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Our Education System must be modernised - Ruane

5 February, 2008

Sinn Féin Education Minister, Caitríona Ruane, has highlighted the need to modernise our education system.

The Minister was speaking during an Assembly Adjournment debate on the Western Education and Library Board's proposed review of post-primary education in Co Fermanagh.

The Minister said:

"I would like to commend the Western Education and Library Board and the six schools involved in the Working Group for exploring options which might best meet the educational needs of children in the Fermanagh area.

"Education right across the North is facing significant challenges and, in order to meet those challenges, school authorities need to examine provision to see how it would provide good quality educational experiences for the future.

"Schools in the maintained, controlled and voluntary sectors are experiencing falling rolls. At the same time they need to meet curricular requirements and the responsibilities from implementing the Entitlement Framework.

"I welcome this debate as part of helping to inform and move forward the modernising of our education system. In my statement of 4 December to the Assembly, I explained that we must develop a more flexible and agile post-primary schools system, taking account of the full reform agenda that is already affecting the education system in the North.

"I also made it clear that I was not advocating a one-size-fits-all system. Rather, I am seeking to devise an education system in which all children will enjoy access to an equal range of high quality choices at the critical junction points in their educational development, the most significant of which is 14. The particular way in which young people will access their post 14 pathway will be determined by the planning of education in their local areas and I will announce proposals on this in coming weeks.

"Oversubscription of an individual institution at either 11 or 14 is a point that is often raised, but let us look at this on a broader canvas. The North's over-provision is such that nearly all local areas in the North have too many school places.

"Whilst I recognise the concerns that surround every proposal for the future of schools, the demographic decline is a fact which will continue to impact on school provision. There is a need for change and it is important that we embrace change. It is not a luxury but a necessity to ensure that our education system meets the needs of future generations of children.

"We need more public debates to be held around the transfer arrangements and I welcome the conference held in Armagh by the Commission for Catholic Education. The Commission, and other key groups in the education sector, have recognised that all our children deserve the best we can give them, and we can only do this by building a consensus where the child is at the centre of our policy deliberations.

"The Commission also has identified the challenges that change brings and I can reassure all that there will be a cohesive approach to the many policy initiatives being progressed. The changes will be well managed and not change for the sake of change. This approach will help deliver confidence in our new education system. An education system built on social justice for all children and young people." ENDS

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