John O’Dowd MLA - education - Ard Fheis 2012
As Education Minister in the Northern Executive I have the privilege of delivering a service which is of vital importance to every aspect of our society.
During our time in the department of Education we have championed equality of access and equality of outcomes for all our people.
We have placed educational excellence at the centre of all our policies, we seek the delivery of a world class education system to all our people.
Education should be first and foremost about the individual, education should give the individual the tools to value themselves which in turn means that individual will become a valuable member of society.
Citizens empowered through the gift of education will repay that gift time and time again to their families to their community and the economy.
We must therefore continue to strive to instil the gift of education in all our young people regardless of colour, class or creed. Vested interests must and will be challenged, the program of change which is required has its detractors, however self interest will not be allowed to stand in the way of equality.
In the North we have falling pupil enrollment, over 85000 empty school desks, that quite simply needs to be tackled, head on. It maybe uncomfortable to hear, but the fact is we have too many schools, schools in the wrong places and schools which despite the best efforts of pupils, parents, teachers and the community can no longer provide equality of access and outcomes for all our young people. On this occasion extra money is not the answer.
No school will be closed for budgetary reasons, no school will be closed to repay the IMF, banks or speculators, but we have a responsibility to take the right decision at the right time to protect educational outcomes. To do otherwise would be a dereliction of our duty to promote educational excellence for all.
Yes we face budgetary pressures in the North as a result of the British government imposed cuts to the North’s Budget. Despite the budgetary pressures we face, we have redirected millions of pounds into areas of social deprivation. because that is where investment is needed.
We have supported the rights of children from deprived areas to early years education, when others claimed such positive discrimination was wrong and unjust.
We have secured an additional £160m to be spent in schools despite the cuts imposed on the Executive by the British Government. We have defended Free School Meals despite the onslaught on Welfare. We have challenged failure and championed success in and out of the classroom.We have championed and expanded the Irish medium sector
As a Sinn Féin Minister of Education, I can assure you delegates that we as a party are delivering and will continue to deliver a radical change programme to education which will continue to pay dividends to the people of this Island for generations to come.