A smaller educational estate, with larger sites and more sharing between schools, is anticipated over the next decade. The Executive also plans to establish a regional library to showcase Northern Ireland’s culture and heritage.
|Schools and youth||512||1,032||1,544|
|Further and higher education||128||180||308|
Downturn and upturn
Schools and youth services will receive 79.8 per cent of funding over the period. Significantly, two-thirds of the funds are deferred until later in the decade, when area planning will be firmly in place and the Education and Skills Authority should have a clearer understanding of the expected demographic upturn.
The Department of Education’s projections indicate that the demographic downturn at primary level ended in 2010- 2011, when 153,499 pupils were enrolled. This number is due to rise to 171,484 in 2017-2018. Post-primary numbers have levelled off around 147,000 over the last five years but are expected to drop to 136,716 in 2016-2017 before slowly rising again, as the extra primary pupils transfer.
In particular, the draft strategy recognises that schools are increasingly opening up their facilities for community use which will make better use of the estate as post-primary numbers dip.
New builds completed
Forty major capital school projects (worth £427 million) have been completed since 2008, including work at Ashfield Girls in East Belfast (pictured), Belfast Girls and Boys Model in North Belfast, St Mary’s College in Derry and several primary schools. At further education level, achievements have included the South West College’s technology and skills centre in Enniskillen, new builds for the South Eastern Regional College in Lisburn and the North West Regional College in Derry, and Belfast Metropolitan College’s Titanic Quarter campus.
The McClay Library at Queen’s has also been completed, with part-funding from the Executive. Public library investments have included new builds in Antrim and Dungiven, and major refurbishments in Bangor, Carrickfergus, Newtownstewart, Newry and Whitehead.
Another 18 major capital projects were under way at the time of the draft strategy’s publication, representing £121 million of investment. The refurbishment of the University of Ulster’s Belfast campus is already under way and due to be completed by 2018.
Strategic thinking needed for estate
Area plans for schools will be “a key determinant of priorities for new capital investment going forward.” The Lisanelly campus in Omagh is highlighted, with benefits for community relations and the general modernisation of post-primary education in the area. In January 2012, the Court of Appeal ruled that Loreto Grammar School in Omagh did not have a “substantive legitimate expectation” of receiving a new building from the Department of Education; the school had contended that the department had promised a new building on its own site during direct rule.
From 2014-2015 onwards, the further education budget will focus on colleges with outdated facilities. An investment in one location will be expected to benefit education at other campuses. Continued capital grant support for universities is also pledged.
In all areas, it says, the strategic needs of the estate will be assessed and officials will look at the potential for estate rationalisation (therefore involving mergers and closures), protecting access to education, promoting equality of opportunity and improving the quality of service to learners.
The sharing of school facilities will obviously take place between sectors in some instances but this is not actively encouraged in the draft strategy. The Alliance Party, meanwhile, has called for rationalisation to take place on a whole area rather than sectoral basis, with the Department of Education learning from how schools are already working together on the ground.
Four new mobile libraries are to be purchased in the current Assembly term, alongside work to improve the operating system and carry out essential maintenance. The mobile libraries tie in with Sinn Féin’s commitment to increase library provision in rural areas.
In the next Budget period (2016-2021), library investment will be increased to £70 million, to cover the costs of a new regional library, focusing on heritage and tourism. This follows on from a DUP commitment to create a ‘national library’ for Northern Ireland. Three UK-wide national libraries cover literature (the British Library), art and health, while two separate national libraries serve Scotland and Wales.