Ulster Unionist Education Spokesperson Rosemary Barton MLA has said that a lack of political leadership at the head of the Department of Education is leading to confusion about the future of schools- particular smaller rural schools- right across Northern Ireland.
Rosemary Barton MLA said:
“The Strategic and Action Plans published by the Education Authority are lengthy documents which deserve careful consideration. However, I have been speaking to several School Principals in my area this morning and am very disappointed that the Education Authority did not send them the plans in advance, or even emailed the links to the Schools. It is also unacceptable that they have been published at a time when we have no Minister in charge of the Department of Education to be accountable and provide leadership at a political level.
“Perhaps this is deliberate. Under both Minister O’Dowd and Minister Weir the Area Planning process created the context and pretext for widespread school closures, but no schools were named under their watch. They cultivated a sense of anxiety, especially within smaller rural schools, yet never took decisions either way to provide reassurance or much needed certainty. Is it the case that schools are only being named now because there is no Minister in post at Stormont, and both Sinn Fein and DUP can try to avoid the blame for individual school closures? If so this is political cowardice of the highest order.
“It is natural that with schools being named and numbers being bandied about in terms of mergers and closures, people will be concerned at the future of their child’s local school. The plans are, however, written in language which is generic and ambiguous in many cases. Repeated phrases are ‘located as required’ and ‘sustainability is an issue’.
“The lack of political leadership for this process, which was developed under both Sinn Fein and the DUP, is the key weakness in the plan. This is just another example of key public services being threatened as a result of the political stalemate.”