Following today’s Assembly Statement by the Education Minister re Area Planning, the Ulster Unionist Party’s Education Spokesperson, Danny Kinahan MLA, has expressed his disappointment that John O'Dowd is continuing to press forward unilaterally with his area planning proposals despite the fact that the entire process appears to be disintegrating at the edges.
Danny Kinahan, who is also Deputy Chairman of the Education Committee at Stormont said;
"Whilst I welcome the Ministers long overdue comments re dialogue and his promise to 'facilitate active engagement' as he listens to our call for more and better consultation I still have concerns. In particular I remain concerned that the new Area Planning Steering Group does not include any businesses, principals and as yet no Voluntary Grammar schools. We must start consulting widely and listening to all sectors and to those who provide and use the end product of our education system; the pupils.
Unfortunately, as is common with most Education reports to the Assembly, the focus is as much on what has been left out than what was included. For instance, we need to know what lessons the post primary consultation highlighted and what the Department is planning on doing with them before the Primary school area planning consultation starts on the 19th March.
It was also disappointing that there was no acknowledgment of the need for shared education or even a better recognition of the important role of Integrated Sector when it comes to Area Planning. Instead as the present direction sets in stone our separate schooling.
By highlighting the number of children travelling in to Belfast each day in a way that seems to target Grammar schools, it is clear the Department has selected this as an area for special attention. Parental choice is a welcome and popular feature of the Northern Ireland Education system and I would strongly urge the Minister against taking any decisions considered to limit this.
We welcome the review but warn that the Education Minister’s relentless attack on our voluntary schools and the principal of 'parental choice' is completely destroying any remaining trust which exists between him, schools and parents. There are some hints that the Minister is listening but in this Statement there is also much to be concerned about.’’