Education Minister, John O’Dowd, has welcomed the publication of draft area plans by the Education and Library Boards.
The plans, which focus on post-primary provision, have been published by the Boards for a period of extended consultation.
Welcoming the move as an important first step in the process of mapping out the future pattern of education delivery, Mr O’Dowd said: “In my statement to the Assembly last year, ‘Putting Pupils First: Shaping our Future’, I highlighted that my priority as Education Minister was to raise educational standards for all pupils in our schools. At that time I pointed out that the sheer number of empty desks in our schools, at 85,000, was diverting badly needed resources away from the core business of providing pupils with a high quality educational experience.
“Since that time, the Viability Audits carried out by the Boards have shown that too many of our schools are experiencing stress in some form. When measured against educational achievement, finance and enrolment, 85% of our secondary schools are evidencing stress in one or more area. This includes grammar schools, with 35% evidencing stress in at least one category.
“The impact of this is that increasing numbers of schools are focussing on survival instead of the delivery of a high quality education.
“That is why the publication of draft area plans by the Boards today is of such significance. It marks the first step in transforming education provision here. By restructuring our service, we can develop a network of strong schools, able to meet the needs of pupils in the 21st century.
“The plans map out the issues affecting education in local areas both now and in the future and put forward proposals to meet these challenges. The consultation period will run until 26 October to allow schools and their communities time to read and reflect on the plans.
“Now the draft plans are published, I would encourage anyone with an interest in education to carefully consider the proposals and to make your views known through the consultation process. I want to hear from pupils, parents and the wider community before making my final deliberations on the Boards’ proposals. The draft plans will raise many questions; however I would encourage everyone to think about the needs of our children both now and in the future as opposed to the needs of individual institutions.
“If we are serious about raising educational standards; opening up new opportunities for our children; and helping drive economic growth in the future, we need to begin by making bold decisions. Today marks an important first step on that journey.”