The SDLP is committed to a world class education system in Northern Ireland built on the three principles of educational excellence, social equity and choice. We continue to work for the removal of privatised selection and want to see leadership from the new Minister to break this unnecessary deadlock. It is time to put children before ideology.
Early years and primary education is underfunded. This needs to change. Any Minister serious about building an education system which provides every child, irrespective of their family background or economic standing, with
the same opportunity must start investing much earlier in a child’s life. Special education must also be properly supported. The SDLP supports a baccalaureate-type system for our region as we believe it provides children with the greatest opportunity and choice.
David McNarry MLA
The UUP’s priorities are:
• early intervention taken forward by the education department in order to genuinely to begin to tackle educational underachievement, poverty and all the related cycles of deprivation;
• a post-primary transfer process that identifies a child’s individual strengths, both academic and vocational;
• a thorough review of the schools estate, including calling for the introduction of the community use of schools strategy; and
• better central personnel planning in education with a teacher workforce plan which links teacher training to existing workforce levels, the numbers of unemployed teachers, the retirement schedule of existing teachers, and pupil-teacher ratios.
The current Education Minister must not be allowed to carry on the ideological crusade of the former. We have previously proposed, and continue to do so, introducing a single assessment test for the period of two years, giving the space to agree a permanent resolution.
Integrated Education Fund
Our education system has to courageously face up to the continuing economic crisis, which has brought unparalleled cuts in the budget for schools, against a background of tens of thousands of empty desks in separate schools for different religious and cultural backgrounds.
More than ninety per cent of children in Northern Ireland attend schools where pupils are overwhelmingly from a single tradition.
We need a radical approach to sharing out our resources, to ensure that we deliver quality education for all our children.
A fundamental rethink of our education system, ensuring that public money goes to schools which demonstrably welcome and nurture those of all faiths and backgrounds, would mean the efficient and effective use of the public purse.
Recent surveys show overwhelming support for such a system. It’s time the Executive took notice of what voters want.
Principal, Botanic Primary School
Speaking from a primary school perspective, government priorities should be:
• getting proper funding sorted out for primary schools.
Currently primary pupils are funded at approximately 63 per cent of what pupils in post-primary schools receive for ‘historical’ reasons.
• securing nursery provision in nursery schools for all children in their pre- school year.
Whilst recognising the valuable contribution pre-school playgroups have to make, there is no substitute for nursery education in a school setting with a qualified teacher in charge.
• broadening the approach taken to integrated education to give greater recognition to our multi-cultural society.
When attempting to explain to foreign parents their child’s various education options, one realises how ludicrous the whole concept is. It is worth remembering that the main Protestant and the Catholic churches have an agreed core syllabus for religious education.
The Education and Skills Authority needs to become a reality to save a lot of duplicitous administration.
Additional financial resource for pupils who have English as an additional language is essential. The current system, where there is one standard payment unit per pupil, does not recognise the diverse needs presented or their magnitude. Also the current system, where the Inclusion and Diversity Service as a regional body does not work directly with newcomer children, needs to come under review.
Tony Carlin, Senior Official (Industrial Relations and Equality), INTO
Overall, the view of INTO is that in progressing change and reform, government must ensure that front line services to schools are protected and that children are taught by professionally qualified teachers.
In taking forward this principle, INTO believes that the three key priorities should be:
• A root and branch review of the funding of schools to develop a system where the funding reflects the needs of the school rather than focusing on the number of pupils present;
• An investment in the teaching workforce by ensuring that newly qualified teachers are given guaranteed employment for at least one year post-qualification; and
• Rationalisation and reform of the external management structures which have sustained the present system.