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Education Minister Caitríona Ruane outlines management arrangements for Education sector before ESA

1 December, 2009 - by Caitríona Ruane

I welcome the opportunity to make a statement to the Assembly today about the Transitional Governance and Management Arrangements I am putting in place for the Education Sector in the period before the Executives objective of an Education and Skills Authority is established.

The Executive committed itself to 1 January 2010 as the establishment date for ESA and I have devoted my energies and those of my Department towards implementing this Executive commitment.  However, the Bill has not reached Consideration Stage and the agreed operational date of            1 January 2010 is no longer achievable.

The New Year was to bring a new era for education here.  Sadly the failure to find a political agreement means that era has been delayed.

The implementation date for ESA has been put off on several occasions since 2008.  This has been unsettling for thousands of staff employed in the sector and potentially disruptive for front-line services.  We cannot continue to allow things to be delayed and keep on pushing the problems in front of us.  By doing so we forego the benefits of improved educational standards and greater efficiency that will be realised from the operation of the new authority in delivering front line services.

I believe firmly that all those interested in the children at the heart of our education system can and will ensure a smooth transition to ESA as soon as possible.  That includes the responsibility of politicians in this chamber.

I pay tribute to the many members and staff in the affected organisations for their contributions during the transition period towards that goal.  I recognise however that the heightened uncertainty, which could, if not managed, impact on front line services, has to be dispelled.

 As Minister for Education I have the responsibility to act. I must ensure that momentum is maintained towards delivering this long-awaited Executive reform. This Assembly too, must act in a responsible manner in the weeks and months ahead.

The efforts that have already been made by the education sector towards the convergence of activities within a new organisation must and will continue.

There are significant financial implications too.  Departments are already facing major resource constraints next year.  The delay in ESA coming into being has impacted on the £8.3m that we had expected to achieve this year from ESA and any further delay could impact on savings in the coming year.  Between this year and next more than £21m  (exact figure £21.3 million) has  already been taken out of the Education budget and thus any delay in establishing ESA has a direct impact on education services - this is something we simply can’t afford to let happen.  The longer the establishment of ESA is put off the longer Education will have to await the benefits and absorb the financial loss.  

The planned savings from ESA must be made, so we face a simple, but stark choice: savings can be made by cutting bureaucracy; or by cutting back on teaching and learning. I intend to cut bureaucracy.  ESA is about streamlining the bureaucracy and raising educational standards.  Both are vitally important.

I have therefore been considering the Transitional governance and management arrangements for the period before ESA is established.  We need to keep on the path of convergence.  I have therefore decided to implement new arrangements to achieve that aim.

A smooth transition is on my agenda, as it should be for everyone in this Assembly.  I am therefore using existing legislation to press ahead with interim arrangements from 1st of  January 2010 which are designed to ensure that:

·       We continue to  reduce bureaucracy and  streamline education services in preparation for ESA;

·       Momentum  towards ESA is not lost and that work towards  convergence of  services across the nine existing organisations is accelerated;

·       There is greater uniformity achieved in the services provided;

·       School improvement and raising standards is  pursued more vigorously;

·       There are greater efforts  to  drive out savings through efficiencies to protect front-line education services; and

·       There is increased financial oversight in this period of increased uncertainty.

To simply reconstitute the Boards, would be contrary to the Executives objective of radical reform of education structures and would only cause further uncertainty for staff and schools.

I do not see value in simply extending the entire Board membership again for a Transitional period.  Many ELB members rightly state they have already played their part over the years.

I have therefore decided to use existing Legislation to reduce the membership of the Boards so that we have smaller decision-making structures in place. 

I have attached at appendix A the numbers which will be involved in each Transitional Board for members perusal.

I plan to reduce membership of the Boards by over half, taking into account Equality legislation and discussions with the Commissioner for Public Appointments.  I aim to ensure that the Transitional Boards will reflect the community they serve.

My Department will be in contact with the relevant bodies which nominate to the Boards on the details in the coming days.  

I am also looking at the appropriate membership arrangements for the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, the Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, the Staff Commission and Youth Council.  

I have considered too how the organisations should operate in this interim period towards implementation of the Executives decision to establish ESA.  I believe there must be a stronger push on the preparations for ESA and a greater focus on the convergence activities.

I have asked the Chairperson Designate of ESA, Sean Hogan, to take on a greater role in the Transitional period.                 

The Chairperson Designate will convene meetings of the chairpersons of the Transitional Boards, and of the other education bodies, to ensure there is a strong co-ordinated approach to the convergence activity.

Performance management arrangements will be put in place for the chairpersons so that there is a clear focus for their work.

It is important that the Transitional Boards are working increasingly together on the reorganisation and delivery of services to facilitate transformation and convergence.  Each Board currently operates with a number of Committees which perform functions delegated by the Boards.

I will be asking the Transitional Boards to introduce a Committee structure which helps facilitate transformation and convergence. 

I want to ensure that the Chief Executive Designate of ESA, Gavin Boyd, now takes on a much more direct role in the preparations.  I will be putting in place arrangements for the Accounting Officers in the Boards and the other bodies affected   to report to the Department through Chief Executive Designate, who is an Accounting officer of the Dept of Education.

I will be asking the Chairperson and Chief Executive Designates to produce a Convergence Delivery Plan, with clear leadership roles for the in-coming ESA Directors, and associated timescales for implementation. The Plan should cover reorganisation of back office functions and managing cross-Board services, and also how the existing organisations are    directed to drive forward key policies including Every School a Good School, the Entitlement Framework and Area-based Planning.

In the Transitional period there is a need for increased financial oversight so that we continue to ensure services are delivered and risks to a seamless transition to ESA carefully managed.  I have therefore asked my department to review the financial delegations to the existing bodies.  

As I said, these arrangements are all designed to reduce uncertainty and ensure that progress continues to be made until ESA is established in line with the Executive’s stated objective. The Chair and Chief Executive Designate of ESA will now play a greater role for the department in working with the nine existing organisations to ensure there is a strong co-ordinated approach to the convergence activity.  

I have set out the measures which need to operate in the Transitional period. I hope that this is a very short period.  I will monitor the effectiveness of the measures and supplement them with other changes as necessary.

A further delay in the progress of the legislation towards the Executive objective of reform of education services should not be allowed to occur.  All those who have the future of education here at heart should now play their part in ensuring that this delay is minimal. CRIOCH

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