Ulster Unionist Education Spokesperson, Rosemary Barton MLA, has said few people will be surprised that most of last year’s area planning targets for schools were missed.
Of the 106 identified action points across primary, post-primary and special schools in 2017/18, 21 were progressed to publication of a development proposal with 68 simply carried over into this year’s plan.
Rosemary Barton, a former teacher of over 30 years, said:
“The area planning process of schools is supposedly an attempt to ensure that provision is planned strategically to deliver sustainable and high quality education to all pupils.
“The 3-year strategic area plan was to be supported through the delivery of annual action points. Given that so little progress was made in the first year, I suspect now that the performance of the subsequent plans will be no different. Few people however, including our local school leaders, ever had any confidence in the process to start with, with many of them seeing it as little more than a veiled attack on our smaller schools.
“Northern Ireland’s education system is facing an almost insurmountable challenge. Whilst the problem less than a decade ago was empty desks, that’s no longer the case as the number of primary school children has increased rapidly in recent times. Instead, the bigger problem is now money.
“Last week I revealed the fact that local education system overspent its last budget by approximately £20m. All indications are that it will be even worse this year.
“Instead of piecemeal changes to our education system, such as many of the proposals within the current area planning process, I would suggest more radical and transformative change is needed. A single state education system, where children of all faiths and none are educated together, would not only fulfil the vision of the first and last Ulster Unionist Education Ministers - Lord Londonderry in 1921 and Basil McIvor in 1974 - but it would also deliver huge annual financial savings allowing resources to be directed to frontline schools.”